It’s easy to forget just how recently we started using fossil fuels in large amounts. In honor of the July 4th holiday, the U.S. Energy Information has produced a chart showing how rapidly the country shifted from using wood almost exclusively as an energy source to using first coal, then petroleum and natural gas.
Here’s a couple of notable things about the chart. The first is the obvious staying power of coal (see “The Enduring Technology of Coal”).
Coal wasn’t used in significant amounts until the mid-1800s, but then it increases quickly (and with it, overall energy consumption increases by about 5 times). When oil is introduced, it seems to displace coal, leading to a sharp drop in coal consumption.