The Fruits of Civilization (23-5) Energy Production

Energy Production

There was great demand for timber for various purposes: construction, shipbuilding, metallurgy, and home heating. Norway and Sweden were integrated into the more industrially advanced western Europe for both their timber and metal resources, much as, centuries later, Australia would prosper primarily from exploiting its natural resources of raw materials.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, North America too faced rising timber prices. The trees could not be chopped down fast enough to meet demand.

Insufficient lumber led to a search for substitute materials and fuels: coal and peat for energy, brick and stone for building. Iron and other metals could also substitute, though those ironically exacerbated the energy shortage, especially the timber these metals were intended to replace. England reserved some of its forests for its royal navy.

Coal had been mined since medieval times in Germany, England, and the Low Countries. This noxious fuel was often legally banned, but that did not stop it from being used, especially in energy-intensive industries.