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, when 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
Fire is an incredibly unpredictable force of nature and not something to be taken lightly.
~any sane human being
Don’t EVER use gasoline (or kerosene or diesel) in an effort to burn plants, piles of brush or anything else for that matter outside your house.
~Southern advice to folks in other regions
In a recent BBC Future article, journalist David Robson explored the possibility that humanity may have reached “peak intelligence” and that “human intellectual potential may actually be declining.” According to researchers, along with our rise in manipulating more complex forms of technology, there’s been a fall in critical thinking skills. As if the American political scene wasn’t evidence enough of this phenomenon, I personally experienced such a lapse in common sense while visiting the USA in April.
Convenience vs environmental and personal safety
America’s DIY culture, along with large, intensely landscaped tracts of suburban and rural land, have opened the door to many an accident just waiting to happen. When facing a battle with tough, razor sharp foliage, many gardeners (especially in the American South) forgo the scraped arms and burn back some plants in the fall or early spring. While burning dead plants is an often faster, labor-saving method of disposal when compared to cutting and hauling brush away, the health and environmental risks far outweigh any possible benefits. Trust me. I unwittingly did the research for you on this one.
when common sense takes a vacation
So it was that on April 22 while visiting my Sisters (and yes, they are a proper noun) in North Carolina, I used gasoline in an effort to set alight a large pampas grass plant. The still-green foliage didn’t want to burn, so I did the ‘logical’ (NOT!) thing and added more gas while being too close to the plant. An unseen spark lay smoldering within the grassy mound. Instantaneously, a flaming whoosh like dragon’s breath flashed from the bottom of the plant and onto my pants.
I don’t know about you, but maintaining a balanced state of being is my greatest challenge in life. As if it weren’t already difficult enough to deal with my own monkey mind, it’s an even greater challenge not to allow the words or actions of others to affect our emotional state of being. Like a pendulum, my mood can swing from one extreme to another. It’s enough to give one mental whiplash!
It seems that one of technology’s greatest strengths—the ease of sharing information–is rapidly becoming its Achilles heel as humans are now being bombarded on a daily basis by an avalanche of data, information and imagery. Personally, I’m consciously aware that the chatter and inner conflict I experience has become more pronounced as I’ve delved ever more deeply into the realm of my online existence.