While our ancestors have been around for about six million years, the modern form of humans only evolved about 200,000 years ago. Civilization as we know it is only about 6,000 years old, and industrialisation started in the earnest only in the 1800s.

The Industrial Revolution marked the the beginning of the major use of fossil fuels as our primary source of energy, namely coal. This began around the mid-1700s.

But if humans/our ancestors have been roaming the Earth for around six million years, why have we only began to use fossil fuels in the past few hundred?

Why did it take humans so long to fully utilise fossil fuels?

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    Your question seems to have the potential for circular logic. If the definition of "fully utilise" is "to use for all purposes", then it was only once the industrial revolution started that demand for fuel spread much beyond domestic heating and cooking (both of which could be satisfied with wood as a fuel). – Steve Bird Aug 16 '17 at 10:27
  • Interesting. But why did it take humans so long to get to that stage where the demand for fossil fuel was much higher? Was there ever the potential for the industrial revolution to begin earlier on in time? – Cthulhu Aug 16 '17 at 11:00
  • How deep down in the rabbit hole do you want to go? There was no industrial revolution because there was no steam machine -> there was no steam machine because science was not advanced enough -> science was not advanced because the scientific method had not been developed a few centuries before -> .... – SJuan76 Aug 16 '17 at 11:55
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    There are a number of questions on the site that cover the reasons why the industrial revolution happened when it happened. As I noted, prior to the increased demands of industry, the supply of wood/peat and animal oils were sufficient to cover most of the needs for fuel. – Steve Bird Aug 16 '17 at 12:01
  • Aside from the inherent circular logic in the question, I think there's a real problem with defining what is meant by "fully utilize". Fossil fuels like coal were used to some extent in antiquity: we they "fully utilized" because the ancients did everything they wanted to do with them? Do we even fully utilize fossil fuels today, when much is wasted or used inefficiently, and we (or some of us, at least) recognize the problems caused by their use and seek alternatives? – jamesqf Aug 16 '17 at 17:45

Fuels with high calorific values like coal and oil had been discovered in ancient times, but weren't so useful then. They weren't easy to mine, for starters. But more importantly, more readily available fuels like charcoal, olive oil, wood, peat, etc. were good enough.

One of the (if not the) major contributors to the adoption of fossil fuels was the gradual introduction of blast furnaces. They allowed to reach the higher temperatures needed to improve smelting techniques. They were initially fueled with charcoal; coke was introduced shortly after.

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