Reality Blind - Vol. 1

There simply wasn't enough room to procure sufficient amounts of both wood and food for the growing society. The humans residing on an island (the British Isles) were reaching the limits of the agriculture and forestry model. The problem was that producing food through manual labor-based agriculture required substantial inputs in terms of muscle power: essentially, the production process itself consumed a large share of the edible goods eventually obtained. Even when population had grown, the lion's share of that food growth had to be put into feeding the people working the land. Having more people around only marginally increased the surplus energy that was available to society. Enter the discovery of commercial coal deposits near the coasts of Britain. Coal-burning offered much more energy per unit volume than wood, and coal could be extracted from the ground much faster than forests could capture carbon from the air through tree growth. Coal could be shipped far from the mine because you only need a little bit of coal to transport a lot of coal someplace else, and machines running on coal could be fit into small places and do immense amounts of work – work humans used to do manually. One example was the textile industry (shown above). Technology based on combining various pulleys and levers had created the “spinning jenny” which - operating by muscle power - could spin thread on 24 spindles simultaneously. The invention of the spinning mule, which used the energy from a waterwheel near a river, increased this spindle count to over 100. But when steam engines burning coal were integrated, the spindle count increased to over 1,000, thus generating an enormously higher return on the same amount of human input. 116 The two most important aspects of industrialization were the move to a higher-quality energy source and the substitution of human manual labor for machines driven by those new energy sources. The advent of coal use and machines did not require more labor availability, as the soil and wood- driven surplus of the past had done, but instead dramatically increased labor productivity (how much profit could be made per unit of human labor), at a cost of sharply increasing energy consu mption. But this wasn’t a concern because it was exosomatic energy and nearly free: coal was easy to mine and plentiful. This energy transformation would make Britain the wealthiest nation on Earth and ruler of the largest empire in histor y. Human economic output, first in Britain and eventually worldwide, was no longer limited by labor availability because work was increasingly done by the conversion of a fire’s heat into mechanical energy, rather than food energy converted by human muscles.


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