Our High Energy Society

Part of the Climate Change exhibition.

TRS-80, Model I computer, introduced 1977.
Denis Finnin/AMNH

Modern conveniences have vastly improved our lives, but when fossil fuels provide the energy to make and power them, the planet's climate pays a price. Currently, using fossil fuels, the largest human-made source of carbon dioxide, adds nearly 30 billion metric tons of the gas to the atmosphere every year.

Expanding economies in the developing world, population growth, industrialization and rising income all point to a huge future spurt in personal energy use. Indeed, China or India or Brazil may outstrip the U.S. and Europe in household electricity use within decades. Without starting to cut emissions worldwide—now—we will see more and more CO2 released to the atmosphere in coming years.

Information Revolution

An electronic appliance, the personal computer, has transformed the way we work and communicate, and its spread has been dizzyingly fast. In 1987, there were so few home computers that the U.S. Department of Energy didn't even keep track; in 2006, personal computers per capita in the U.S. topped 80 percent. In that same year, a billion were in use worldwide.