The Industrial Revolution

The full impact of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-nineteenth century accelerated the pace of global ecological destruction. The Industrial Revolution represents a milestone in the history of ecocide and environmental degradation. Machines, not land, became the central means of production. Sociologically, the process involved the proletarianization of large segments of the population, who lost their direct control over the means of life and had no other means of livelihood but to sell their labor power. Roads, railroads, factories, and smokestacks appeared everywhere. Urban sprawl became a common phenomenon. The environment near the new factories was transformed into a wasteland. The standard of living for most people in the industrial workforce was far below that of a yeoman farmer. But work in a factory workforce was better than starving in the crowded countryside.7 Historian Donald Worster describes the ethos of industrialism in the following way:

The capitalists ... promised that, through the technological domination of the Earth, they could deliver a more fair, rational, efficient and productive life for everyone.. Their method was to free individual enterprise from the bonds of traditional hierarchy and community, whether the bondage derived from other humans or the Earth. That meant teaching everyone to treat the Earth, as well as each other, with a frank, energetic self-assertiveness People must ... think constantly in terms of making money. They must regard everything around them - the land, its natural resources, and their own labor - as potential commodities that might fetch profit on the market. They must demand the right to produce, buy, and sell those commodities without outside regulation and interference.. As wants multiplied, as markets grew more and more far-flung, the bond between humans and the rest of nature was reduced to the barest instrumentalism.8

This "bare instrumentalism" led to great material productivity as well as to unprecedented environmental exploitation. With the invention of the steam engine and as timber became scarce, coal mining increased dramatically. The use of coal raised immediate practical problems of mine construction: how to pump water, transport the coal, and control its combustion. It required greater concentrations of labor around the mines and mills, and it lifted science and technology to prominent positions in human society.

The factory system shaped the modern city, as we know it, along with creating local, regional, and global environmental hazards.9 States emerged as regulators of the economy and managers of social conflict - and, to the rest of the world, the high modern era is characterized by the consolidation of colonialism into a full-blown assemblage of competing imperialists, with European empires scrabbling for "territories" and markets all over the globe.

Colonialism and imperialism pillaged the ecologies and societies of the conquered territories, while contributing relatively little to their economic progress. Colonization in the industrial age meant the extension of the division between town and country to the periphery of the world economy; the transformation of the ecology of the periphery, which was consequently tailored to meet the requirements of the colonists. The global assault on the planet's species and environment is the logical extension of the violence inherent in colonialism and imperialism.

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