The links between economic prosperity, or lack thereof, and the exploitation and use of energy and other natural resources go back to the earliest records of the human species – and in important respects even further back to when hunting and foraging characterised the earliest humanoid species. This paper surveys the challenges of resource exploitation and use, reflecting that as we exploit the most readily and cheapest resources, and extraction technology, available at the time, so the marginal returns of each tend to decline as the highest quality is depleted, costs rise, and alternatives are increasingly sought. There are few resources where this is truer than the various forms of energy which have been exploited down the ages. Many complex societies in the past have failed to make a successful transition, and the historic record demonstrates clearly the inadequacies of Solow-type growth theory. Scenarios of global energy prospects for the 21st Century need to consider the past and, in the light of it, ask whether the end of the Anthropocene Age is in sight or whether some kind of Promethean leap will come to the rescue.
Energy Policy – Elsevier
Published: Nov 1, 2015
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