THEOSOPHY, Vol. 81, No. 5, March, 1993
(Pages 143-145; Size: 8K)



[Part 4 of a 16-part series]

To better understand the multitude of present-day environmental problems, let us briefly look at how mankind has dealt with such problems in the past. Before the proliferation of inexpensive plastic and paper products, the average household had much less garbage to dispose of; glass, pottery, and metal containers were reused if possible, and this is still the practice in poorer countries. Biodegradable food wastes were normally fed to animals or composted. Thus only a small amount of trash was generated for garbage dumps.

The Industrial Revolution -- Before and After

Commercial products were produced in limited numbers before the Industrial Revolution, which is said to have begun in England sometime between 1760 and 1780, close to the time of the American and French Revolutions. Since the human population in Europe and North America was smaller, it could tolerate a limited amount of pollution in the air, water, and earth without dire consequences; hence, there was little awareness of the effects of the pollution. Moreover, there were more critical problems facing the people of that time.

The main sources of air pollution came from burning wood and coal for heating and cooking. Incomplete combustion of these fuels produced soot, carbon monoxide, and other pollutants. Overgrazing by domesticated animals like sheep depleted the land and food sources for other species. Water was polluted by sewage and garbage but on a much smaller scale than later.

The crowning achievement of the Industrial Revolution has been said to be the invention of the steam engine by James Watt and others. This engine gradually replaced people and animals in commercial applications and was used in transportation by rail and boat. Although it facilitated transport, the burning of wood and coal to heat boilers released additional pollutants.

In many ways at this time in history the quality of life improved as the remnants of the feudal system were abandoned. Having gained greater freedom, people were able to make improvements in nutrition, sanitation, health care, and the efficiency of manufacturing operations.

Safety in factories and mines was a major problem before and during the Industrial Revolution. Child labor, long working hours, low wages, and unhealthy working conditions posed other problems, which still exist in many parts of the world. At one time, adult employees were often treated as serfs and held in bondage to their employers for long periods of time. Freedom was sacrificed for income and a new way of life.

As some of these problems were recognized, and at the urging of two pioneer workers' advocates -- Sir Robert Peel and Dr. Thomas Percival -- the British Parliament passed legislation on working conditions and child education. Later, workers themselves brought about most of the improvements that eventually made work safer and more respectable.

A New Industrial Revolution?

Following the Industrial Revolution, which influenced rural and agrarian life, came cycles of high employment followed by economic depression. Along with the economic fluctuations came cycles of war and peace. While it is clear that war boosts certain segments of industry, in the end it wastes both human and natural resources, generates debts, and damages both the physical and psychic environment. Such is the perspective offered in the Tao Te King, p. 123:

He who serves a ruler of men in harmony with Tao will not subdue the Empire by force of arms. ... Where troops have been quartered, brambles and thorns spring up. In the track of great armies there must follow lean years. ... Weapons, however beautiful, are instruments of ill omen, hateful to all creatures. Therefore, he who has Tao will have nothing to do with them.
There can be no doubt that the Industrial Revolution, by attracting large numbers of rural workers to cities, increased stress on people in urban areas as well as stress on the environment with many new kinds of pollution.

Are we now on the verge of a new Industrial Revolution -- one brought about by advancements in technology? Is cybernetics (artificial intelligence) going to take over some aspects of human thinking? Robotic machines have invaded large factories and put many people out of work. Have we automated too much and too quickly? We must consider that of all resources the most valuable is people. Can new jobs be found or created for displaced workers?

On the matter of computers or computerized machines taking over, The Scientific American for January 1990 has many articles on the subject. The operations only seem intelligent; robots and computers reflect activities of lower Manas only. Machines are good for routine tasks like information storage and retrieval, filing, reporting, and making a great variety of calculations at increasingly high speed.

Genuine creativity requires higher Manas with all its power and ability. The higher functions of the mind, unlike the function of robots, are not purely logical. Scientists do not yet understand the complex biological workings of the brain, which has the remarkable ability to do many things at once, to redirect broken neural pathways, to respond to numerous sensory and emotional inputs, and to output exceedingly complex motor functions. Yet, the marvelous brain is only a shadow of the higher mind. Why not make better use of our higher capabilities rather than attempt to emulate them with machines?

Looking at the brain in another way, H.P.B. wrote that chemistry and physiology are "the two great magicians of the future." (S.D. I, 261.) Scientists are now actively engaged in studying the chemical and cellular responses within the brain to variations in emotions, attitudes, and certain nutrients and hormones. The brain can be studied in ways that may result in methods being devised to conserve and develop human resources. We will consider the utilization of "people" resources in future articles.

Next article:
[Land Vegetation: Forests.
Forest Vegetation.
The Prairie.
Desert -- Tundra.
Nature's Great Variety.]
[Part 5 of a 16-part series]

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