I recently read a New York Times article on the coal problem. In the future, the article notes, we won’t be able to burn coal at our current rate, so there is an obvious need to make a transition to alternative sources of energy. According to the Times article, the most likely replacement for coal is solar energy.
Because most industrial economies currently depend heavily on coal, the Times notes that the economic effects of this transition will be perilous. On the bright side, the article cites recent “revolutionary” technical improvements in solar technology that will ease our transition to a solar future, noting that engineers have developed solar power plants that can produce over 7 watts per square foot of collector. “The new power is as exhaustless as the sun itself,” the Times gushed.
Here’s the kicker: the article was published on September 10, 1868. That’s right — over 145 years ago. I came across the article by chance, when I entered the word “solar” into the search box on the New York Times web site, and then (on a whim) clicked “oldest to newest.”
The article (“The Coal Problem and Solar Engines”) is so interesting that I have reprinted a good chunk of it on this page (see the sidebar below).
“The Coal Problem and Solar Engines”
[Editor’s note: The following article appeared in the September 10, 1868 issue of The New York Times.]About two years ago, a very earnest discussion, as our readers will remember, sprang up in England on the prospective exhaustion of the coal-beds of Great Britain and Europe. Not only the scientific Press, but the literary and social — the Saturday Review, the Spectator, the Times, the magazines — took it up. Sir Wm. Armstrong and other scientific men attempted estimates of the duration of the…