Since the advent of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain, Continental Europe, as well as the United States in 1760, the most negative impact has been on the environment. As humans continued to make progress in scientific innovations, the environment bore the brunt of such strides.
It should be stated nonetheless that industrialization was key in ensuring that man not only subdued his environment but made life easier, more convenient, and more productive.
Humans made the transition from using handmade, crude tools into machines and equipment that are capable of producing and quadrupling outputs in a matter of minutes.
I believe industrialization was what brought the actualization of the concept of division of labour put forward by the economist, Adam Smith. To give credence to that concept, Smith cited a popular analogy of pins.
He said 48,000 pins can be produced daily provided ten workers are handling eighteen specialized tasks in the pin production stage. However, the absence of such a division of labor will mean that each worker will barely produce a pin per day.
The relationship between what Adam Smith alluded to and industrialization is that division of labour wouldn’t have been possible without the required machinery to back them up.
The ten workers handling the eighteen production stages in that pin factory were able to produce such amount of pins because each worker was manning a particular machine. Hence, industrialization was key to improving productivity.
While humans were using cutlasses to clear a bush path or clear their surroundings, lawnmowers were introduced. That made it possible for people to tidy up their lawns faster and at a more convenient pace. Instead of riding on horseback for a long period, all I have to do is pick up my car keys and drive. The transition from horses and camels to cars ushered in comfort, speed, and convenience in transportation for humans.
Gains of Industrialization
The gains of industrialization are therefore enormous. Humans no longer have to visit banks to make transactions. They are now able to do so no matter where they are located and at a faster pace too. What about medicine? The advancement in human knowledge and industrialization has made it possible for surgeries to be conducted in record time.
The works of Joseph Lister particularly in the field of antiseptics played a crucial role in turning down the tides of mortality as far as medicine is concerned. In the field of agriculture, the footprints of industrialization are everywhere you care to look. Farmers are churning out farm produce as never seen.
Research and studies have also been able to assist farmers in producing crops in regions where they aren’t naturally occurring. Crops are now being cultivated in seasons that they naturally wouldn’t find friendly. The introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) has been a game-changer in the agricultural sector.
GMOs have made surplus the availability of food, farmers are making more money for less effort, and the agricultural sector is becoming more attractive.
The gain of industrialization can indeed be felt in whatever sector you care to pay attention to. However, the bigger picture is that our environment is paying the ultimate price. Humans are recording huge scientific and industrial strides while the environment they live in is deteriorating at an alarming rate.
How Industrialization Is Thriving At The Expense of The Environment
In Nigeria where I’m from, the discovery of crude oil in the 1950s has earned the country and its government huge foreign reserves. The discovery of crude oil in the Niger Delta ushered in a lot of investors and made the country wealthy.
However, the communities in which this crude oil was discovered paid the ultimate price. The evidence of oil spills is ever-present in whatever oil-producing community you visit, the rivers and streams are contaminated beyond redemption, and inhabitants including plants and animals, are dying daily of chemical poisoning.
Al Jazeera in a report in 2022, captured the damages oil spills have caused in the oil-producing regions of Nigeria. The only gift the region got out of over 60 years of oil exploration is that it became one of the most polluted places on Earth. The International Institute of Environmental Studies published in their journal that an average of 150 oil spills have been recorded so far.
Between 2020 and 2021, Nigeria’s body saddled with the responsibility of oil spill detection and response was said to record a combined total of 822 oil spills. That’s approximately 28,003 barrels of crude oil that found their way into the rivers and streams, onto land surfaces, and into the atmosphere.
The situation you have is industrialization is giving you something with the right hand and taking your environment with the left. Many attempts by the government and its agencies to clean up those areas have not yielded much to be desired.
Industrialization has therefore deprived the people of Nigeria’s Niger Delta of a clean, safe, and habitable environment. Efforts to remedy this dire situation have proved to be futile because the only way to stop this is to deploy international best practices regarding oil exploration. Capitalists however aren’t bothered about that. They are more concerned with making more money even at the expense of humanity.
It is a worrying future ahead because as more crude oil is being discovered in other parts of the country, so would the soul of their environment have to be given up in exchange for wealth and foreign investments.
The point worth noting is that as the human population continues to rise, globalization and industrialization will grow with it. Increased population means industries have to produce more goods, more cars will be produced and bought, and more farm machinery will be a necessity. The more these things continue to soar, the more negative environmental impact we have to deal with.
Look around you. Deforestation is on an upward trajectory to create room for the increasing human population and build houses, industries, and facilities to cater to them. There are some key statistics I came across the other day.
6.7 million people are estimated to have lost their lives from all sources of air pollution in 2019, brought about of course by industrialization. It is believed approximately 5.3 trillion quantities of plastics can be found in the major marine areas of the world.
Brazil in 2021, recorded the largest area of tropical rainforest loss globally. This loss was estimated at 1.5 million hectares. Its primary rainforest loss for that same year was pegged at over 40 percent of the world’s primary forest loss.
The astronomic growth in the human population means that more crops will have to be cultivated. That came with a side effect on the environment. The global agricultural pesticide consumption figure increased steadily from 1990 to 2020. In 2020 in particular, the rate of public pesticide consumption stood at almost 2.7 million metric tons, which was a more than 57 percent increase from the consumption rate in 1990.
In 2020, the same report indicated that Turkey produced 2.2 million metric tons of sulfur oxide emissions, making it the largest producer of sulfur oxide emissions in all OECD countries in the year in review.
There are more statistics available on the internet on the effects of industrialization on the environment. I just highlighted these to give more emphasis to the point I’m trying to make.
In the case of GMOs for instance, widespread environmental impact has been felt. There have been reports of a net increase in herbicide use and this has snowballed into the growth of herbicide-resistant weeds.
While countries like Canada have experienced a net decrease in herbicide use since they adopted genetically modified crops, there has been an increase in the amount of herbicide active ingredient applied to GM crops in other countries in comparison to the conventional crops in many other countries.
The deployment of GM crops has also led to a host of environmental effects including the evolution of superweeds that have developed resistance to the herbicide glyphosate, superpests, ecological contamination, and loss of biodiversity.
However, we must accept that as the human population continues to grow, so would capitalists see opportunities to make more money. This will naturally translate into coming up with plans to meet such needs at the expense of the environment.
How Can We Salvage The Situation?
What we must do is hold the governments of the world to account. We are not at the point where policies need to be debated in the parliament. We have also gone past the stage where the government set up committees to look into environmental concerns brought about by industrialization.
The government needs to act on the recommendations that have been put forward by many committees set up in the past. That would be difficult, it must be said because a lot of government officials owe their positions to certain financiers who have donated money to fund their elections.
This has been the clog in the wheel in many government circles and the reason why they are reluctant to take the necessary steps to end environmental degradation and protect our environment.
Second, industries must be held accountable and must be mandated to implement the many policies to safeguard the environment they committed to before their industries were set up. When industries adopt international best practices, we will bring the level of environmental degradation to the barest minimum.
We must commend the efforts of many industries who are putting effort into making environmentally-friendly products such as the Blueland Clean Home Kit, Stojo Collapsible Travel Mug, Solar panels to generate electricity, electric vehicles which emit fewer greenhouse gases and air pollutants than cars fueled by petrol or diesel, etc.
Finally, we should be open to volunteering with environmental agencies, embracing recycling, cultivating the culture of saving resources, purchasing sustainable products to minimize carbon footprints, etc. Collectively, we can have a cleaner, safer, and healthier environment.