Jevons, The Coal Question
The Coal Question; An Inquiry Concerning the Progress of the Nation, and the Probable Exhaustion of Our Coal Mines is a book that economist William Stanley Jevons wrote in 1865 to explore the implications of Britain’s reliance on coal. Given that coal was a finite, non-renewable energy resource, Jevons raised the question of sustainability. “Are we wise,” he asked rhetorically, “in allowing the commerce of this country to rise beyond the point at which we can long maintain it?” His central thesis was that the supremacy of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland over global affairs was transitory, given the finite nature of its primary energy resource. In propounding this thesis, Jevons covered a range of issues central to sustainability, including limits to growth, overpopulation, overshoot, energy return on energy input (EROEI), taxation of energy resources, renewable energy alternatives, and resource peaking—a subject widely discussed today under the rubric of peak oil.