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  • #657
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    Rematog
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    No amount of CO2 reduction will end the calls for change by the environmental lobby.

    Remember, their job, their sense of self, their paycheck, depends on being “against” something. They will always find another something.

    FF completely replaces coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear and hydropower, hydrogen for transportation fuels, so what.

    Cow farts and methane from trash… something will be the issue.

    I once read a proposal, I kid you not, to have half of the State of Ohio turned into a national wildlife area, to reinstate the old growth hardwood forest that was there before the state was settled.

    They wanted the government to buy all of the land by imminent domain and remove all people from that part of the state. Didn’t say where the people should go, or how to pay for it (our tax money at work, don’t you know).

    So, no, nothing will end the environmental lobby short of the end of western civilization, which sometimes seems to be their goal….

    #4797
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    Rezwan
    Member

    Human beings have a lot of power on this planet. We can change our environment. And many human beings have a religious streak, or some kind of ethical or logical conceit going on. I think the urge to make sweeping decisions about the way “humanity” should be is a common one.

    The way this urge manifests itself in me is the fantasy of a future in which people, voluntarily (that being the key word) perceive themselves as noble. And this manifests itself in the pursuit of a positive footprint (rather than zero or negative). Like, we decide since we’re so clever and all powerful compared to animals, that we’ll make our infrastructure a bit more friendly to them. Pedestrian friendly, habitat friendly. Of course, we’ll zone them out in a lot of areas. You get ticks out in nature, you don’t want them in malls. But really, human land needs are not that great. Once you get skyscraper farms – you can leave a lot of land to heirloom plants, forests, diversity, or whatever.

    I think this will only happen large scale when more people become affluent. Then, rather than using eminent domain, people will just join to create more natural areas and market forces will prevail, people will all want to live adjacent to spectacular grounds and build in ways that make that work. It won’t be “natural”, though. Being people, there will probably be more gardening and landscape manipulation going on. And houses and structures that stand out like trophies and assertions of human ego.

    I don’t have a problem with that. I love built stuff. But I also get a thrill looking at all these new eco-city ideas. A lot of them are practical and no harm done to the environment. Also, I think you can have both a cool human infrastructure and actually enhance biodiversity. That “Gardener’s of Eden” book has always been a favorite.

    I think, as affluence and power increase, we will do things like set up millenium long treasure hunts, burying treasures for people to find and puzzle over centuries from now. Build giant whimsical works of architecture – statues that can be blown up centuries from now when Taliban-esque folks rise up.

    Anyway, the upshot is that, the outrage over the “environmental lobby” and its proposals that I sense here might be related to the sense that the lobby is misanthropic. That whole zero sum thing where it’s people against nature.

    It’s like they’re more interested in punishing people than finding a blend of nature with human power/consciousness. A lot of guilt and control.

    That aside, I do want to live in a world where we transition easily from sleek urban areas with the option of jumping in a supersonic chopper to hawaii, or hopping on a horse and riding all day to the next town…

    I mean, this corporate American western civilization is a bit boring. I’d like to see more anachronism and greater expanses of wild land where that could happen.

    So, I have a number of fantasies of alternative futures and landscapes. None of these is very viable in the current limited resources paradigm where everyone’s struggling to make ends meet and being all miserly with each other.

    #4805
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    dash
    Member

    Rezwan wrote: So, I have a number of fantasies of alternative futures and landscapes. None of these is very viable in the current limited resources paradigm where everyone’s struggling to make ends meet and being all miserly with each other.

    I like the Jetsons style house. You have these human habitations rise up like mushrooms from the ground. Leave the ground to the non-human life. Humans live 200 feet up in the air, in unused space. They ride the elevator down and experience nature.

    Food grown hydroponically inside each dwelling. Flying cars carry you from house to house if you want to visit friends.

    Freeways, roads, old cities — these all get abandoned. Maybe have a few big stadiums for sporting events.

    There’s no shortage of living space on earth. Not yet, anyway.

    -Dave

    #4870
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    Warwick
    Member

    Rematog:

    Yes, methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. CO2 is the tip of the iceberg as regards environmental destruction going on right now … For instance the oceans are rapidly becoming full of tiny bits of plastic, dumped from Chinese factories, which are probably going to destroy marine ecosystems worldwide once they have been whittled small enough. In a more affluent, energy-rich society, that is the kind of thing we need to address. Habitat destruction in order to create plantations of cash crops is decimating biodiversity. I’m not sure why you would be OK with that.

    Overpopulation is a massive problem – energy is not the only resource – and the only way populations stop expanding is when it pays more to have fewer kids, because they all require significant investment and do not represent an economic gain. That can only happen when i) you don’t need family to go to work for you if you get sick or unemployed; ii) you don’t need kids to work for you to provide for you when you’re old; iii) your kids have genuine prospects if you invest everything you have (including time) in bringing up just a few. These factors are what avoided the predicted Malthusian equilibrium for the “developed” world in the 20th century. Our best choice right now, never mind if we become more energy-rich, is to try to bring about progress towards that same thing for everyone presently living in a shanty town with no state pension and no decent prospects. I think it’s fair to call that civilisation – and at present we in the developed world are the ones that are being uncivilised, by letting the World Bank and their neoliberal fellow-travellers work against it.

    Btw, I’ve been to Ohio and didn’t see anywhere that would have lost anything by being reverted to nature. What was it they said in “The Faculty”? Anyway, you should come to the UK and see what it’s like when all of the housing estates start to coalesce into each other.

    #4874
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    Aeronaut
    Member

    So, how do you propose to change human nature so that all this power is used for the good of all? After all, we’re just the third Industrial Revolution, following steam and steam–>electric.
    Btw, you may want to google “third industrial revolution”. A group of higher profile advanced thinkers think they can pull it off using fossil fuels…

    #4878
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    Rezwan
    Member

    Here’s a fun example of something simple that separates (“unbundles”) land from agriculture and is geared to consumers. I love the video, in black and white, with the guy digging the earth and then his back aching. https://www.topsyturvy.com/

    #4881
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    Rezwan
    Member

    Warwick wrote: CO2 is the tip of the iceberg as regards environmental destruction going on right now … For instance the oceans are rapidly becoming full of tiny bits of plastic, dumped from Chinese factories, which are probably going to destroy marine ecosystems worldwide once they have been whittled small enough.

    I don’t understand that. Why would small bits of plastic be a problem? They seem pretty benign. Do they react with anything? Isn’t there a lot of debris in nature? If an animal swallows a bit of plastic, wouldn’t they just poop it out?

    I think plastic debris is more of an aesthetic annoyance – people see it, and it reminds them of other people – which we all tend to dislike a bit.

    Check out “Life after people“. If people disappear – like the rapture comes or a unique to humans virus – and there’s no one around to maintain things, all our artifacts and impacts will just get swallowed back by nature. Most of this happens in 500 years, and, except for deserts where things don’t rot, by a few thousand years (which is NOTHING in geological time, or even natural history time) there won’t be a trace of us.

    And then the sun will rise, and set, over and over, on the natural world, all those critters leading their short, intense, violent lives, escaping predators, competing for resources, eating and being eaten. Until asteroids hit or the sun blows up or whatever.

    Or… with us out of the picture, I suspect something else would evolve along to take another shot at the tool/consciousness/language thing and see if they couldn’t come up with a more satisfying balance of consciousness and nature.

    I think we flatter ourselves about our impact. As long as we’re here and active, of course, we constantly see the signs of our stress and excretions.

    But it’s not about how “bad” we are to the environment, this pristine, pure thing – how corrupt and tainted we are. It’s more about how to balance two very different systems. The natural system is, ironically, a market system. Completely spontaneously developed. No regulation, creatures just eat and react and poop, and it all finds a resource maximising equilibrium.

    People, on the other hand, have come in with tools and organizations, and can cheat the system, and selectively maximize – without understanding the whole system. So they inject a simplifying disiquilibrium that is really ugly in its over simplification. People are more like central planners, trying to optimize one or two things (profits! crop yeild!) in a reductive way.

    Oh, and ironically, people also come in with morals and guilt, which animals don’t worry about. The killers in the animal world are actually key elements to making the system work. But with humans, we are suddenly self-conscious. Frankly, I think a lot of animals, if they could, would like our lifestyle. Animals in the wild – would many of them not prefer to live in a cushy house and get meals out of a can? Indoor cats can live an average of 12 years, while outdoor cats average 3.

    In sum, the environmental lobby would be more interesting to me if the conversation was about how to overlay the natural system with the human/self-conscious one, and if it would explore values frankly, and not just keep framing it as victims (nature) and guilt. It’s hard to produce a vision out of the latter approach.

    #4882
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    dash
    Member

    Rezwan wrote: If people disappear – like the rapture comes or a unique to humans virus – and there’s no one around to maintain things, all our artifacts and impacts will just get swallowed back by nature. Most of this happens in 500 years, and, except for deserts where things don’t rot, by a few thousand years (NOTHING in geological time, or even natural history time) there won’t be a trace of us.

    Amazingly perceptive post.

    Humans are important only to humans. The universe doesn’t care a bit about us.

    Also as it turns out, if humans are the only conscious life on earth, then we’re the only thing capable of appreciating any life at all. With humans out of the picture, if the sun goes nova and earth is boiled, no other conscious being would know or care.

    What I’m saying is that the value of all life on earth is an outcome of humanity itself. Humanity is in a position to affect all life on earth, but it’s the only thing capable of even appreciating that life.

    I hate tree hugging environmentalists, with their holier than thou attitude. It’s like to them nothing would be better than for humans to be removed from the equation. But without those humans, who is left to perceive the beauty? I don’t trust any big mass movements, particularly Al Gore’s kind. I think they’re just after power and control. The environment is just a Convenient Excuse.

    #4883
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    Rezwan
    Member

    Humans are important to humans, the rest of the universe doesn’t care – I’m with you there.

    But now that I see it – I find this’s not what I meant by consciousness:

    Also as it turns out, if humans are the only conscious life on earth, then we’re the only thing capable of appreciating any life at all. With humans out of the picture, if the sun goes nova and earth is boiled, no other conscious being would know or care.

    I’m sure that lots of animals, in the midst of their predating and competing with each other, find time to enjoy the day, to wallow in the mud, roll on the grass, feel the exhilaration of leaping out of the clutches of predators. In fact, they may feel more alive than we ever could, with our guilt trips and existential angst, righteousness and ennui. And, as far as appreciative audiences go, I’m sure most life forms would rather pass up on us. I think people are the only ones who crave audiences. Animals prefer not to be seen.

    And I’m sure that when a big catastrophe strikes, those animals would low and whimper and raise their eyes to witness the destruction in very real despair.

    I hate tree hugging environmentalists, with their holier than thou attitude. It’s like to them nothing would be better than for humans to be removed from the equation. But without those humans, who is left to perceive the beauty? I don’t trust any big mass movements, particularly Al Gore’s kind. I think they’re just after power and control. The environment is just a Convenient Excuse.

    I hear you on the holier than thou thing.

    And getting us out of the equation might be nice for the animals, it wouldn’t be nice for us, and so – it’s not going to happen.

    But…”Without humans, who will perceive the beauty?” Human ability to perceive natural beauty is not that high on our list of selling points. Picture some wife beater – his wife, bruised, broken bones, telling him she’s going to leave, and he says, but honey, if I wasn’t around, who would appreciate you?

    I do like the idea of exploring human importance to nature, and building on that portfolio. The partnership angle. For example, we can prove our worth by developing asteroid deflecting skills and increasing habitat and diversity, which would be in the other critters’ self interest.

    We’ve already figured out how to fix nitrogen – a key limiting factor in life. But we just use it for our own crops and don’t apply it carefully, so it ends up a pollutant. It doesn’t have to be. It could be a real asset to nature. In some cases, engineering could help increase habitat all around. Beavers make dams to improve habitat for the things they need. We can be like beavers! (I just had to say that.)

    So, the environmental movement doesn’t resonate with me because its focus is on punishment and guilt, not on partnership with nature. It’s misanthropic. But the people who complain about the environmental movement the most tend to be even less interesting. I don’t get any vision of nature and humanity from them. Rather, the idea of nature as property is reinforced, which seems really petty to me. Miserly. Coming from a place of small-ness, and in its own way misanthropic, in that it doesn’t see people as capable of being bigger than their own petty resource needs. More worried about being regulated (which is, at heart, a power struggle/territory dispute). Conversations between these two groups I find utterly boring and depressing.

    This planet and the life on it is so much more than that. And people are more than that.

    Not resource-mongers.

    I get so bored at parties where all people can talk about is their latest acquisitions. “In this endless race for property and privilege to be won, we must run, we must run, we must run” – Bright Eyes.

    Upshot, I want to find people whose environmental vision really resonates, strikes true.

    And no whiners.

    Did this sound whiny?

    Heh.

    #4884
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    Warwick
    Member

    Rezwan wrote:

    CO2 is the tip of the iceberg as regards environmental destruction going on right now … For instance the oceans are rapidly becoming full of tiny bits of plastic, dumped from Chinese factories, which are probably going to destroy marine ecosystems worldwide once they have been whittled small enough.

    I don’t understand that. Why would small bits of plastic be a problem? They seem pretty benign. Do they react with anything? Isn’t there a lot of debris in nature? If an animal swallows a bit of plastic, wouldn’t they just poop it out?

    I think plastic debris is more of an aesthetic annoyance – people see it, and it reminds them of other people – which we all tend to dislike a bit.

    Check out “Life after people“. If people disappear – like the rapture comes or a unique to humans virus – and there’s no one around to maintain things, all our artifacts and impacts will just get swallowed back by nature. Most of this happens in 500 years, and, except for deserts where things don’t rot, by a few thousand years (which is NOTHING in geological time, or even natural history time) there won’t be a trace of us.

    And then the sun will rise, and set, over and over, on the natural world, all those critters leading their short, intense, violent lives, escaping predators, competing for resources, eating and being eaten. Until asteroids hit or the sun blows up or whatever.

    As chance would have it, the place where I read about the plastic particles was a book called “The World Without Us” !
    http://www.worldwithoutus.com/about_book.html
    I totally recommend this – it doesn’t say anything hectoring about how to save the environment, but it is terrifically interesting.
    Sounds like the History Channel take on things was a lot more optimistic — maybe they sussed some of the things they didn’t mention but didn’t want to go through all the morbid stuff for an American audience?
    The first thing he points out if the national grids all switched off, every fission plant would explode.
    So yeah, the plastic particles thing: go here

    http://www.worldwithoutus.com/excerpt.html

    Not as benign as all that …

    Thompson’s team realized that slow mechanical action—waves and tides that grind against shorelines, turning rocks into beaches—were now doing the same to plastics. The largest, most conspicuous items bobbing in the surf were slowly getting smaller. At the same time, there was no sign that any of the plastic was biodegrading, even when reduced to tiny fragments.

    “We imagined it was being ground down smaller and smaller, into a kind of powder. And we realized that smaller and smaller could lead to bigger and bigger problems.”

    He knew the terrible tales of sea otters choking on polyethylene rings from beer six-packs; of swans and gulls strangled by nylon nets and fishing lines; of a green sea turtle in Hawaii dead with a pocket comb, a foot of nylon rope, and a toy truck wheel lodged in its gut. His personal worst was a study on fulmar carcasses washed ashore on North Sea coastlines. Ninety-five percent had plastic in their stomachs—an average of 44 pieces per bird. A proportional amount in a human being would weigh nearly five pounds.

    There was no way of knowing if the plastic had killed them, although it was a safe bet that, in many, chunks of indigestible plastic had blocked their intestines. Thompson reasoned that if larger plastic pieces were breaking down into smaller particles, smaller organisms would likely be consuming them. He devised an aquarium experiment, using bottom-feeding lugworms that live on organic sediments, barnacles that filter organic matter suspended in water, and sand fleas that eat beach detritus. In the experiment, plastic particles and fibers were provided in proportionately bite-size quantities. Each creature promptly ingested them.

    When the particles lodged in their intestines, the resulting constipation was terminal. If they were small enough, they passed through the invertebrates’ digestive tracts and emerged, seemingly harmlessly, out the other end. Did that mean that plastics were so stable that they weren’t toxic? At what point would they start to naturally break down—and when they did, would they release some fearful chemicals that would endanger organisms sometime far in the future?

    Richard Thompson didn’t know. Nobody did, because plastics haven’t been around long enough for us to know how long they’ll last or what happens to them. His team had identified nine different kinds in the sea so far, varieties of acrylic, nylon, polyester, polyethylene, polypropylene, and polyvinyl chloride. All he knew was that soon everything alive would be eating them.

    “When they get as small as powder, even zooplankton will swallow them.”

    #4885
    Avatar
    Rezwan
    Member

    He knew the terrible tales of sea otters choking on polyethylene rings from beer six-packs; of swans and gulls strangled by nylon nets and fishing lines; of a green sea turtle in Hawaii dead with a pocket comb, a foot of nylon rope, and a toy truck wheel lodged in its gut. His personal worst was a study on fulmar carcasses washed ashore on North Sea coastlines. Ninety-five percent had plastic in their stomachs—an average of 44 pieces per bird. A proportional amount in a human being would weigh nearly five pounds.

    I don’t deny that in some cases, ingesting or getting caught in plastics can kill an animal. But children choke on plastic all the time as well. The point being it’s not the major cause of death for children. Or animals.

    Murder (predators), I suspect is still the main cause of death for animals. Millions of birds are born every year, and millions die, and I don’t think plastics kill a disproportionate amount. Housecats probably eat more birds.

    But I don’t have any numbers, so it could, indeed, be a huge problem. I doubt it.

    He devised an aquarium experiment, using bottom-feeding lugworms that live on organic sediments, barnacles that filter organic matter suspended in water, and sand fleas that eat beach detritus. In the experiment, plastic particles and fibers were provided in proportionately bite-size quantities. Each creature promptly ingested them.

    When the particles lodged in their intestines, the resulting constipation was terminal.

    Ouch. Then again, wouldn’t evolution favor the critters that didn’t go for the plastic? And if a bunch of them die off, there will be a lot of un-processed detritus that the critters who are drawn to it would eat…

    If they were small enough, they passed through the invertebrates’ digestive tracts and emerged, seemingly harmlessly, out the other end.

    Great! And the waves keep pounding them smaller, so, pretty soon – the problem will be pounded out of existence.

    Did that mean that plastics were so stable that they weren’t toxic?

    Probably.

    At what point would they start to naturally break down—and when they did, would they release some fearful chemicals that would endanger organisms sometime far in the future?

    Uh…that’s why they’re such an eyesore. They don’t break down. Chemophobe.

    All he knew was that soon everything alive would be eating them. “When they get as small as powder, even zooplankton will swallow them.”

    Do zooplankton swallow? I don’t think they have intestines as such. Somehow I’m not worried about them getting terminal constipation.

    But then again, that was the problem with CFC’s. Totally benign stuff. Great for the environment. But it kept not reacting with anything until it moved up in the atmosphere and hit the ozone layer. Hopefully all these hungry animals with big enough digestive tracts will eat up the plastic, excrete it into some form of coral and form long lasting reefs or something productive like that. And it won’t find itself up in the troposphere.

    On the list of catastrophes to worry about – well I think this is pretty low.

    #4886
    Avatar
    Warwick
    Member

    Aeronaut wrote: So, how do you propose to change human nature so that all this power is used for the good of all? After all, we’re just the third Industrial Revolution, following steam and steam–>electric.
    Btw, you may want to google “third industrial revolution”. A group of higher profile advanced thinkers think they can pull it off using fossil fuels…

    I don’t think it calls for a change in human nature. Human nature was no different, for example, when the post-war societies of Western Europe were striving (and mostly succeeding) in creating property-owning democracies, with public ownership of public goods and the development of the welfare state. Huge advances were made. Human nature is an obstacle to utopia, not always an obstacle to progress.

    But the question of how to do the most good with an invention (which in effect it is) like focus fusion, is a deep and complicated one. Not one that I can answer immediately even superficially, but here goes.

    It’s unlikely you’re going to be able to twist anyone’s arm even if you tried. It’s not so obvious how you can help someone in a country that’s basically in the grip of a corrupt military regime that swallows everything, of which there are plenty.

    BUT, there are a lot of poorer countries that have quite a reasonable government. So for a start, maybe you could give preferential terms to people depending on what they can afford – price discrimination, as with airlines. It’s fortunate that in many poorer countries, there are universities with a DPF programme. That means there must be people there that could be developed as Focus manufacturers, developers, maintainence engineers. (In fact, selling cheap to the poor is a very aggressive sales tactic – stacking high is imperative if you want to be sure of out-competing the less clean alternatives.)

    What about the nature of ownership? Is there something to be said for that ancient idea, the democratic cooperative? – either for producers or operators, depending on how you envisage production?

    What about harnessing the abilities of international voluntary organisations, or starting one, to make the most of an energy supply in regions where capital development is not at a point where it could otherwise make the most difference? Another thought – there are a lot of industrial places in the world that are hurting badly right now and for the foreseeable, which fortunately means there is a potential untapped resource of engineers and technologists. It’s just a question of what leverage will see them gainfully employed in places that need it.

    Don’t be afraid to be bold.

    I looked up the 3rd industrial revolution and got Jeremy Rifkin… not sure where you’re going with that. But it’s true that the 1st industrial revolution mostly turned into creating new ways to conquer and enslave, and at the height of it the average lifespan for an urban worker was less than 20. The paradigm then was very much one of unenlightened self-interest; there’s no need for history to repeat itself.

    I’ll write more if I think of something else.

    #4887
    Avatar
    Rezwan
    Member

    But it’s true that the 1st industrial revolution mostly turned into creating new ways to conquer and enslave, and at the height of it the average lifespan for an urban worker was less than 20. The paradigm then was very much one of unenlightened self-interest; there’s no need for history to repeat itself.

    What was its “height”? And I don’t know about history repeating itself, but the average worker now lives a much longer time. Perhaps you could say at the inception, conditions for workers were terrible, lifespan short, but as the affluence spread, workers stopped putting up with that. This would imply there is a progression inherent in the thing. Jeffrey Sachs puts a different spin on the industrial revolution and poverty, which I quoted a lot in this post on poverty.

    #4890
    Avatar
    Warwick
    Member

    Rezwan wrote:

    But it’s true that the 1st industrial revolution mostly turned into creating new ways to conquer and enslave, and at the height of it the average lifespan for an urban worker was less than 20. The paradigm then was very much one of unenlightened self-interest; there’s no need for history to repeat itself.

    What was its “height”? And I don’t know about history repeating itself, but the average worker now lives a much longer time. Perhaps you could say at the inception, conditions for workers were terrible, lifespan short, but as the affluence spread, workers stopped putting up with that. This would imply there is a progression inherent in the thing. Jeffrey Sachs puts a different spin on the industrial revolution and poverty, which I quoted a lot in this post on poverty.

    I more or less like your piece of writing about poverty. If you want to see Bjorn Lomborg get taken apart at the seams for the dizzy fantasist that he is, read Monbiot’s website (or regular column in the Guardian).

    You may remember from school learning about the reformer Edwin Chadwick. In his ‘Report on the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population of Great Britain’ in 1842, he wrote that the average life expectancy in Rutland (agricultural, not changed much) was 52 years for a gent and 38 for a working man. In Leeds it was 44 years for a gent and 19 for a working man. (Naturally this was probably before they separated out infant mortality, but that’s beside the point.) I’ve got out my old school textbook, P. Sauvain (1987) to tell you that!

    Broadly speaking, the quality of life for the working classes was far worse in the 1840s than 100 years earlier as it turns out (just as someone forced at gunpoint into a Chinese factory to breathe plastic fumes is worse off than when they were a rural peasant; just as someone that is displaced from a rainforest to live in Sao Paulo’s shanty town amid the filth and crime is worse off). After the Public Health Act of 1848, conditions improved and thereafter gradually carried on improving, because of more social reforms in the late Victorian era (the main reason for the low life expectancy was disease, which was reduced by public investments in clean water and sanitation). If you ask when life became ‘better’ than before the industrial revolution, for someone at the bottom, well maybe not until late 1800s at the very least I’d guess. Basically, people in an ultra-capitalist society view each other as commodities and people are a commodity that can get very cheap. It took a long while for people to grab part of the fruits of technology, rather than just being exploited alongside it, which is what happened at first.

    #4891
    Avatar
    Warwick
    Member

    Oh, I guess that since I have an economics degree from a top uni, I’m a bit of an economist. I’ll see sometime what I can muster regarding that part of your essay. Really like the positive tone of it.

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