The Real History of Air Pollution

The Real History of Air Pollution

The Real History of Air Pollution

Air Pollution is a problem that everyone lives with in every major city in the world. But when and how did air pollution  start? Let’s look back on how it all started, and how it is today. 

A Short History of Pollution

In China, it seems like discussion about air pollution often ends up being a about economic growth.  So, what is the relationship here?  Does economic growth always result in air pollution and has it always been that way?  To answer this question, we’re going to have a bit of a history lesson.  Don’t worry there won’t be a quiz.  If you want to understand the history of economic growth and air pollution take a look at the four industrial revolutions and things will begin to fall into place.

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Industry 1.0: In the beginning there was…coal

Around the time humans came down from the trees we discovered the practice of burning things for heat.  Skip ahead a few million years to England during the middle of the 18th century.  With the development of steam engines powered by coal and factories that used heavy machinery the industrial age was born.  All this coal burning had a horrible effect on the environment though; industrial areas in America and England were crippled by smog.  You can even see the PM2.5 in a famous Claude Monet painting of the Thames.

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Industry 2.0: Start it up, plug it in

Around the end of the 18th century and into the beginning of the 19th century cities were lit up with electricity. Petroleum, a new development in fossil fuels, had paved the way for innovation. The world now ran on oil, it was used for fueling our cars and fueling breakthroughs in chemistry. In the era before petroleum, environmental pollution was concentrated in certain areas, but as modern conveniences became more accessible air and water quality all over the developed world started to decline.  Things hit a fever pitch in the 1970’s in the US when the oil crisis made people notice how much we relied on oil how bad environmental pollution had become.  Also around this time a slew of government agencies and NGO’s began rallying for more environmental protections.

Things hit a fever pitch in the 1970’s in the US when the oil crisis made people notice how much we relied on oil how bad environmental pollution had become.  Also around this time a slew of government agencies and NGO’s began rallying for more environmental protections.

 

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Industry 3.0: A brave new [digital] world

The next big jump was how big data transformed the business landscape.  Computers may cause headaches but not pollution.  Information technology allowed organizations to develop complex business models in terms of allocating resources, manufacturing, and logistics.  This is where globalization enters the picture, cheap labor and resources moved a lot of industry to the developing world (i.e. China). And once countries in the developing world began to enter the global economy, the same thing tended to happen that happened in the USA and England.

Development progressed at break-neck speed with little regard for the negative impact to the environment.  Right now, China is making huge efforts to tackle air pollution, because the negative effects on the environment are beginning to outweigh the positive effects of cheap capital and huge markets.

 

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Industry 4.0: Internet outside of computers

We’ve made it, the future is here.  Scientists and economists alike have confirmed that we are now in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution driven by unprecedented connectivity in the economic process. This along with advances in micro engineering and clean energy should allow for us to make better use of resources and develop sustainable systems.  One thing is for sure though; no changes will come about unless it is economically viable.  Let’s hope for our children and grandchildren’s sake that this happens soon because the PM2.5 level today has me a bit concerned.

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