Was James Watt’s creation of the steam engine, an event most historians laud as the beginning of man’s technological dominance, actually the downfall of humanity?
Watt’s steam engine, developed in 1765, was a key turning point in world history. Advances in this technology allowed factories to create goods such as textiles on a large scale, and also powered the first railroads, which accelerated the Industrial Revolution and provided people and goods quicker and more effective transportation.
However, the steam engine also marked the birth of greenhouse gases that destroy our atmosphere. So influential was this innovation that modern scientists, such as Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist, Paul J. Crutzen, believe that 1784, when “biotic assemblages in most lakes began to show large changes,” was the beginning of a whole new era, called the Anthropocene epoch. Crutzen’s so called “recent age of man” suggests, “humans were bringing about an age of planetary change.” Crutzen and other scientists see man’s technological dominance as the cause of the world’s environmental crises.
But, was the Industrial Revolution entirely negative? No. Many other innovations were made possible since then. The Industrial Revolution still continues today, with constant breakthroughs in medicine, transportation, and telecommunication. Where would we be without technological marvels? Haven’t we benefitted from our ability to control the Earth?
Absolutely. Admittedly, our atmosphere has been affected since the rapid growth of global industrialization. However, as we progress, we have updated technology. The solution to the environmental dilemmas we face is not to abandon technology, but rather to embrace it. By aligning technology with nature, not only will our needs be satisfied, but also man and nature will work harmoniously in this anthropocene epoch.
One example that shows how technology has improved is the development of automobiles. One of the prototypes, the Ford Model T, sported gas mileage of 21 mpg. Additionally, Dan Neil of Time Magazine states that the constant use of the Ford Model T contributed to the accumulation of pollution in the 1900’s. Now, however, Ford’s Focus sports gas mileage of over 31 mpg, a full ten mpg better, and innovative companies such as Ford and Toyota are developing hybrid cars that use both electricity and fuel to limit pollutant emissions.
Other than the evolutions in cars, many household appliances are constantly updated to match federal efficiency standards. Use of refrigerators is prevalent worldwide. However, refrigerators emit CFC’s, or chlorofluorocarbons, which erode our ozone layer. Should we abandon refrigerators? That would be preposterous. Instead, humans have correlated this need for refrigeration with environmental friendliness. In 1992, the U.S. government promoted the Energy Star standard, which reduces pollutant emissions and energy use for most household electronics.
As seen with the developments of the automobile and household electronics, humans have learned to update their products so that they are more economical and eco-friendly. While we may indeed be in the anthropocene era, this does not mean that nature and humanity cannot mutually benefit. Let’s maximize technology’s potential.
Sources Used: http://www3.mpch-mainz.mpg.de/
~air/anthropocene/ http://www.economist.com/node/18741749 http://www.ehow.com/facts_5868576_ford-model-information.html http://www.epa.gov/ozone/title6/608/disposal/household.html http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=about.ab_history