What Is Energy

Energy is the ability to do work, the capacity to cause matter to move or change. Even when you complete the simple act of turning a page in this book, for example, you are using energy. The earliest human beings depended on the natural, biological energy of their own bodies to move from one place to another, to hunt animals or gather vegetation for food, and to build shelter. Energy use in the world today, of course, is quite different. As F. Peter W. Winteringham writes in Energy Use and the Environment, "Almost all the activities and products of modern society depend upon the deliberate production, storage, and use of 'artificial' energy: the production, storage, and use of gasoline (petrol) or diesel fuel for transportation; coal and coal-based electricity for heating, lighting, and powered-tool use; etc."2 Yet dependence on not only these "artificial" forms of energy but all forms of energy has been driven by the same simple principle: As civilizations have developed new ways of generating energy to support their activities, their civilizations have become more advanced. As they have become more advanced, their demand for energy and their need to find additional ways of meeting this demand have escalated. And it is this ever-increasing demand for energy that plays a key role in the energy-related questions and issues of the world today. It has also been a significant force throughout history—a principle at work throughout the development of the world's use of energy, from prehistory to today. As Tom Mast writes in Over a Barrel: A Simple Guide to the Oil Shortage, "We have harnessed energy to perform an almost unbelievable list of tasks for us over a very short period in human history."3 And so many of the world's modern energy-related questions and issues were evident, in varying degrees, in the energy experiences of ages past.

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