Climate Change and The Industrial Revolution

In this perpetually advancing and developing era, there is no doubt that the world is changing. However, is it changing for the better or for the worse? The answer to this question is subjected to its context—viewing from the perspective of global economy, we are marching towards advancement. Conversely, viewing from the perspective of global climate, we are striding towards displacement. Clearly, there is a strong tie between the industrial revolution and climate change, and the relationship between them ought to be analysed if we want to live in a better world.

Climate change mainly refers to the increase in the atmospheric temperature, which is caused due to the greenhouse gases being trapped and hence, accumulating heat in the lower atmosphere. These human-produced greenhouses gases include carbon dioxide, methane as well as nitrous oxide. In the long run, these greenhouse gases will warm the oceans and partially melt glaciers and ice in the North and South poles, which in return, contribute to the increase in the water levels in the sea.

The effects of climate change are often devastating, and heart-breaking. (Source: Kerstin Langenberger)

If we take a walk down memory lane, we would discover that climate change has shown signs of its existence even in the Ice Age, though it was not within our capability to cause such radical change over the global climate. Even so, this implies that there is a possibility for global climate to change in a drastic manner, regardless of the means of provocation.

In 1896, a Swedish scientist named Svante Arrhenius, published a new idea which proposed that as people burn more coal, it will cause the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) to increase and hence contributing to the overall rise of planet’s temperature. This idea was immediately censured by the other scientists claiming that the emissions have no power over the global temperature—humanity had no control over the vast climate cycle which was governed by a benign “balance of nature”.

Svante Arrhenius’ warning 120 years ago is still relevant to this day. Is it too late for us? (Source: Climate State)

Indeed, the Earth’s temperature is a balancing act but how does the industrial revolution play such a big part in it? The Industrial Revolution was a historical period which spanned between the 18th and 19th centuries. It was a period when urbanisation and industrialisation took place in the predominantly agrarian and rural societies in Europe and America.

Prior to the revolution, manufacturing was often done in homes by hands. After the revolution, there was a significant increase in the number of factories which implied a shift towards the use of specially designed machinery and mass production. Zooming into a smaller scale, this means that there was an increase in the use of energy, which was produced by coal, and hence leading to an increase in the emission of CO2.

The Industrial Revolution, which began in the 18th century, has completely altered the world that we live in now today in more ways than we have realised. (Source: University of Cambridge)

On average, the Earth has become a lot warmer compared to the earlier days of the Industrial Revolution. In fact, it can be said that the industrial activities that contributed to our now modern civilisation have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide emission from about 280 parts per million to approximately 400 parts per million, in the span of 150 years. Besides that, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also further proved this notion and thus concluding that there are more than 95% probability that human activities have taken a toll on our planet in the past 50 years, which leads us to global warming.

Fundamentally, the Industrial Revolution brought a spike in greenhouse gases emission and human population, which both in turn contributed to climate change.

Ultimately, at the end of the day, two questions still remain: Will there actually be a compromise between industrial revolution and climate change for the sake of our Mother Nature? Does the decision really lie in our hand?


By Kelvin Wong

West Malaysian spirit of magniloquence, periphrasis and procrastination. I have half a mind...

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