Have you heard about the potential risks that might accompany the energy revolution? A recent article warned of the demise of the family, impaired vision and nerves, baldness and tooth decay; just a few of the outcomes that may await those who embrace a new energy paradigm. I’m not talking about the Green Revolution, with its focus on renewables like solar or wind. The above concerns were raised almost 200 years ago when consumers were asked to abandon a tried-and-true energy source for a new one; a switch from burning wood to burning coal.
What been a thickly wooded continent when first settled was quickly being deforested as early as the 1740s as evidenced by Benjamin Franklin’s complaint to a friend that “Wood, our common Fewel, which within these 100 Years might be had at every Man’s Door, must now be fetch’d near 100 Miles to some towns, and makes a very considerable Article in the Expence of Families.”
It’s hard to believe that something as entrenched as coal has been had to fight for acceptance when introduced. How coal displaced wood in the eighteenth century as our primary fuel is an instructive tale of how innovators in any age must overcome multiple obstacles….and its lessons should be absorbed by those leading the Green Revolution.
This article from Smithsonian summarizes these challenges: “When Coal First Arrived, Americans Said ‘No Thanks.” (Ironically, the move to coal from wood has resulted in the reforestation of much of the area that had been harvested for its timber).