Impact of the Industrial Revolution on the Environment

Impact of the Industrial Revolution on the Environment
Human population growth on this planet has followed a long, slow J-curve shape leading up to a nearly exponential growth beginning around the time of the modern Industrial Revolution in the 1800s (Southwick, ch. 15). As the Industrial Revolution continues to spread to less-developed countries, their population growth is now skyrocketing as increased access to food and medical care raises the standards of living around the world, while many cultures have not yet responded with a lowered birth rate. This scenario is exactly what happened in London in the 1800s, when the pollution and overpopulation of the beginnings of dirty industry were in full swing.
Britain, with its large supplies of coal and developed infrastructure, was a place well prepared to begin industrialization. Textile mills, metalworking, glass, ceramic, and brewing industries released huge amounts of coal soot into London?s air which literally created a black haze over the city (Internet 2). With so much soot in the air blocking out sunlight, London was substantially darker than its surrounding countryside through much of the 19th century. This led directly to a number of problems for the city. Many children developed rickets, a weak bone condition brought on by a Vitamin D (which comes from sunlight) deficiency. Tubercolosis was rampant among the adult population.

London was famous for its ?smog?, thought to be a mixture of smoke and fog, up until the middle of the 20th century. By the end of the 1800s Lonon had almost 60 thick smoggy days a year, resulting in thousands of deaths and meaning that the city got 40% less sunshine than the surrounding towns (Internet 1).

In addition to the human effects of this air pollution was a curious occurance in the local insect population. London had at this point a well-established population of gray peppered moths, which showed color variation between dark and light gray among its individuals. Naturalists from the Industrial Revolution onwards noticed that the peppered moth populations were changing- dark-gray moths were becoming more predominant in urban areas, while light-gray moths were more common in rural areas. This trend continued well into the 20th century, and in the 1950s H.B.D. Kettlewell, and English physician and moth collector, decided to study the problem.

He found that due to all the soot that had accumulated in the air over the last century and a half, the color of the trees in the urban areas had darkened substantially as the pollution settled over them. The peppered moths had long used tree trunks and branches as places to hide and camouflage their generally grayish bodies for protection from birds and other predators. However, as the trees became darker in color, the light-gray peppered moths began to stand out against them in the urban areas and lose their camouflage protection, providing easy targets for birds who decimated nearly the entire population of city-dwelling light-gray moths. The dark-gray moths, better adapted to make use of the effects of the soot, survived within the city but stood out among the less-polluted trees of the countryside, and were eaten up there.

Smog continues to affect our cities and our health, most notably in developing nations without carbon emissions controls, but it is a serious health hazard in such U.S. cities as Los Angeles, as well. Geography has a great deal to do with the creation of smog- low, humid areas are far more likely to form atmospheric smog, and low-lying valley areas such as Mexico City, requiring high winds to push pollution out of the valley and onto the surrounding plateau, are some of the hardest hit of all. Smog today comes mostly from auto exhaust, a direct result of a growing and wealthier population worldwide.

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