All life depends on energy, including all human life. Accordingly, all human cultures are dependent on the energy sources that make them possible. We access other energy sources because we need additional sources of energy to make our cultures possible. But each energy source requires us to accept certain values in order to access it — to prioritize some values while suppressing others. These values become basic values of the cultures that are dependent on those energy sources. Because these values are so fundamental, they affect how we see ourselves and how others see us.

This thesis is well known about coal and the industrial revolution: whereas people had previously been either peasants or serfs or landholders or someone serving either group, coal and manufacturing made us see everyone in relation to the production process. The coal-based culture of production brought a work ethic, a disciplined work force and class consciousness with it; the need for a self-disciplined population inspired all industrial governments to legislate universal public education — including homework!

The book, Art & Energy: How Culture Changes (The AAM Press, 2014), and this blog show that such changes in our cultural values have accompanied every energy transition from the mastery of fire forward. Energy transition is a powerful motor of cultural change.

Currently we are witnessing the struggle between the still dominant culture of consumption that came to us with oil and gas, and the culture of stewardship of the earth and the body that is incoming with renewable energy. The so-called “energy debate” is really a conflict of cultures.

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