Lasting Legacy

The Industrial Revolution marked the climax in the rise of coal in England. The prevalence of the resource would begin to fade after the harnessing of electricity beginning in the 20th century. With the ability to transport coal’s energy without moving the rock itself, coal faded from the public eye. After the early 1900s, English coal production began to decrease as the resource’s reserves, previously thought to be limitless, diminished.

The issues of child labor, dangerous working conditions, and air quality would be reformed in the 1900s. Child labor was limited to 10 hours per week for children between the ages of 9 and 15 in the year 1847[1]. Mining conditions gradually improved as mining unions demanded safer mines. The Miners’ Federation of Great Britain was founded in 1888 and by 1908 consisted of 600,000 members. Air quality began to improve after the passing of the 1956 Clean Air Act, created in response to London’s “Great Smog of 1952”, a fog similar to that of 1873, believed to have killed up to 12,000 London residents[2]. The act forced most homes in London to transition from coal energy to electricity and natural gas. The industrial revolution allowed England’s population to increase from 8 million to 30 million from 1800 to 1900, and to 62 million today while improving both quality of life and life expectancy throughout the 1900s.

Example of carbonization fossil

Example of carbonization fossil

The rise of coal in England is also linked to the rise in interest in the resources lying beneath man’s feet. The odd impressions of flora the miners discovered in tunnel rocks inspired some of the great minds of the day to wonder from whence they came. Of course, in the 1600s, the Royal Society of London determined the finds to be the remains of mysterious plants buried in Noah’s great deluge, but true steps forward in geology would be taken in the coming centuries.

strata_england_wales_1815

William Smith’s 1815 Map

William Smith, commonly referred to as the “Father of Geology”, created his famous geological map of Britain in 1815 primarily as a guide to natural resources, namely coal. Furthermore, England’s reputation as a center for mining helped to instill in its population the importance of earth science. Coal mining inspired new generations interest in making it rich off of the knowledge of what lay beneath their feet.

Not all positive, the Industrial Revolution changed the way humanity thinks about the resources available to him. With little consideration to the availability of coal for future generations, the English managed to exhaust their reserves of the rock by the mid-1900s. In doing so, the English set a grave example for the rest of the world: a resource formed over hundreds of millions of years could be depleted in a time period six orders of magnitude shorter.

Today, the majority of industrial societies remain addicted to fossil fuels including coal, whose usage continues to grow. Although its localized health effects have diminished since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, in recent years coal’s global effects have begun to be felt as Earth’s average temperature has risen by 1°C. The change can be attributed in large part to the resource’s emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

England as a society and geology as a study rose with coal as a resource. Society’s next task remains to move past coal to reach its full potential, or else perish.

 


[1] “Child Labor during the British Industrial Revolution.” EH.net. Ed. Robert Whaples. Economic History Association, 1 Feb. 2010. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.

[2] Bell, Michelle and Tony Fletcher. “A Retrospective Assessment of Mortality from the London Smog of 1952: The Role of Influenza and Pollution.” Environmental Health Perspectives (2003)

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