The First Coke Fired Blast Furnace

My late wife and I traveled to the UK in the mid-nineties to meet friends. Among the many things we saw was the original coke fired blast furnace from the late eighteenth century at the Museum of Iron that was used to refine pig iron at a much lower cost than using charcoal. This helped pave the way for England’s rapid industrial expansion during the nineteenth century, and further eroded England’s landed aristocracy by the capitalists. As more farmers migrated to the cities for work the face of poverty changed with a host of new social problems including pollution, greater disease due to crowding, and unemployment.

Putting aside the long-running debates about whether communism, democratic socialism, or capitalism is the best form of government for industrialized societies, this blast furnace aided the production of evermore goods and had a positive impact on much of England’s, and later other, populations (e.g., more food, better housing, and eventually, better public health). This led to greater inequality with a rising middle-class and greater profits for industrialists. Nevertheless, no one from the working-class to the one percent wants to return to the pre-industrial era. Industrialization is seductive.

Human population began a more rapid expansion as a result of greater access to energy and resources, then exploding in the twentieth century. You can see this expansion of population and production in the two charts, below. Unfortunately, near vertical curves are not sustainable.

You know the rest, we have destroyed much of our environment and warmed the air and waters such that we are now in the sixth extinction, which will more adversely affect us as the twenty-first century unfolds. We are already seeing the following consequences of industrialization and climate change.

Yes, we should continue our pursuit of renewable energy, but we must cut back production and come to terms with a much lower standard of living–micro-industrialization. If we do not, nature will do it for us. It is still possible but it is not looking good.

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