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They found pockets of burnable air we call natural gas and underground lakes of thick, black burnable liquid we call crude oil. It turns out that this whole time, humans had been walking around with a vast untapped treasure of tightly packed, burnable joules right underneath them. It was like a dog digging in the woods to bury a bone and uncovering an underground cave full of pulled pork.

And what does a dog do who finds a cave of pulled pork? Does he pause to think cautiously about how to proceed or consider consequences for his health?

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No—he eats the shit out of it. Mindlessly, at full speed. And throughout the 19th century, coal mines and oil rigs popped up everywhere. Burning this new treasure of joules made economies soar and the incentive to innovate soared along with them—and new, fantastic technologies were born. Like steam engine technology, the credit for the electricity revolution is owed to a collaboration of dozens of innovators spanning centuries, but it was in the s that it all finally came together.

In what is still probably the most significant technological shift of all time, electricity allowed the raucous power of burning to be converted into a highly tame and remarkably versatile form of energy called electrical energy.


If steam had tamed the dragon, electricity had turned the dragon into a magical butler, forever at our service. And for the first time in human history, the power was on. Right around the time this was happening, another revolution was underway.

Fire was now powering our ships, our trains, our factories, and even the new wizardry of electricity, but individual transportation was still powered by hay like it was —and late 19th century humanity knew we could do better. Biological horses got super upset if you tried to power them by fire, so again, humanity got innovating, and a couple decades later, there were big, metal horses everywhere with engine cylinders full of fire. As coal, oil, and natural gas motivated unprecedented innovation, the resulting waves of new technologies created an unprecedented need to burn stuff—which motivated the diggers.

Companies that focused on digging, sucking, and siphoning up more and more of our underground joule treasure, like John D. As you might have noticed, there are a lot of people who have a lot of opinions for a lot of reasons saying a lot of things about this situation. This makes an already complex, murky, multi-faceted topic even more confusing. People often think fossil fuels are made of dinosaurs, but any dinosaurs in our gasoline are from the last couple hundred million years—the later stretch of the timespan—and only a small contributor.

The largest portion of our fossil fuels comes from plants, animals, and algae that lived during the Carboniferous Period—a 50 million year period that ended about million years ago and during which there were lots of huge, shallow swamps. The swamps were important because it made it more likely that a dead organism would be preserved. But by dying in a swamp and sinking to the bottom, Carboniferous organisms often ended up being quickly covered by sand and clay and were able to make it underground with their joules still intact.

After hundreds of millions of years, all those organisms were squashed under intense heat and pressure and became converted into joule-dense solid, liquid, or gas—coal, oil, and natural gas. Quick blue box brush-up:. The US is also one of the three biggest oil producers in the world, alongside Saudi Arabia and Russia, who all produce roughly the same amount. When a plant grows, it makes its own food through photosynthesis. At its most oversimplified, during photosynthesis, the plant takes CO 2 from the air 7 and absorbs light energy from the sun to split the CO 2 into carbon C and oxygen O 2.

The plant keeps the carbon and emits the oxygen as a waste product. This causes a chain reaction, and the log is now on fire. So a log burning is the process of the carbon in the log combining with oxygen in the air and floating off as CO 2. The tree spent years quietly absorbing carbon molecules and sunshine joules, and all at once, during combustion, that carbon and sunshine explode back out into the world.

Over time, that lost carbon adds up.

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They were staring at an endless sea of million-year-old, densely packed sunshine—trillions of ancient plants with their joules intact —and since there are no laws protecting the estates of Carboniferous plants, we could seize it all for ourselves. The grandest joule theft in history.

And those joules have gone a long way—you can thank them for the comforts and quality of your life today. But those carbon molecules have gone a long way too. Those measurements are still going on today. The zig-zaggy motion of the line is due to the level falling each year in the summer when plants are sucking up CO 2 and rising up again during the winter when the leaves are dead. But the overarching trend is unmistakable. To put that into context, ice drilling technology 9 allows scientists to collect accurate data on what CO 2 levels have been throughout the last , years.

So instead of the atmosphere being. All we know is Fact 1, which tells us that CO 2 levels are rising quickly. Not a hard correlation to see. The reason for this is simple—CO 2 is a greenhouse gas. The way an actual greenhouse works is the glass lets in sun energy and traps a lot of it inside as heat.

No one is more of a dick than Venus. During the day, Mercury gets almost as hot as Venus, but at night it gets freezing, while Venus is just as hot at night as it is during the day, because the heat lives permanently in its thick atmosphere. So it makes sense that an increase in CO 2 here would increase temperature—but by how much? But as CO 2 levels keep rising, most scientists expect temperatures to keep rising. The UN-supported Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC , a group of 1, independent scientific experts from a bunch of different countries, came out with a report that laid out the temperature projections of a number of independent labs.

This is what those labs think will happen if no action is taken to alter the current trends in CO 2 emissions: Without this feedback loop, the temperature increases resulting from CO 2 emissions would be times smaller. But even the greatest skeptics usually agree that CO 2 emissions do lead to temperature increases. Now the question becomes—how much does the temperature need to change to make everything shitty? That was enough to put Canada, Scandinavia, and half of England and the US under a half a mile of ice. This is also even more fragile than is intuitive.

Scientists debate how high that number can go before really dramatic changes start to happen. Our goal today is not to dig deep into these conflicting opinions and try to figure out the truth, because no one knows for sure anyway. We can massage it into a statement that leaves plenty of room for doubt:. If we continue to burn fossil fuels as much as we are, things might get really shitty kind of soon. When we run out is a complicated and hazy question. Then you have sites like this citing the CIA World Factbook and reminding us that when oil and natural gas run out, the coal usage will ramp up, so we actually have even less time: A common counter to those sources is that even without running out, we could face a serious problem if the extraction of the fuels becomes more and more difficult and expensive over time.

As fossil fuels grow more and more scarce, prices will skyrocket. That will cause a furious rush to develop renewable energy technology, but it may be too late at that point to prevent a worldwide economic meltdown. Some skeptics I read made what seemed like very valid points, but even most skeptics agreed that burning of fossil fuels causes some degree of warming and that warming might turn out to be harmful.

The unit, PJ, is in petajoules.

Some thoughts:. Biomass is typically the burning of things like wood, oil distilled down from food like corn, and manure.

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Rejected energy is energy we lose, usually in the form of heat, due to inefficiency. Especially unimpressive is the transportation performance, where engines only end up using a quarter of the fuel they burn. That makes France a pretty light CO 2 emitter. Nation interdependence can be productive and important, but nations being dependent on other nations for their survival is never a great thing, and the need to import fossil fuels is one of the major reasons for modern nation ultra-dependency.

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France is totally reliant on oil for its transportation and totally reliant on other countries for oil—this puts them in a vulnerable position. I was also surprised to see that only a small portion of US oil imports were from the Middle East, with only Kind of a one-trick pony.

You can check out the full report to see the rest of the countries. The unit is different here. Two things that stand out:. To put in perspective how much energy the US uses, I found a country in the world that uses a similar amount of energy as each US state:. Getting from the black to the yellow means getting rid of carbon emissions.

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Looking at the US emissions flowchart, I see two glaring numbers:. Or, put simply: Electricity production is huge and mostly dirty. Put simply: Transportation is huge and almost entirely dirty. Part 2: The Story of Cars. He got the car in , when he was It was given to him by the first car-maker. In his new position, he started inventing things, one of which was the first-ever car, which he made as a toy for the emperor.

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It was sleek. Next came this little sassypants: With a steam engine, the fire burns outside the engine and heats steam inside the engine to make it work. An internal combustion engine cuts out the steam and burns the fuel inside the engine itself to generate power. But it would take until for the arrival of the first actually-useful car, invented by German engineer Karl Benz, along with his wife Bertha Benz, who I might love , and his mustache. In his spare time, Ford sat in a little workshop next to his home playing around with the still-novel concept of the internal combustion engine, and in , at the age of 32, he came up with what he called the Ford Quadricycle, powered by a simple internal combustion engine.