I am reading The Coal Question by W Stanley Jevons, after whom Jevons Paradox is named. It's quite fascinating in places. He was writing in the 19C England, worried that once Britain had mined all her most accessible coal, we would lose our preeminent position in the world. When I was reading about peak oil, a common complaint was that the economists refused to understand that once the easy-to-extract oil had been produced, it could not be substituted by harder-to-extract oil. I'm not 100% convinced about that, but I suspect it is true for conventional oil. Anyway, Jevons was an economist who did understand engineering. The chapter I've just read has just been talking about how the improvements in steam engine efficiency led to greater coal consumption, not less. He discussed all the main steps in steam engine design, the Savery engine, Newcomen, Watt. This is sort of stuff we did in history at school but a lot of it must have been recent history to him. He's just been discussing thermodynamics, although he did not call it that. He was also speculating that air engines would prove to be more economic than steam engines, and would thus take over. He was thinking of Stirling engines, but I suppose the internal combustion engine is a type of air engine. Jevon's does not seem to have predicted the ICE, and I don't think he predicted oil either, but I will soon find out as the next chapter is on subsitution. It's interesting to compare how things panned out with his worries. Of course, Great Britain did lose her pre-eminent position to the United States, which was what Jevons suspected would happen. Production of coal in Britain peaked in 1913, and now most of our mines are closed. An awful lot of our heavy manufacturing has gone, but was this really due to the cost of coal? I thought it was more to do with the cost of labour. And was the result that we all got poorer? Undoubtably not, on average we're much better off than we were in the 19C.