If you think “the switch from a self-sustaining organic economy to a mineral resource depleting inorganic economy was central to the British Industrial Revolution” then you’re wrong. The Industrial Revolution resulted in an increased demand for energy; it wasn’t caused by the availability of energy via some great technological advances in coal extraction.
So Prof. Clark argues, coal is not the reason Britain industrialized first. (That’s the fire-walled-even-though-the-research-was-supported-by-public-funds link and here’s the unlocked version. Also, check out Clark’s fancy new website.):
Productivity growth in English coal mining in the Industrial Revolution era was extremely modest even under upper bound assumptions on productivity gains. The enormous expansion of coal output owes to factors external to the industry: increased demands for coal from greater populations and higher incomes, increased demands following on improvements in iron smelting technology, reduced taxation of coal used for domestic purposes in cities like London, and declining real transport costs… English coal reserves, known and exploited since medieval times, simply found a much larger market in Industrial Revolution England.
I wonder if this historical lesson has any relevance today? Where today do we see demand driving changes in the supply of energy? Hmmm…