Working as a miner has long been one of the most perilous occupations on the planet. As the ancient Romans famously conquered lands near and far, they sentenced the slaves they took prisoner to a life of back-breaking labor in their mines. The hardships of such labor were famously portrayed in the Hollywood production of Spartacus, the story of a slave who worked in the mines, refused to submit to the torture of his captors and eventually led a rebellion against Roman tyranny.
Fast forward to mid-18th century Britain–the mining of coal produced the energy needed to power factories and run transport networks, bringing about what would later be known as the Industrial Revolution. As knowledge of new industrial technologies spread across Western Europe and then on to the Americas, countries rich in this relatively inexpensive resource developed into industrial powerhouses.
The advent of industrialization sparked an exodus of rural folks from the countryside to rapidly growing cities where they found employment in factories, and for the first time had wages which enabled them to purchase goods. Using abundant coal reserves as fuel allowed factory owners to produce more goods than were needed, thus introducing the concept of buying things as a sign of status. Later industrialists, such as Henry Ford, developed methods of mass production for goods which accelerated these emerging trends. Factory jobs, in turn, provided the steady incomes that built a middle class which could afford to consume more, and therefore, set the stage for contemporary economic systems based principally on the mass consumption of goods and services.
The discovery and use of coal as a tool for rapid economic development not only changed the way people went about their daily lives, it also became a tool for political propaganda. According to Barbara Freese, author of Coal, A Human History:
In the 1800s, a lot of theologians who wrote about coal saw coal deposits as signs of God’s favor. And that’s why God gave America so much coal and gave England so much coal because he essentially wanted English-speaking countries to have a controlling influence over world affairs. So it was seen really as further evidence of our manifest destiny–Barbara Freese
Unsustainable is a new online magazine out of Australia that focuses on issues affecting the environment and human equality. I was fortunate enough to be asked to write a feature article–Climate Change: Where are we now–for the first issue. Check it out if you’re interested.
Tampa, Florida, a city where Donald Trump has held some of his most infamous rallies, will receive disproportionately negative climate change impacts if scientists’ predictions hold true.
In a recent study published in the journal Science, “Estimating economic damage from climate change in the United States,” researchers have projected which states will likely be dealing with the most harmful effects of global warming and its associated negative impacts by the end of this century. These negative impacts include coastal flooding, storm damage, agricultural losses, curtailments in job creation and lower values in production of goods and services (GDP).
What makes this study different is that the researchers involved used county-level data to predict localized impacts. As the author’s noted, “Standard approaches to valuing climate damage describe average impacts for large regions (e.g., North America) or the entire globe as a whole. Yet examining county-level impacts reveals major redistributive impacts of climate change on some sectors that are not captured by regional or global averages.”
Indeed, looking at the charts presenting this more localized data in visual form is quite an eye-opening experience. They reveal just how unevenly distributed these negative impacts will be, with states in the South and Midwest bearing the brunt of the most serious economic impacts while states in the country’s Northeast and Northwest may actually receive benefits from atmospheric warming that lead to more vibrant economies.
Based on this map, it certainly looks like some of those jobs that moved to the Sunbelt States over the last 3 decades may be moving back north. It would be very interesting to see Canadian data added here. More jobs on the northern side of the US border ‘eh! Note: Red = economic damage. Dark Green = economic benefits.
After reading a young bloggers recent post, I decided to disable Word Ads on my site. How could I in good faith continue to write about our wasteful lifestyles and promote sustainable living while ads for things that people clearly don’t ‘need’ were being displayed at the end of each of my posts? That irony left me feeling hollow.
So, for me, turning off all ads is the right decision. Mind you, I’m far from being wealthy and I’m still looking for ways to produce income, but I’d rather make a living strictly based on my skill-set than from gimmicky advertising.
Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends and family in the USA, and to all those everywhere who are thankful for having the human essentials of food, clothing and shelter. There are so many in our world who are in flux as refugees and who have nothing more than the clothes on their backs. For them, my greatest hope is an end to their suffering and more stable and prosperous lives in the future.
The British pop rock group The 1975 have created a powerful music video, Love It If We Made It, with the refrain: “Modernity has failed us”
Surrounded by desert, the ancient Egyptians depended on their intimate knowledge of the Nile River’s ever changing flow for survival. The river’s natural flood cycles fertilized the land and made it suitable for growing crops. The Nile is shown here as it flows through present-day Luxor, the site of the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes. Photo Credit: Henry Lewis
I’m obsessed with history and archaeology. For me, there’s a fascinating mystique that surrounds the exploration of advanced ancient cultures from the early Egyptians and Sumerians to the later New World Mayas and Incas. One thing they all had in common was a deep respect for the natural world that sustained them.
Try to imagine the innate knowledge ancient humans once possessed; the kind of skills and oneness with nature that was required for groups to navigate their way from one continent to another during the last Ice Age. These early explorers depended more on their knowledge of and continuity with nature than on the primitive technologies that were available at that time. Where is such intuition today?
“Climate change probably represents the biggest threat to human health over the next 10 or 20 years.”
Ashish Jha, Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.
The term ‘sustainability’ has been bandied around in academic circles and popular culture for decades, possibly to such an extent that it’s simply become another buzzword to be ignored. Google ‘sustainability’ and the Oxford Dictionary will offer the following:
Even the example sentences offered by the trusted source above reflect the contradictions inherent in the way we interpret sustainability and rationalize the consumer choices we make on a daily basis. On the one hand, we want ‘sustainable’ economic growth and all the material goodies it brings. On the other hand, we expect to breathe clean air, drink pure water and be able to build our houses safely on the edge of vast oceans.
Are these two scenarios mutually exclusive? Is it really possible to maintain current Western standards of living without endangering the health of our planet and the very existence of our species?
The death of cosmologist Stephen Hawking earlier this year made me sad on so many levels. A proponent of technological advancement without losing sight of our common humanity, Hawking was the most critical of critical thinkers, constantly questioning our perceptions of the universe and humanity’s place within it.
In the 2017 BBC documentary series “Expedition New Earth,” Professor Hawking gave a dire warning and shocked many by stating that the threats posed by global warming, over-population, epidemics, nuclear weapons, and overdue asteroid strikes made it necessary to establish human colonies on other planets within the next 100 years in order to preserve the human species.
By further revealing his administration’s incredibly backward looking energy policy, Donald Trump has once again made it clear that he’s only concerned about maintaining the status quo. In an effort to cement wealth in the hands of an elite few, he and his minions are seeking to give away even more taxpayer dollars to the corporate robber barons, especially in the field of energy.
Troglodytes like Trump still seem stuck in the Iron Age while many of the USA’s largest and most profitable industries have radically changed…
Antiquated policies that reward and support the oil, gas and dirty-burning coal industries at the expense of emerging energy-producing technologies will, over the long term, create fewer American jobs, make the US more energy-dependent and continue contributing to the warming of a planet that’s seriously close to its ecological tipping point.