Terra: People burned mostly wood for their heating/fuel needs. Then they figured out steam engines. Their fuel needs exploded. They could have kept burning biomass, and they did a little bit, but the problem is one of quantity: there's just more coal around, and that's what allowed the Industrial Revolution to be so big. The steam engine made the world go round for a century or two, then electrification took over (yes I know electricity is steam-made).

Alternate: People did indeed figure out steam engines about 1765, and used them, but the Industrial Revolution never scaled to the same level. I do other reasons in the alternate world (the people aren't under the same economic imperatives as drove industrialisation), but I'd be interested in a change of fuel as well.

We all know wood/charcoal/biomass isn't as productive as mining fossil fuels, but my question is quantitatively how much less productive? Could we have a steam era 10% as revolutionary? 5%?

  • $\begingroup$ This didnt work out so well for the inhabitants of Easter Island. :( onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/…. $\endgroup$
    – Gillgamesh
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 13:31
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Practically the industrial revolution only happened because of coal. Early team engines burned an incredible amount of fuel. And pre-railway transportation costs meant that steam engines had to have their fuel extracted where it was used. This made their only practical application pumping water from deep coal mines. Deep coal mines existed because the major population centers had too many people to rely on wood. (cont.) $\endgroup$
    – OT-64 SKOT
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 13:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ People made persistent improvements on steam engines hoping to sell them to coal mines. But eventually they got efficient enough for use in factories. Without the deep coal mines though, there would have been no reason to persistently improve steam engines fuel effeciency. So they wouldn't have been developed to the point they're economical in factories in the first place without coal. $\endgroup$
    – OT-64 SKOT
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 13:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I’m voting to close this question because it is an off-topic high concept question. How much smaller (if at all) is a choice you, the worldbuilder makes. It's not objectively deterministic as we cannot account for the creativity and ingenuity of the world at that time based on an arbitrary limitation. That makes the Q opinion-based, too broad, open-ended, and hypothetical, all prohibited in the help center. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 17:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Revolution would be 24.7% of the size $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 22:59


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