The path that the United States took to become the largest consumer of power in the world was one largely chosen by market forces and government intervention. The role of culture on the use of energy is negligible in comparison with the influences of economic and political factors. The choices to adopt several new methods to produce energy were caused by the backing that these energies had in creating wealth or saving money for those who used the new energy and by the backing of the government through direct and indirect subsidies. One can examine the transitions to coal, oil, nuclear power, and current transitions toward green energy in order to see that the market forces are the dominant factor in dramatic increase of energy consumption in the United States.
Coal was the cutting edge of energy generation before any other source was extensively used. Wood, wind, water, and muscle power provided nearly all of the energy before the widespread adoption of coal. The greater energy density of coal provides a greater efficiency than these other methods of generating power; combine that greater efficiency with its ease of transportation and coal easily becomes the fuel of a nation. In its early days, coal was mined and consumed in England, a country short on wood and usable water power. This shortage in other areas left a gap that the relatively cheap coal could fill. Coal allowed for industry and manufacturing to grow and produce profits greater than almost any other industry. Coal gained its popularity mainly because it had an economic value in that it provided energy in quantities and in locations that were unobtainable and unreachable for the other energy sources at the time. This start in England led to momentum in taking new markets and in expansion of use and in turn consumption.
As coal use spread in the United States, cartels formed and, through the use of scale, lowered the price of coal, further expanding the use of this energy source. These cartels used harsh and sometimes cruel methods in breaking strikes and lowering wages to keep the mines operating cheaply and to keep the competition of other cartels from undercutting their sales. The cultural view of the coal industry was one of horror and disbelief; the mining practices, the dominance of these cartels and the pollution caused by burning coal all worked to soil the reputation of the industry itself. If culture was the deciding factor about energy, the use of coal would have been greatly stepped down or halted all together, but because the economic incentive remained, the use of coal increased. The continuing use of coal in an age of pollution awareness and global warming warnings shows that the market is the driving force behind the great energy consumption.
The discovery and exploitation of large amounts of oil is another example of market forces driving an increase in energy consumption. The greater efficiency and ease of transportation of oil made it even...