Tag Archives: Nuclear Energy

The Evolution of Energy Sources for Humans Is Shorter Than You Think

I’m a big proponent of clean, renewable, and sustainable energy. Our species will not survive if we continue to use energy in the same way that we do at the same pace at that we do. That’s simply a fact. However, in my thinking about this issue, it never really occurred to me just how “new” energy is to humans. That is, it never really occurred to me just how new our energy sources were.

Take this chart of energy consumption in the United States, for instance.

History of Energy Consumption in the United States

Americans only started using petroleum as an energy source around the time that Abraham Lincoln was president. That’s almost 150 years ago. Americans have “only” been using petroleum as a source of energy for the last 150 years. That means, potentially, your great-great-grandfather may have lived in a world where using petroleum as an energy source was a “new” thing.

Looking a little further along the chart and we can see that 50 years after petroleum became an energy source that Americans used (albeit scarcely), coal was far and away surpassing our usage of petroleum. About 100 years ago, coal was 12, 13, or 14 times as popular as petroleum as a source of energy. It looks as if even wood was more popular as an energy source.

Now let’s look at the last 50 years. Between the early 1900s and the 1950s, the use petroleum as an energy source skyrocketed! As did the use of natural gas as an energy source. Coal seemed to be on the decline, but still in heavy use. Fast-forwarding a little bit more and we see that petroleum is trending down (in terms of its use) as is coal, but not before coal had a big uptick between the 1950s and the early 2000s. In that timespan, nuclear power also took off as an energy source, but it appears to have leveled off in the 2000s and may even be headed for a downward spike since the 2010s.

More notably is the green line for other renewables. We don’t see its existence until the 1950s and its growth is rather slow and steady. However, in what looks like the early 2000s, it begins to trend up. Who knows — maybe we’re on the cusp of what could be an energy revolution. Maybe “other renewables” will grow in popularity and use as coal or petroleum. Maybe its a bit naive or foolhardy to expect great energy transformation from non-renewables to renewables. Evolution does take time.

My point in sharing this today is to add some perspective on just how far humanity has come in terms of its use of energy. Really, only in the last 50 to 100 years has energy consumption skyrocketed in the way that we know and understand today. Who knows what energy consumption will look like in the years to come.

 

Protection from Nuclear War: Look to the Cockroaches

Yesterday, I saw a post from Mental Floss about whether or not cockroaches would be able to survive a nuclear war. That is, not whether or not the cockroaches would put up a fight in a nuclear war, but whether or not they would survive the radiation from a nuclear war that happened where they existed.

The post cited research done by MythBusters that concluded cockroaches have a much higher tolerance for radiation.

Does anyone else see an opportunity for innovation here?

If I were a scientist, (aside from ethical conundrum), I might be interested in seeing how much radiation cockroaches could withstand before it affects their ability to function. Why? Because then I would want to study what it is about the cockroaches that allows them to withstand such radiation. Then, I’d want to see if I could design some sort of protection for humans. To be fair, it’d be very hard to get this to pass through any kind of Institutional Review Board (IRB). That is, the IRB would probably balk at any kind of research where humans were being used to test the strength of some kind of cockroach shield. Though, I imagine that scientists might be able to work around this by using human cells in the lab, right?