Jevon on Finite Coal

“But the new applications of coal are of an unlimited character. In the command of force, molecular and mechanical, we have the key to all the infinite varieties of change in place or kind of which nature is capable. No chemical or mechanical operation, perhaps, is quite impossible to us, and invention consists in discovering those which are useful and commercially practicable… For once it would seem as if in fuel, as the source of universal power, we had found an unlimited means of multiplying our command over nature. But alas no! The coal is itself limited in quantity; not absolutely, as regards us, but so that each year we gain our supplies with some increase of difficulty.” – Jevons, W.S. (1865), ‘The Coal Question: An Inquiry concerning the Progress of the Nation, and the Probable Exhaustion of our Coal‐Mines’, § 9, §§ 15.

15 Responses to “Jevon on Finite Coal”

  1. Joanne says:

    ah, well spoken..

  2. Rob Norton says:

    Coal is a renewable resource. If you consume more than what is made then you obviously run out.

    Replace the word coal with energy and see if that comment still makes sense.

  3. Jelte says:

    Coal is a non-renewable resource. To answer your question: the statement “If you consume more energy than what is made then you obviously run out” is technically incorrect, because energy cannot be made. However, substances differ greatly as to their energy-density, or the ‘quality’ of the energy they can provide.

    1. Rob Norton says:

      How does coal come about?

      What are you defining as a renewable resource? I suppose you’re following this idea about if you cannot sustain consumption rate then it’s not a renewable resource.

      Coal is completely natural and is replaced over time.

      I dislike this kind of false dichotomy between resources. All resources can be consumed much faster than they can be replaced.

      I think there’s a very serious err in your attempt to correct me. I completely disagree with this notion that some natural resources are exempt from over-consumption.

      Now,I didn’t make any claims about energy being made. I said replace that word “coal” with “energy.” You’re merely making an inference from that.

      Energy, as long as we hold is something constant can be used in a variety of ways. Now, if we are consuming more energy than is accessible to us (like in the case of limited accessibility of coal) then we are consuming more than is made. I am not playing a semantics game here. Coal is “made” in a manner of speaking, therefor I am using the term “made.”

      1. Jelte says:

        “Now,I didn’t make any claims about energy being made. I said replace that word “coal” with “energy.” You’re merely making an inference from that.”
        No worries, mate, I didn’t say or assume you were making any claims. All I did was “Replace the word coal with energy and see if that comment still makes sense.”

      2. Jelte says:

        “I dislike this kind of false dichotomy between resources. All resources can be consumed much faster than they can be replaced.”

        If that is so, then why did you opt to introduce the term ‘renewable’ in your comment? Perhaps you see some way that the term ‘renewable’ can be introduced, *without* dichotimizing? If so, I’d like to hear about it!

        1. Rob Norton says:

          It’s a naturally reoccurring resource. Hence, why it’s a renewable resource in my view. That’s also the most widely held definition of renewable resource.

          Just because it’s not sustainable in the way we use it doesn’t mean it’s not renewable. That is where the dichotomy comes into play. Some believe that various naturally occurring resources (that do indeed renew) are exempt from being over-consumed somehow because those are much easier to sustain.

          I understand some take issue with this idea; so, nevermind the jargon or technicality of the term. It really doesn’t mean much to the point I am making.

          1. Jelte says:

            “That’s also the most widely held definition of renewable resource.” I don’t know which community holds your definition of ‘renewable resource’. It is not held by members of the scientific- or energy-industry communities.

            I understand your point, though, and I recommend you substitute ‘naturally recurring resource’ for ‘renewable resource’ in the future.

      3. Jelte says:

        “What are you defining as a renewable resource?”

        I do what I usually do when someone opts to use a technical term: resort to what most specialists would consider to be the technically correct definition. In some contexts, ambiguity arises. In this case, it doesn’t.

        1. Rob Norton says:

          I can understand that. I should have been clearer in my initial entry.

      4. Jelte says:

        “I completely disagree with this notion that some natural resources are exempt from over-consumption.”

        I am unaware of ever having said anything to the effect that ‘some natural resources are exempt from over-consumption’.

        1. Rob Norton says:

          Somehow the idea of renewable resource to some people is based upon a measure of sustainability. Not whether it’s actually renewable or not.

      5. Jelte says:

        “Now, if we are consuming more energy than is accessible to us (like in the case of limited accessibility of coal) then we are consuming more than is made.”

        Again, *strictly* speaking, consuming coal is *not* an instance of consuming energy. It is an instance of transforming energy. (Your use of the term ‘accessibility’ is key here). (Better yet: ’emergy’ and ‘exergy’).

        1. Rob Norton says:

          I don’t know how to put this. I like to illustrate the idea I am conjuring like a series of straws running from a drink or something of that manner. Energy strictly speaking is only moved around yes. But it’s where it is stored, where it is going next, and how much of it is available that is important to this point.

  4. Rob Norton says:

    Also, I don’t think it’s a problem that coal isn’t sustainable. I find that the detrimental effects of coal plenty enough reason to find other sources of energy.

    However, I am not sure what you mean by quoting this Jevons guy. Maybe, Joanne can clue me into as to what this means.

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