Nature 426, 318-322 (20 November 2003) | doi:10.1038/nature02130

Hydrocarbons and the evolution of human culture

Charles Hall1,2, Pradeep Tharakan1,3, John Hallock1, Cutler Cleveland4,5 & Michael Jefferson6


Most of the progress in human culture has required the exploitation of energy resources. About 100 years ago, the major source of energy shifted from recent solar to fossil hydrocarbons, including liquid and gaseous petroleum. Technology has generally led to a greater use of hydrocarbon fuels for most human activities, making civilization vulnerable to decreases in supply. At this time our knowledge is not sufficient for us to choose between the different estimates of, for example, resources of conventional oil.

  1. Departments of Environmental and Forest Biology and Graduate Program in Environmental Sciences, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, New York 13210, USA (SUNY ESF)
  2. Flathead Lake Biological Station, University of Montana, Polson, Montana, USA
  3. Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, USA
  4. Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, Boston University, 675 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA
  5. Department of Geography at Boston University, 675 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA
  6. Global Energy & Environmental Consultants, The Old Stables, Felmersham, Bedfordshire MK43 7HJ, UK

Correspondence to: Charles Hall1,2 Email:,,