The Industrial Revolution Environmental

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Isaiah Kessler Womack A05 Assignment #3 Rough Draft 19 November 2018 The Industrial Revolution: Environmental Decay in 18th Century Britain The Industrial Revolution followed colonialism and is marked as the time in which we as human beings progressed into the modern age. During the time of the Industrial Revolution there was a great expanse in technological innovations and many changes to human society. Major countries, such as Britain and the United states, that underwent large scale industrialization, turned into hubs of manufacturing and consumerism.

Economics was fueled by supply and demand of product and the capitalist desire for wealth. During this time many new inventions came forward as many entrepreneurs driven by the alluring dream of wealth and power pushed to earn a living. Philosophers such as Thomas Malthus published new ideas about society and different ideologies revolving around the expansion of human population and consumption. However, it was during this time that environmental policy took to the back-burner. With new theories of economics and societal structures such as Capitalism, Socialism, and Utopianism taking shape, the environment as a social and economic concern lost viability and was removed from the scope of concern.

An example of economics taking precedence over the environment is the introduction of coal as a main source of power and its heavy consumption which lead to huge environmental implications but great economic gain. The issue with these new social constructions was that they were concerned primarily with the success of man economically, and less concerned with the progress of man in the long run. Many philosophers talked about making money but then depleted the resources needed to make their money. Thomas Malthus actually predicted this over expansion and consumption when he said that population would outgrow its resources as a result of the Industrial Revolution (Chang). Entrepreneurs effectively dried their wells, which inspires me to ask the following question: How did the Industrial Revolution in Britain situated men against the natural world in terms of resources and control?

My assertion is that during the Industrial Revolution in Britain environmental issues appear as a result of lack of understanding that assets must be protected in order to maintain growth and wealth. Environmental issues, which emerged during the Industrial Revolution in 18th Century Britain, were the byproduct of changing attitudes of mans relationship to his environment. This attitude was sculpted by several reasons; greater resource demands for capitalist growth, cultural systematic consumption, and changes in living habits by human beings.

Understanding of the development of this attitude toward the environment is important to scholars today because as it stands our environment in in peril and to have any chance of future success, the errors of the past should be understood and acknowledged. There are several views on what really caused the change in relationship between man and the environment. For example, scholars such as Murphy and Grove claim that the cause of environmental neglect was a result of colonialism and the mindset of the control of the natural world. Domination and control were the premise behind colonial expansion and with this came a desire to dominate the natural world. Both Murphy and Grove explain that colonialism created a new understanding and relationship with the environment. This relationship involved controlling it and using the resources for ones own needs.

The desire for new trading commodities leads to the utilization of natural resources and the eventual decline of the environment (Murphy 8). For example, ungulate grazing in Mexico by Spanish conquistadors resulted in a huge change to the landscape and environment in central Mexico (Melville 9). Colonialism progressed as a viable economic resource for wealthier nations and was very prevalent as a cause of climate change and global warming. Demand for resources was the beginning of man against nature, but it wasnt the defining moment that set our current track.

It wasnt until the Industrial Revolution that there was a solidification of the use of resources for gain. There were new resources that had never been utilized prior to the development of technology. It is true that the impacts of colonialism were great, but the ideology of colonialism did not set up human beings for future decline. It is also possible to argue that the agricultural revolution is the cause for the mindset of man against nature. As ancient peoples first began to develop agriculture they often burned and destroyed natural forests to replace them with crops and pasture land.

This movement from nomadic life to sedentary life was a primary cause for overall environmental decline (Gautschi). Human progression as a result of the agricultural revolution was a major cause for the beginnings of climate change and landscape changes. Many groups that were once mobile became stagnant and thus their impact was magnified. Concentrations of waste and consumption lead to greater decline of the environment as before the stagnation of populations the land had time to naturally recover from human interaction.

The change from nomadic to stagnant life may very well be the start of all humans trouble with the environment, however with the development of industrial practice and the movement of more people into city centers there was an exponential growth of impact during the Industrial Revolution and into the modern age. The development of technology and discovery of new resources ultimately lead to the proliferation of environmental degradation; to a large extent the social and environmental impacts of resource frontiers were shaped by markets, innovation, and industrialization (Murphy 10).

Progress of man leads to the decline of the environment and it was during the Industrial Revolution that historians can see one of the greatest booms in technological and societal advancement. This is especially prevalent in large nations such as Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries. Both industrialization and colonialism shared many ideals and basic premises that were realized and put into practice on a greater scale during the Industrial Revolution.

Colonialism was simply a foundation for the Industrial Revolution and imperialism was the result of it. Resource consumption during early colonialism was hardly anything compared to the destruction wrought by the industrialization of major nations such as Britain and the imperialism that followed. Also, we see many thinkers during colonialism talk about domination of the natural world while in the industrial age the focus was on mastery of this world (Pisani). The difference between mastery and domination is that mastery is a complete control while domination is an exercise of control or dominance.

During colonialism the main premise was the consumption of resources from other places where the impacts were seldom seen as they were out of sight and out of mind. Britain being a major contributor to colonialism was primarily focused on the acquisition of goods such as sugar and other commodities that were produced outside of its own borders. The Industrial Revolution marked the movement of production to the home front. In Britain, there was greater resource demand as a result of invention, capitalism, profiteering and desire for economic prosperity. This is demonstrated by Kenneth Sokoloff who presents a sample of patent records in the United states in the years 1790 through 1846 as an example to study and understand the trend of inventive activity during the Industrial Revolution.

It becomes apparent that patenting was pro-cyclical and grew rapidly despite the hinderance of trade following the war of 1812. There is a strong correlation between patenting, inventive activity and market growth and this is a positive relationship where one benefits the other while also being improved. Changes in cultural attitudes, prosperity of investment, new methods of information transfer, production, specialization, resource availability and inventive behavior all were involved in industrial growth, which directly impacted/influenced the relationship with man and his surrounding environment (Sokoloff). This development is important to understand in the realm of mans interaction with the environment in that as man has a desire to create, he must inevitably consume.

To create something new you must first consume and destroy the old and basic resource in order to make a new product. In the case of the Industrial Revolution the old is resources and the new is a shiny and exciting commodity. In this time of new creation also came the development of consumerism. Consumerism was initially born in 18th century Britain and was later spread to the United States and other more developed nations. We see consumerism sprout up with the introduction of slavery and the racialization of Africans as commodities and the development of cash crops. Many farmers began growing and producing products such as sugar and other unnecessary items rather than what was needed.

This was also the beginning of the development of a more capitalist and wealth driven society. We see the development of the market system and the transition of views on self-gain from negative to positive. The economic mindset of the market system would leave the modern world essentially an economic world and the period of 1750-1914 became an era of the capitalist entrepreneur (Chang Lec. 1). It is in this time period that the Industrial Revolution occurred situating itself as the center piece for the development of the modern age and a movement into resource consumption on a non-sustainable level. Sustainability is the concept of allowing the environment to recover and with large expansions in production and usage it was not able to. The Industrial Revolution was characterized by the disregard for sustainability in favor of economic prosperity. The focus changed from the success as a collective to the success of the individual and the desire for consumption became the focal point for development.

The natural human desire for consumption and the development of cultural systematic destruction of the environment became most prevalent during the Industrial Revolution. Jacobus A Du. Pisani gives a excellent description of the human desire to control his environment and to become successful; As the Industrial Revolution was unfolding on the world stage from the 18th century, irrevocably transforming human societies, human progress was also linked to economic growth and material advancement. Donald Worster (1993: 178, 179, 180) describes how industrialization caused ?the greatest revolution in outlook that has ever taken place by leading people to think that it is right for them to dominate the natural order and radically transform it into consumer goods, that it is necessary and acceptable to ravage the landscape in the pursuit of maximum economic production, and that only things produced by industry and placed on the market for sale have value. (Pisani).

We see that during the revolution there is little value in raw materials, but that value is found rather in consumer items and purchasable items like cigars and sewing machines. This trend progressed into the modern era as little value is placed on raw materials but rather on items that require some form of production. As a society Britain and other more developed nations saw the creation of jobs not associated with production as there are none available. There is a class of workers who are not producers, but solely consumers. As workers they are used for jobs such as book keeping or banking.

They make money for the sole purpose of redistribution into the economic system, even if they are under the impression that it is for their own economic prosperity. Thus, the development of an entire class of consumers dedicated to helping the market system succeed. Today this has gotten to a point of being where there are not enough jobs and yet people without jobs are still consuming goods. This trend leads to more unsustainable consumption and the environment is further damaged. As a collective, humans have stopped producing for necessity but rather for economic gain. This desire for prosperity and success clouds the ability to see the repercussions. It was Thomas Hobbes that said that mans motivation for conflict stemmed from three main sources: Competition for gain, Diffidence for safety and Glory for reputation. He describes these motivations as human nature and that man cannot be blamed for them (Chang Lec. 2). As basic needs of man are consistently fulfilled he can look for success in higher tiers of need.

His position in society and his wealth become a primary concern as food and shelter or always a given. As society modernized the connection between man and the environment became less mutual and more parasitic as man began to give less and take more. Man relied less on the natural world and began to urbanize, separating themselves from the environment. During the Industrial Revolution there was a major change in human living habits and a mass influx of populations into more concentrated areas and cities. We see that during the Industrial Revolution there is a mass movement toward urban centers and cities as this is where work was available. Human beings crowded into these concrete and steel jungles and this resulted in an amplification of environmental impacts.

There was a rampant spread of disease, and pollution was magnified by large numbers being collected into smaller areas. In Principles of Political Economy, first published in 1848, John Stuart Mill included a short chapter on the ?stationary state, which implied a stationary condition of capital and population, but not of human improvement. He states, I sincerely hope, for the sake of posterity, that the worlds population ?will be content to be stationary, long before necessity compels them to it (Mill 1883: 452 454). Mill was essentially stating that as human beings we should strive to continue to develop and be prepared for a stagnant lifestyle long before we are forced to live in one. With the industrial age came a mass movement to city life and humans became increasingly more stagnant. Just as stagnant water breeds bacteria and disease so do stagnant humans. As more jobs were in factories people moved to where the jobs were, at no fault of their own, as they had to move with the progress of production.

During the Industrial Revolution in Britain environmental issues appear as a result of lack of understanding that assets must be protected in order to maintain growth and wealth. The attitude of man shifted from collective success to that of the individual. Environmental issues, which emerged during the Industrial Revolution in 18th Century Britain, were the byproduct of changing attitudes of mans relationship to his environment. This change in attitude was developed by several factors; greater resource demands for capitalist growth, cultural systematic consumption, and changes in living habits by human beings.

Understanding of the development of this attitude toward the environment is important to scholars today because as it stands our environment is in peril and to have any chance of future success, the errors of the past should be understood and acknowledged. From the Industrial Revolution starting in Britain and outward into the modern age there has been a trend of disregard for the earth in favor of economic success.  

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The Industrial Revolution Environmental. (2019, May 18). Retrieved May 20, 2024 , from

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