The 21st Century continues to develop in ways we could never have imagined. Some movies shot expectations a bit too far like “Back to the Future.” We may not have hover cars and auto-lacing shoes, but we do have hoverboards and social humanoid robots that can hold a conversation independently. Unfortunately, our development has come with a cost, and this newspaper warned us over 100 years ago.
Before there were mansions and insulation, the world lived in basic homes. Worldwide health was poor, diseases and illnesses were yet to be named (let alone cured), poverty was rampant, and education was low. The mass mining of coal quickly became a savior, employing nearly 1 million in the US alone during its peak in 1923. Coal lead to manufacturing, which meant more employment, impacting housing conditions, chances of education, and improving social conditions. But not everyone believed in the every-lasting benefits.
Fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas have and will continue to be the dominant source of energy for global systems. These fuels have been formed naturally over the course of sometimes more than 650 million years. The energy these provide comes from the energy that was stored in plants and animals before the dawn of the dinosaurs. Buried beneath water and earth, these remains underwent physical and chemical changes to form coal. But how did they discover it?
Coal provides light, heat, and energy. The first recorded discovery in America was in 1679, by French explorers on the Illinois River. And the first recorded commercial mining began in 1748 near Richmond, Virginia. However, the Chinese are known to have used the fuel more than 3,000 years ago. News of the fuel’s use quickly spread. But coal is a non-renewable source of energy. What lies beneath the earth’s surface is all that will be available for millions of years to come. But that didn’t stop the mining.
Before the 1700s, Britain had to depend on charcoal as a cheap form of heat and fuel. This all changed during the Industrial Revolution. Britain began to industrialize itself turning to mass production of a range of products. As a result, more and more coal was needed to power steam engines and furnaces, to generate electricity and to heat buildings. Factories were developed and needed transportation for their goods. But as coal became more and more important, mines went deeper into the earth. No one could predict the dangers.
Miners descended hundreds of feet into darkness. Tragic news of collapsed mines was common. But the nation was desperate for a wage, and young men were always there to take someone’s place digging. Apart from the obvious dangers of digging beneath unsecured earth that could cave in at any moment, mining also led to chronic health disorders. Inhaling coal dust caused black lung disease, killing over 10,000 in the 1900s alone! But the positive impact coal has had on the world is undeniable.
Since the discovery of coal, average life expectancy has increased to 70.5, birth rate has increased, death rate has reduced, education has flourished, housing has improved, science and medicine continues to save lives, and technology continues to change the world. Fossil fuels have allowed us to research, expand, create and build. We can return home after a long day of work to watch TV in a warm home without thinking of where it all comes from. But these blessings take its toll on the earth.
There is continual debate and research to show the negative effects the burning of fossil fuels has had on the earth. Burning fossil fuels emits carbon dioxide, which in turn depletes the ozone layer allowing harmful UV rays then enter the atmosphere. The change in temperature is undeniable. Europe has experienced the hottest Summer in over 40 years, reaching a continental all-time average high of 48 degrees Celsius. Many have welcomed the chance to tan, but the effects on the earth are much more worrying.
Parts of the city of Venice are submerged in water. Scientists predict the warming seas could welcome hot water sharks to Europe before 2050. Polar ice caps are melting. And many studies hold climate change responsible for the frequent outbreaks of Ebola in West Africa, and expect cholera, bird flu, and plague to gain momentum in the coming years. We have never had as much technology to research and prove these impacts. But one paper from 100 years ago predicted the undeniable changes.
New Zealand paper “Rodney and Otamatea Times,” Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette printed a paragraph under the small headline “Coal Consumption Affection Climate.”. On the 14th of August, 1912, the short note put forward the idea of a changing atmosphere due to the high demand and use of fossil fuels. "The furnaces of the world are now burning about 2,000,000,000 tons of coal a year. When this is burned, uniting with oxygen, it adds about 7,000,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere yearly." And they didn’t stop there.
"This tends to make the air a more effective blanket for the earth and to raise its temperature. The effect may be considerable in a few centuries." And here we are, a century after this theory was put forward, desperately trying to rewind on our ancestor’s mistakes. But this wasn’t the first suggestion of human’s impact on the earth.
Swedish scientist, Svante Arrhenius, coined the term “greenhouse gases” in 1896. He put forward the revelation that the earth’s atmosphere was heating up due to the gases that were emitted from fossil fuels. Since then, it’s no surprise that Sweden is the leading country in the EU in terms of renewable energy. They aim to make the country completely carbon neutral by 2045, setting an example for the rest of the world to follow in suit. And this unexpected Hollywood star is campaigning for a greener world.
Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio has always been vocal about society’s abuse on the earth. In 1998, the Leonardo DiCaprio foundation was founded to improve the long-term health and well-being of all inhabitants of the earth. Unsurprisingly, that starts with society’s lifestyle and comfort. “We support innovative projects that protect vulnerable wildlife from extinction, while restoring balance to threatened ecosystems and communities,” their website shares. DiCaprio made sure to use his fame to his advantage.
Leonardo produced “Before the Flood” in 2016. The documentary, directed by Fisher Stevens, explored the impacts of climate change and was narrated by DiCaprio himself. Tesla founder, Elon Musk, explains his vision of the world’s transition to sustainable energy. The billionaire has begun this transition by producing electric cars, solar panels, and renewable energy solutions for homes and buildings. But will the world follow suit?
DiCaprio has donated $20 million to climate change charities. Although coal provides 40% of the world’s electricity, the world has begun to implement other sources. New homes require solar panels. Grants are given to farmers who agree to wind turbine construction on their land. Although we refused to take the warnings 100 years ago, the world is finally beginning to see clearly. Here’s to a brighter, healthier, renewable future.