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One of most notable impacts brought about by skyrocketing energy consumption was the division of the world into energy "haves" and "have-nots." Nothing makes this more starkly evident that looking at a map of the Earth at night. The world was dark before the Industrial Revolution, and many different countries vied for political and economic power. Today, where you see light, you see where vast amounts of energy are used. You also see the countries with economic and political power.
On a national level, the countries that industrialized first, namely
Europe and the United States, were able to leverage huge political and
economic power over the countries that had yet to develop. Though
European states built global empires between the 16th and 18th
Centuries, before industrialization, their conquests were largely
limited to areas were the indigenous peoples still used stone age
technology--principally in the Americas. The other major civilizations on
the Eurasian landmass, China, India, the Ottoman Empire and Japan, were
still for the most part strong enough to limit European expansion to
trading posts. The same was true in Africa, but for different reasons:
the harsh environment restricted the newcomers to the coastal periphery.
Industrial technology changed all that. First, new military technologies, mass-produced in coal-powered factories, allowed European armies to consistently beat all comers. From the mid-19th to the mid-20th Century, cannons, machine guns and quick-firing rifles virtually guaranteed European armies victory against all other peoples in the world, often against absurd numerical odds. The one exception was Japan, who rapidly industrialized after 1886 and was able to preserve her independence and even beat semi-industrialized Russia in a major war in 1905.
Secondly, the energy harnessed by railways and steam-boats allowed Europeans to enter once-inaccessible hinterlands of other continents, leading to the colonization of India, the American West, China, and Africa.
Thirdly, the instantaneous communication of the telegraph, and superior organization and bureaucracy of industrialized states, allowed
comparatively tiny groups of Europeans to dominate millions of
impoverished subjects. The British Raj in India is a prime example: a
tiny elite of about 1,000 British civil servants ruled 300 million
Despite the uninterrupted accumulation of wealth among those countries
which industrialized early, the earth at night today shows that many other countries are beginning to catch up in energy use. China, Brazil and
India are all rapidly consuming more energy. On an absolute level they
are pulling even with the developed world; China already uses more
energy than the United States, though not as efficiently, and on a per
person basis they continue to lag far behind.
If these other countries are catching up in terms of energy use, then
it logically follows they are catching up economically. In terms
of national gross domestic product China has soared above the one-time
European empires, and is second now only to the United States. Though
that country's economy was still only 40% the size of the American
economy in 2010, China's surging growth rate and America's slow growth
leads most analysts to conclude that the Chinese economy will overtake
the U.S. and become the world's largest before the end of this decade.
The explosive economic growth of these other countries has led some
commentators to call this era the "Rise of the Rest," in contrast to the
past five hundred years which has largely been a story of the rise of
the West to global dominance.
Banyan Blog, "China's military power: Modernization in Sheep's Clothing," The Economist, August 26th 2011. Accessed June 3, 2012.
"Brazil 'overtakes UK economy'. BBC News. March 6, 2012. Accessed June 3, 2012.
Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs and Steel, (New York: Norton, 1999), p. 362.
Dewey, Clive. Anglo-Indian attitudes: the mind of the Indian Civil Service. (London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 1993), p. 3.
"Energy Consumption: Total energy consumption per capita." World Resources Institute. Accessed June 3, 2012.
Ferguson, Niall. Civilization: The Six Ways the West Beat the Rest, (New York: Basic Books, 2011), p. vi.
Ferguson, Niall. Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order, (New York: Basic Books, 2003), p. ix.
"GDP based on PPP valuation of country GDP," International Monetary Fund. Accessed June 3, 2012.