Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Industrial Revolution, part I

A step forward or step in the wrong direction?

As we have discussed in class, historians relate the Industrial Revolution to that of the Neolithic Revolution, when humans became an agrarian community versus nomadic (Tate & Smith, 1986, p. 219). There is no doubt that because of the Industrial Revolution we have benefited from its many inventions, advancements and improvements. Without it, our lives as we know it would be non-existent. As a person that belongs to middle class society, I would not have had the opportunities which I enjoy today if it were not for mass production and technology. In addition, very few individuals would know and understand the same comfort and luxuries we expect today. Still, history shows that the ancient Romans (before the fall of Rome) were a very advanced society and had invented many processes and materials to make life easier and more secure. Unfortunately, these methods were lost or forgotten with the fall of the Roman Empire. It took many years before these techniques were revived and improved upon. However, these “improvements” employed different methods than what was originally utilized, and since 1850 we now have 35% more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere (CBS evening news, August 2007). Sooner or later our idea of “comfort” will have to become compromised in the interest of the world’s future. The effects of this change are sure to bring about a new revolution; one that is perhaps more healthy for our environment, but (as some feel) could be detrimental to our way of life.

Considering global warming, do you believe that the Industrial Revolution, specifically the discovery of coal and other fossil fuels, was a necessary step forward or a “misstep” in the advancement of modern man? Do you think we would have found the same quality of life if we had continued to develop the technology we were already using (such as wind and water mills)? Explain your answer.

11 comments:

Kasey said...

I don't think that the discovery and use of fossil fuels and coal was necessarily a misstep. I think the only mistake we made was to use and continue to use it at such a rapid, and wasteful pace. As Americans, we are probably one of the most, if not the most wasteful culture worldwide; perhaps because everything is so readily available to us, we take things for granted. Also, we are inclined to have an individualist attitude and thus we justify our carelessness with, "I'm just one person, what difference will it make." I can't speak for everyone, but I know I'm guilty of it. I never even thought about how important resource conservation is until the other day in class when Ms. Dickson said our generation would experience a water shortage. Anyways, I think the use of coal was necessary for the revolution to make the impact that it did, given the technology that was available. I don't think that, at that point in time, they had the teachnological means to further innovate the uses of water or wind power to the equivalent of those of coal. I think this because wind and water must both be harnessed at a large scale to be effective and neither are things that can easily be manipulated or controlled. The best example I can think of to illustrate the challenge that would have been faced is with the railroads. They were essential to the revolution and I don't know that we could efficiently power them with water or wind today. Well, to be honest, I have no idea if we can or can't, but it sounds crazy to me. Basically, what I'm saying is, to me, hydropower means dams and wind power means mills which are great for things like lighting a small city, but improbable for individual components like running a small engine.

jessica said...

I think that over time we have to make mistakes in order to get at something much greater. There's no fun in getting it right the first time. Also at the time people didn’t know any better. But I think since then we've learned about other better alternatives to coal and fossil fuels. If there was any "misstep" it is that we still use the same methods today even after we know what it does to the environment and the problems it can bring in the future. We as a country can be very ignorant and not realize that there are consequences. But back to the original question…I don't think we could've further developed the use of water and wind because of its need for a permanent setting. We needed something that could be mobile and that’s what problem coal solved.

Audrey said...

To take a more pessimistic side I believe that the rapid embrace fossil fuel energy was a misstep. People ignored how sick the earth was becoming because of the growth of industry. The growth of industry meant more jobs and more jobs meant more money. Some would say that we were ignorant of the negative affect industry had. Still the negative aftermath of pollution was perhaps even more evident early on. As we know black smoke often covered the cities were industry thrived. General repertory health began to decline. It is during this time period when medical health can note epidemics like black lung and cancer. Inevitably man will always do anything for a fast way to make money even if it means putting humanity in debt. But have we changed? Aren’t we still looking for a way to make money? If we decided to stop using fossil fuels all together; that is to say if fossil fuels were suddenly illegal; our economy would fail. Still if we don’t stop using fossil fuels our planet will surely die. To put it bluntly, the discovery of fossil fuels has screwed us. It could possibly be our most fatal misstep.

Laurel said...

My answer is sort of conflicted -
I believe that in the context of the times, the discovery and use of fossil fuels such as coal was an extraordinary new innovation that bettered the lives of almost everyone across the board. It completely changed everyday life as everyone knew it. I think one reason that people weren't as concerned (at the time) about it's impact on the environment, is because through the use of fossil fuels and other innovations in the Industrial Revolution, people were creating more of their own manmade environments. So if the deteriorating natural environment was losing it's appeal, people would surround themselves with manmade environments, rich tapestries, thick carpets and expensive porcelain or china. Just like today, we realize what a problem the oil crisis is becoming, but we keep buying bigger cars and trucks that are more and more wasteful and damaging to our environment.

Overall, I think that the discovery of coal and other fossil fuels was a misstep, considering the negative effect it has had on us in the long run. However, I do not think that we could have achieved the same quality of life had we furthered the use of wind and water power instead. Plus, at the time, even if we could see the clouds of smoke and the effect of pollution, we had no idea what kind of impact we were only beginning to make.
Then again, was the quality of life that we achieved through the Industrial Revolution really necessary? I know that we achieved a new level and idea of comfort, and if it were not for the Industrial Revolution, interior design may not even be such a big field today. But when you think about it, were these newfound luxuries really necessary? Do we really need rich tapestries, thick carpets and expensive china to exist? No.

I believe at this point, we need to re-evaluate our idea of 'comfort.' We are buying gas-guzzling, luxury cars with leather and wood-grain interiors while steadily ripping a bigger hole in the ozone layer. The challenge that designers like us will be faced with is a new one. I believe that 300 years from now, future generations will be learning about the Green revolution which is only just beginning. It will be up to us to start utilizing new materials and embracing a 'Green' lifestyle, and to find ways to still meet our high standards of 'comfort' while reducing the impact that we have on mother nature.

NBUSHdesign said...

In the whole scheme of the world, yes the Industrial Revolution has got the world to the place it has today…a wealthier than ever before place. A land of “equal opportunity” for the masses to enjoy the finer points in life and being comfortable by buying the extras in life. To say that the discovery of fossil fuels was a “misstep” for the modern man is a heavy statement. That being said, I analyze exactly what fossil fuels do…and I realize they are not an energy source that can be used without the effect of emissions, it is not in their nature, or composition. That being said, yes, fossil fuels were a “misstep” for man. We can not help that they were discovered. The reality is that they were, and they were utilized to advance our society. However my mind is racing with an alternative. The other fork in the road that we could have taken.

The scenario begins with fossil fuels never being discovered and still a mystery laying in the ground. Human nature gives people the idea to “tinker”, explore, and explain. With the mystery of fossil fuels in my scenario, that tinkering would have been placed on the wind and water power being used at the time. There would be a focus on the advancement of that power source if there was no alternatives. We would be forced to make this work for us. In this scenario, I believe that the quality of life would have taken much longer to reach where it has today. Much like the loss of invention by the Greco-Roman cultures. Eventually it would come is my philosophy. The benefit is that it would have came in a much less adversely affecting way. In a sense, naturally. The other problem I see is that I’m not sure we could have created technology we have today just from wind and water power. I think the fossil fuels propelled our technology, taking a step back, to today our reflection on the reversal independence on fossil fuels, two steps forward.

Megan Funk said...

If you look back at the human race and the way things have been done over centuries you would notice that at the time of the industrial revolution there is a huge jump in the productivity of people. For years people were self sufficient, they made what they needed for their family. Then eventually they became specialized and traded for what they needed. This led to what we have today where assembly lines break things down into specific steps. I find it hard to imagine that without the jump in technology that resulted from the industrial revolution we would have ever ended up with the lives of comfort and ease that we have come to know. If wind and water mills were a way to develop better energy sources then I think that that would have happened. Today there is opportunity for that to happen, but today’s wind and water mills depend heavily on the knowledge that has been developed in the last 150 years.

SBSull2 said...

A misstep? Definitely not. Though the use of fossil fuel for transportation and other so called “comforts” has lessened the earth of its natural resources, it has not completely depleted her. Driven by resources, economics plays a large role in the issue of fossil fuel. Now that we have used much of the Earth’s source of fuel, the idea of scarcity comes about. When supplies are scarce, it drives us to explore new options for running our world. Since coal and other resources were readily available at the time of the industrial revolution, they were used. Now that these assets are less tangible, we are implementing new and improved ways to keep the lives we lead comfortable. Therefore, I feel that without the use of these natural resources, these new innovations would not be possible.

Lauren Fleming said...

I definitely don't think it was a misstep. Though, what we have discovered is that we are harming our atmosphere. The important thing is that we realize this and are taking the necessary actions to fix the problem. Without the use of fossil fuels our world would be at an economic stand-still. By changing the way we design we are preparing our future generations for the challenges they may encounter because of our carelessness. Green education is the key to preserving the environment for many years to come. If we would all take the time to live green we would slowly be reaching our goal of being completely environmentally friendly.

Jenna said...

I think discovering coal and fossil fuels was a great thing. It really advanced our society. I don't think, however we should have completely ignored advancements such as wind power. Especially if they are a renewable energy source. It's pretty interesting that wind power is coming back again due to the green revoltion. I think regarding fossil fuels, somewhere along the way we got lost. We took the fast, easy route, which usually always gets one into trouble. Although using coal can be a great thing, it can also be careless when used in great amounts. We have already seen this. It seems like whenever a society is progressing you must make changes in the ways that you operate. You must plan in hopes that it will be a positive change, rather than a negative. There are always bumps in the road... in other words, global warming. This reinforces the idea that each new generation must become more knowledgable through research and experiment, as well as creative thinkers to come up with better, more sustainable solutions. It's a learning process.

Melanie Ormerod said...

Even with the consequent of global warming, I do believe that the discovery of coal and fossil fuels was a necessary step forward. The developed technology up to that point was using wind and water mills, which could only be used in certain places. Wind mills could only be used in windy places, which was usually by water. And water mills could obviously only be used near water. With both of these forms of energy you could not be far away from the energy source. The discovery of fossil fuels lead to the new production of old materials which lead to the production of new man made materials. Through all of this people were able to move farther away from their energy source, and move to the newly designed "suburbs." THis time encouraged ideas and inventions, which inthe end lead to everything we have today.

estee said...

I do not feel that we took a misstep in using fossil fuels instead of gaing energy through wind a water. However I do feel that with all the knowledge we have about what we have done to our planet with the over use of these sources, we need to make serious changes. I don't believe that our culture has to return to an uncomforatable way of life. I just feel as most things in life, we have to use these kinds of resources in great moderation. We are such a technology crazed culture. We need to remember that if we continue to rely on so much energy that destroys our environment, technology will mean nothing!! Being an environmentalist, of course I wish that we had never used these harmful resources, however at the same time I feel that you have to make mistakes to learn what the best answer is. We have just been making the mistake way to long. We have the information and technology to make some major changes so as a culture we need to see to these changes. Like anyone, I also enjoy the conviences we have today, but I would honestly much rather give up a few comforts to know that my children won't pay for our way of life. I feel very excited to be recieving a degree in Interior Design so I can learn so much about the new solutions to this very problem and do what I can...even if its a little.

This blog is intended for the interior design students in the college of design at the University of Kentucky. It was created with the intent to present students with information, providing them with a channel for contemplation and discussion.