Energy Cultures in Historical Perspective: what we can learn for the future

Co-presented with the Sydney Environment Institute

9 February, 2016

Today as the population of our planet is on the rise, as energy needs are growing and CO2 emissions are threatening livelihoods around the globe, it makes sense to look back to understand how societies have dealt with energy expectations, energy needs, and energy transitions in the past.

Why have Germans chosen to go from wood to coal to nuclear power and solar? Which role did fears and expectations play? Is there a correlation between American energy abundance and energy waste? How important was the discovery of the Americas in the context of energy history? Why did China move so much later than Europe and the United States from agriculture to energy-intensive industries?

This talk will discuss what is distinctive about developments in Europe and the United States. It will analyse the political and cultural context of the legendary wood shortage in Germany and the origins of the sustainability idea in the 18th century. It will look at the significance of coal in the 20th century and the rise and of fall of the nuclear industry in Germany. It will ask the question why the US has enjoyed an almost uninterrupted energy surplus that is closely connected to a 'culture of abundance'.

It will raise fundamental questions that go beyond German and American developments and take on a more global view: Can we really consider a near-term post-carbon transition? And can a look at the past help us understand the present and the future?


Professor Christof Mauch

Professor Christof Mauch is Director (jointly with Helmuth Trischler) of the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Chair in American Culture and Transatlantic Relations (currently on leave) at LMU Munich, and an Honorary Professor at Renmin University in China.

He is a past President of the European Society for Environmental History and a former Director of the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC. Mauch has held positions at Tübingen University, Bonn University, and Cologne University, as well as visiting professorships in Edmonton, Kolkata, Vienna, Washington, DC, and Warsaw. Mauch has published widely in the field of German, American, and international environmental history.