You are on page 1of 4

Catena 1

Olivia Catena



16 February 2017

Evolution of Energy Use

In Vaclav Smils book, Energy: Beginners Guide, he writes a general overview about

energy in all aspects of life. One concept that I found particularly interesting was the evolution of

energy in human history. Smil summarizes how we have used energy throughout our existence

as a species.

The first use of energy that was explored in this chapter was the muscle. Humans started

out completing all tasks with their very own hands. Their ability to adapt to the environment

around them was what made it possible for them to survive. The amount of energy available to

solely human power is limited so, they have long designed energy systems with the goal of

producing the most work possible with the least amount of human effort to generate the energy

(Environmental Decision Making, Science, and Technology). This was extremely interesting to

me because humans were able to use their muscles to their own capacity, while still being

efficient. Once that capacity was realized, the first fundamental extension of humans inherently

limited somatic capacities came from the domestication of large animals (Smil, 64). In my

mind, it is incredibly fascinating that the early humans would think to make animals do their jobs

for them. It seems like such a simple concept, but the actual act of domestication and the training

that went into making the animals work took a lot of thought.
Catena 2

The evolution continued when humans began to make their own tools. It became clear

that they could not perform all tasks simply by hand. Humans knew that they had to come up

with a different method to complete the work that was necessary to live. Making tools was just

another way that they adapted to their environment in order to survive; these tools magnified

the limited capacity of human muscle (Smil 64). This is just another reason why I found this

topic so interesting. It amazed me to see all of the ways that humans were able to change how

they lived in order to get the most out of what they had. They discovered that they needed to hunt

to get the food that they needed, but hunting was too hard to do by hand. So, they created another

way to do it. They made knives out of stones and then carved the bones of the animals into even

more tools. Humans used all the resources that they could which is why I was so intrigued by

this chapter. Their method of, tool-using, as for many other forms of behavior, was carried out

in such a way as to optimize the expenditure of time and energy (Torrence 2). The way they

lived wasnt wasteful in any way. They looked for ways to optimize the energy that they used,

and did so in the most productive manner.

These tools soon evolved into machines. The process of making tools and materials by

hand continued from the prehistoric era, into the preindustrial era. Everything was handmade

until machines came into play during the industrial revolution. As humans evolved, so did

technology. As time went on, the tools that humans created were getting more and more

complex. Waterwheels were the first simple mechanical prime movers (Smil 65). They

converted the power that came from flowing water into rotary motion. This invention developed

overtime and began to provide energy for Western industrialization along with another prime

mover, the windmill. The waterwheel held its prominence overtime while even in 1849, in the
Catena 3

US, the installed power of all steam engines was only twice that of all waterwheels (Smil 96).

However, it was only a matter of time before new inventions took over the limited capabilities of

the original waterwheel. Humans were able to develop machines that made everything easier for

them. As time went on, the steam engine began to be used in many industrial settings, not just

in mining (Steam Power during the Industrial Revolution). This was one of the most important

technologies of the industrial revolution, and one of the greatest developments that man has

created. It was very interesting to see how these machines differed from the earliest tools that

humans created.

The way that energy use has evolved throughout human history was extremely interesting

to me. Vaclav Smil wrote about the different eras of energy use throughout history. Humans

started by using solely their own energy, with their muscles doing all of the work. This idea soon

transferred over into domesticating large animals, and capitalizing on their energy and muscles to

complete harder tasks. Tools then came into existence when humans realized that their own

muscles had a limited capacity for work. These tools eventually evolved over time into machines

and the technology that we use every day. It is so fascinating to see where this all began, and

how energy use has expanded overtime.

Catena 4

Works Cited

"Environmental Decision Making, Science, and Technology." Environmental Decision Making,

Science, and Technology. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

"Steam Power during the Industrial Revolution." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 13 Feb.

2017. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

SMIL, VACLAV. ENERGY: A Beginner's Guide. Place of Publication Not Identified:


Torrence, Robin. Time, Energy and Stone Tools. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009. Print.