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100 years ago

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Shift from animal power to coal

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Europe and America enjoy an economic boom that accelerates fuel and material consumption, generating extraordinary wealth for investors, if not for workers, while Russia invents a new industrial, socialist society.   An infrastructure of iron bridges and electric wires expands overhead. Petroleum paves the streets, greases the wheels, and powers the engines that miraculously relieve people and animals of lifetimes of drudgery.  Life is more comfortable, more prosperous, and more fun for more people than ever before. (more)

Forest cover, coal deposits, and population

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100 yrs ago map
Adapted from Times Survey Atlas of the World, 1922

Intact Forest

Coal deposits

= 1 million people

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100 yrs ago graph
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Global Population
8 billion in 2023

CO2 concentration
418 parts per million in 2023

Average Temperature
15° C in 2023

Sea Level above level in 1900
24 cm in 2023

300 ppm


2 billion



Sea level at datum

World War II; penicillin developed

Industry went global

Kyoto Protocol Agreement

Hundreds of parts per million
Degrees Centigrade 
Meters above datum


Over Centuries


Coal smoke has been blackening cities for a generation.  In winter it drapes the urban sky in a pall of yellowish smog that reflects streetlights in fantastic violets and oranges, welcoming people out after dark.  The transition from animal power and wood to coal and oil has already been in process for a century, from factories to railroads, and from gas lights to electric power.  Wood is replaced by coal as fuel, but demand for timber for building and paper only increases.


Deforestation reaches an extreme in the US and in industrialized countries in general in the early 20th century, exposing soil to erosion and worsening flood risk downstream.  Forests take many decades to regrow, and building soil takes centuries.


The accelerating loss of habitat threatens animal species everywhere, particularly in the tropics, which is a frontier for exploitation even as colonial domination wanes. Hunting for trophies and for market drives many species to the brink of extinction.  In 1914, the last passenger pigeon, Martha, dies. In 1916, the first national parks are established in the US to protect wild lands. In 1923, the inventor of the Rolls Royce engine urges a shift away from gasoline to vegetable-based alcohol.


At the scale of centuries, historians tell the stories of ideas and movements that play out across generations. The questions they ask are contemporary, but projected back onto other people and situations, often asking, ‘how did we get here?’.  History is written by people, for people, and usually about people, yet other histories from the sciences, tell stories of forests or communities of animals and plants, which map over the same timespan in parallel narratives with different heroes, villains, causes and effects.

100 yrs ago text


Text: World Wildlife Fund (2018). Living Planet Report - 2018 Aiming Higher. Gland, Switzerland, World Wildlife Fund.

Image: Archimedes Automatic Wind Instrumentalist British Museum Manuscript, Or. Add 23391, Reconstruction of Banu Musa diagram of water powered Wind instrument power Ibn Shakir, A. i. M. (1979). The book of ingenious devices (Kitab al-hiyal). Boston, D. Reidel Publisher, by Camila Lohzic.

Map: Maps of World. (2017, 24 March 2017). "World Coal Deposits."   Retrieved 21 September 2018, 2018, from

Population Education. (2015, 26 March 2015). "World Population."   Retrieved 21 September 2018, 2018, from

Bartholomew, J. G. (1922). Vegetation and Ocean Currents. Times Survey Atlas of the World. London, London Times.

CO2: Scripps Institution of Oceanography. (2018). "The Keeling Curve: Carbon dioxide concentration at Mauna Loa Observatory."

Temperature: NASA Global Climate Change Vital Signs of the Planet/Temperature:

Sea Level: NASA Global Climate Change Vital Signs of the Planet/Sea Level.  Satellite Data: 1993-Present.

Population:  Wikipedia. (2018). "World Population Estimates."   Retrieved 20 September, 2018, from

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