The Industrial Revolution

Prior to industrialization, the standard of living was focused on substantive measures—the majority of people had to be concerned with producing their food for survival. In medieval Europe, for instance, roughly 80 percent of the labor force was employed in subsistence agriculture. When some countries were able to start importing goods, they experienced major changes in their economy, population distribution, vegetative cover, agricultural production, income, population levels, urban growth, distribution of the workforce, diet, and clothing.

The first transformation to an industrial economy from an agrarian one was called the industrial revolution. It did not occur at the same time everywhere. Industrialization through advancements in manufacturing processes first began in the northwest portions of England in the 18th century. It then spread to Europe and North America in the 19th century and to the rest of the world in the 20th.

As an energy source, the use of coal was symbolic of the beginning of the industrial revolution, and sadly coal has been one of the largest contributors to global warming. This period saw major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, production, and transportation. It not only affected the economic aspects of society, but the social aspects as well. The effects were far-reaching, influencing life in many ways.

It was at this time that manual labor was replaced with machine-based manufacturing. The beginnings of these advancements were seen in the textile industries, in the development of iron-making techniques, and in the increased use of refined coal. Simultaneously, methods of transportation were improved in order to expand the world markets.

Canals, roadways, and railways were all used to expand to new markets. Coal was used to create steam power and allowed production rates to climb drastically. Another major advancement was the development of all-metal machine tools. These made it possible to design additional machinery used in the manufacture of even more products. As the effects of this modernization spread around the world, the impact on societies was enormous.

What historians refer to as the first industrial revolution began in the 18th century. It then merged into the second industrial revolution around 1850. It was during this second wave that technological and economic progress gained momentum—mainly due to the development of assembly lines, steam-powered railways, and ships. Improvements were then made when the internal combustion engine and electrical power generation became available.

Throughout industrialization, some of the world's most important inventions were developed. Technological innovation was the key component of the industrial revolution, with its most critical invention being the Watt steam engine in the late 1700s.

It has been suggested that the industrial revolution started in Europe because Europe had easy access to resources such as coal near their manufacturing centers, as well as access to food and wood from the New World. In addition, investment capital was more accessible in Britain's economy at the time.

There are other inventions also associated with the industrial revolution. For example in the textile industry, cotton spinning was an important component. Three major spinning looms were invented, enabling the spinning of worsted yarn, flax linen, cotton, and other textiles.

The organization of labor also played a key role. This was when the assembly line work system was developed. By having a series of workers trained to do a single task on a product, then having it move along an assembly line to the next worker for their trained input, the number of finished goods was able to rise significantly, greatly improving efficiency and output.

The major change in the metal industries during this era was the replacement of wood with fossil fuel (principally coal) as a source of energy. It was at this time that wrought iron, steel, and the crucible

The Watt engine was one of the most famous inventions introduced during the industrial revolution. (Tamorlan)

steel method were developed. Mining advances were also made during the industrial revolution. The invention of the steam engine gave a tremendous boost to the development of mining. The steam engine enabled much easier removal of water from shafts, allowing mines to be dug deeper, letting more coal be extracted. In fact, it was the steam engine that greatly reduced the fuel costs of engines and made the mining industry much more profitable.

Other inventions associated with the era included Portland cement/ concrete, machine tools, sewage systems, boring machines, milling machines, gas lighting, seed drills, threshing machines, and traction engines, to name but a few.

The industrial revolution marked a critical era when several ingenious inventions involved machines to harness energy to do work and be used in the production of various goods. At the time, the fact that burning coal could replace the need for human labor was an attractive concept. Unfortunately, little attention was paid to the environment. Therefore, while the industrial revolution meant that more goods could be produced for human consumption, it also marked a major turning point in the Earth's environmental health.

During this revolution and time that dramatically changed every aspect of human life in a seemingly positive way, the negative human impact on natural resources and energy use was also irreversibly put into motion. At the time, however, society was not focused on the negative impacts being inflicted on the environment, perhaps because the effects were not suddenly apparent. Beginning in the mid-1700s in Great Britain, when machinery began to replace manual labor, fossil fuels gradually replaced the traditional wind, water, and wood energy sources. It was not until about 200 years later that society began to realize the seriousness of the damage that had been done to the environment. As technology advanced, manufacturing became more efficient, new discoveries were made, and new products were developed. While this meant that more goods could be produced for human consumption, it also meant that more pollutants were continually being pumped into the atmosphere and more natural resources were being exploited to produce more goods.

One of the industrial revolution's most drastic effects was that as more inventions and commodities were developed, more jobs were created, and as more jobs were created, more people flocked to the cities in order to be employed at the factories located nearby. Along with this, world population growth exploded—world population by 1,000 c.E. was around 300 million. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, the population was roughly 700 million; by 1800, it was 1 billion. By 1850, the world population had expanded to 2 billion. During the 1900s, world population began growing exponentially to 6 billion people, a 400 percent increase. In terms of the environment, this population explosion contributed heavily toward rising air pollution.

Even worse than all these things was what the revolution did to the human mind-set. It changed the way people thought about themselves in relation to nature. Unfortunately, for many, it promoted the idea that humanity had finally mastered nature and was now apart from and above it. People began using energy resources—principally coal—without regard for any ill effects they might have on the environment. In fact, it was not until the 1960s that the issue came to public attention that perhaps this uncurtailed use of natural resources without regard for the effect on the environment was finally brought to public light and given the attention it deserved.

Rachel Carson, author of the 1962 book Silent Spring, brought people's attention to how their actions affected nature. She introduced the concept of sustainable production and development. Thus began the birth of the concept that although fossil fuels (mainly coal) were responsible for great advancements, they came at an extraordinary cost to the environment and ultimately to the health of all living things.

Factories poured black smoke into the air and waste products into water supplies, leading to the concept of dirty air. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in

Coal-fired plants belch pollution into the atmosphere from their smokestacks, contributing to global warming. (UC San Diego)

Drawing Godzilla Face

the atmosphere was approximately 280 parts per million (ppm). Today, it is approximately 387 ppm—at a level higher than at any time in the past 750,000 years—and is still rising, even though several areas have begun implementing measures to curtail carbon output.

In 1949, the American geophysicist M. King Hubbert predicted that the fossil fuel era would be very short-lived and that other energy sources would have to be found. He also predicted that oil would reach its peak production period in the 1970s and then enter a steady decline against the rising energy demands of a steadily growing population. Hubbert's theory—known as Hubbert peak—matches exactly what happened in the United States in 1971. Unfortunately, society's dependence on fossil fuels is so ingrained that now, when new energy sources must be found and lifestyles changed in order to use them, people are resistant to change.

As the scientific community looks back to the beginning of the industrial revolution, it is possible to see how emissions from human inventions have significantly changed the Earth's atmosphere, leading to global warming. While humanity's progress and inventions have benefited populations worldwide and their effects were largely unacknowledged or misunderstood at the time, the scientific community now understands just how tremendous an impact that technology over the past 250 years has had on the environment. Of all the sectors in the economy today, the transportation sector has been responsible for the greatest share of environmental damage. Not only have mining and drilling operations invaded and disturbed sensitive areas, such as the fragile polar ecosystems, but the worldwide damage from emissions has caused negative global effects.

In the mid-20th century, a few major events occurred that finally shocked people into becoming more aware of their environment and seeing a need to become environmentally responsible. In 1948, in the valley of Donora, Pennsylvania, pollutants from local coal plants combined with trapped air to produce a lethal cloud. In 1952, in London, sooty coal smoke and fog combined to produce killer smog, causing thousands of people to die. Around the same time, people began to notice that fish were dying and that the acidity levels of rain were high—leading to the discovery of acid rain. All three incidents were connected to changes occurring alongside global warming.

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  • Fallon Mitchell
    What was the impact of the industrial revolution in the burning of fossil fuels?
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    How could scientists tell fossil fuels were a problem during the industrial revolution?
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    When did humans start using fossil fuels?
    10 months ago
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    What they did to stop fossil fuel production in the industrial revolution?
    10 months ago
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    Why wer fossil fuels chosen ovr biofuels in industrial revolution?
    9 months ago
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    7 months ago
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    Which two new fossil fuel sources was tapped into during the Industrial Revolution?
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    28 days ago
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    When were fossil fuels first used for multiple industrial proccesses?
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    What three things were the fuel of the industrial revolution?
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