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The Future Possibilities

energy, coal, lands, changes, coalfields, conditions and history

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THE FUTURE POSSIBILITIES the previous chapters we have traced out the important steps by which the conditions of the modern world have gradually been evolved. These conditions have been viewed as the outcome of the control exercised by geography on man in his attempts to obtain and use more and more energy ; we have seen what are the great geographical controls, and observed that they act in many different ways according to the amount and kind of knowledge and experience which man has accumulated. It remains to make an attempt to dis cover what are the possibilities of change or further advance.

It is evident from what has already been learned that there are possibilities of advance in two ways, at any rate. The controls which we already know might act differently, or further supplies of energy which have not been used in the past might become available. Regions where movement is difficult might be found to be easily traversed or man might be able to use stores of energy in regions where it has not been possible to use them. Thus changes in the use of energy would be accompanied by changes in the relative importance of areas. The geography would still control the course of history, but it would control it in a different way.

And, further, changes may be brought about by the exhaustion of supplies of energy on which man now draws ; some lands might conceivably grow drier, crops might not be grown, food energy would fail; if the process was extensive, history would be greatly affected. Some, indeed, have sought to proye that the interiors of the greater continents are now becoming progressively drier; others say that there are regular rhythms, dry periods of years alternating with wet, but that there is nothing progressive. Whether either theory is true or neither scarcely concerns us ; we know that whether dry periods are cyclic or no, they certainly occur, and have affected history in more ways than one. And whether continental areas are becoming drier or not, the change is so slow that other changes must have greater effect.

Another and more important source of supply which must become exhausted lies in those very coalfields of which we have spoken. This change of condition is more

serious, for when coal is used it cannot be replenished; there is only a certain definite amount, and when that is done there is no more. Of course, it might be that the supply was so enormous that we could go on using it for indefinite ages and yet would make no impression, but this is not so. The survey of the world, though not complete and detailed, is yet so accurately known now, that there cannot be any great undiscovered source of coal. On this basis it has been estimated that, at the present rate of consumption, coal in Britain and Germany may last for 500 or 1000 years, and that in the United States for 6000 years, but if the consumption continues to increase at its recent rate, all the coal that can be worked in these lands under existing conditions will be exhausted in 150 years. This may not be altogether a bad thing; it may merely be a stimulus to further saving, to making further advance. The stimulus to save is indeed already acting to bring about the employment of such engines as will really use the most energy in the coal : a good steam-engine uses only about 12 % of the energy in the fuel. This is about the percentage of his food energy that a man can use in doing work, but a turbine uses 30 %, and a good gas-engine probably a little more, but even this is wasteful compared with the energy which the firefly uses to produce its light. However this may be, and even supposing that all the energy locked up in all the coal of all the world were employed for useful work, it is obvious that there will be a dearth after a period which, however long when judged by ordinary standards, yet, when measured by the time which we call historic, is certainly short. As the coalfields are worked out, the lands containing them must become of less account; those lands which can mine coal longest will, other things being equal, obtain a corre sponding importance. The very extensive coalfields in China must thus have a peculiar interest for the future.

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