Date of Award

Spring 6-17-2016


John Van Buren


Beginning during the Industrial Revolution, global economic growth has been driven mainly by humanity’s ability to harness energy from the combustion of fossil fuels. Energy is a tremendously valuable resource; lands with few other resources yield wealthy nations, businesses, cartels, armies and kingdoms, grown primarily from deposits and reserves of coal, oil or natural gas below the land’s surface. Energy security is perhaps a prerequisite for a nation to achieve industrial and economic development, foreign investment and trade, and in most cases law and order. As energy markets stand today in our global economic system, the burning of oil and other fossil fuels for energy production is still a necessity in ensuring economic growth, upward mobility, the continued advancement of developing nations and ending extreme poverty. However, the social benefits provided by fossil fuels are being outweighed by the unevenly distributed private and social costs of anthropogenic climate change. This thesis, using the disciplines of environmental history, environmental politics and environmental economics, explores why and how governments and societies must transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy sources. Government intervention in energy markets should be used to the advantage of maximizing social welfare and eliminating inefficiencies, to mitigate the effects of climate change, by gradually implementing regulations to internalize the social costs imposed as a result of fossil fuel consumption at opportune moments, when global political momentum is peaking.