I concede Greg’s point, namely that cheap energy played a small role in the starting of the British Industrial Revolution, which like the Dutch, Italian, Chinese, ancient Greek and Phoenician booms was about technological innovation spurred by trade. Absolutely true.
But what was unique about the British Industrial Revolution — and Deirdre and Greg have taught me this as much as anybody — was that it got a second wind, and literally did not run out steam. Indeed it went on to infect the entire world with the habit of fast growth. In the mid-19th century, when constraints of labor, water, wood, and other factors would have led Britain to begin stagnating and suffocating under piratical and parasitical depredations, as Holland, Italy, Greece, China and — I’m guessing here — Phoenicia eventually did, at that point Britain engaged another gear thanks to coal. And this was at exactly the moment, according to Greg, that real wages had at last begun to show growth. My point is that without coal, Britain would be just another flash in the pan, a golden age that produced some luxury and culture and science but no real transformation of living standards.