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Climate and the Industrial Revolution
Posted: 14 November 2011 11:15 AM   [ Ignore ]
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The following is a letter from this weeks Economist:

SIR – Having read your article on economics and religion (“Holy relevance”, October 29th), I’d like to propose the weather as an historical indicator of a nation’s work ethic and prosperity.
If Britain enjoyed warm temperatures and 300 days of sun a year, would its people so easily accept enclosing themselves in a workshop, factory or office for eight or so hours every weekday, even if it led to increased prosperity? Isn’t life too short not to be enjoyed?
If the Greeks woke up four days out of five to find the sun was nowhere to be seen, with rain and wind more than probable, would they still opt for leisurely lunches on patios, noontime naps and short working days? One may as well stay inside and work, there’s little else to do.
How would these two countries’ economic destinies be different today had they gone through history with the other’s weather patterns?
Saro Agnerian
Montreal


I don’t know if that is the entire reason that the industrial revolution started in Englanf and Northern Europe, but it may very well be a contributing factor.  Even in the US the industrail heartland was in the cooler NE; upper Midwest and not the South.

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Posted: 14 November 2011 11:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Although latitude has probably a lot to do with it, it’s certainly not the only or even the fundamental cause of the IR. It may seem like the obvious candidate in Euroasia, but in Americas, where the Mayas accomplished building more civilized society than the American Indians, the situation was the exact opposite.

If you’re interested investigating this complex topic, I recommend reading Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, Cochran and Harpending’s The 10,000 Year Explosion and Clark’s A Farewell to Alms.

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Posted: 14 November 2011 03:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Both of George’s book recommendations are excellent. I’d like to add, however, that there is some evidence indicating higher levels of economic activity in temperate latitudes than in tropical latitudes. A number of factors contribute to this:

1. Keeping active is the best way to stay warm in colder climes. If the additional caloric requirements for such activity do not exceed the caloric requirements of the activity itself, this is a viable means to maintain body temperature.
2. Conversely, activity in tropical climates, especially around noon and early afternoon, require large amounts of water and salt for cooling; if such water is not readily available, it’s better to nap during the early afternoon. Many African savannah animals do this; it is also the basis of the siesta. Indeed, there is some evidence that the human body performs better when it gets an afternoon nap. “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.”
3. Tropical diseases are more abundant in tropical zones, many of which debilitate without killing. This tends to reduce the activity levels of denizens of the tropics.

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Posted: 14 November 2011 05:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I don’t know if that is the entire reason that the industrial revolution started in Englanf and Northern Europe, but it may very well be a contributing factor.  Even in the US the industrail heartland was in the cooler NE; upper Midwest and not the South.

Well, not quite, although I’ve never seen this proposed as a cause of the Industrial rev. The 3 causes traditionally stipulated for an industrial rev. are:
1.  abundant raw materials
2. surplus population
3. plenty of capital
England was the birthplace of the IR because she had all three, plus a canal system to link them. According to most historians the rev. began ca. 1787 with the creation of woolen mills. Nowhere have I read of climate being a major contributing factor for the rev. But hey, history isn’t an exact science! You know, there might even be a god, but I doubt it. Without one of these there could be NO rev. Ex. the US. Although we had an abundance of raw materials, we lacked the manpower and capital. Case in point is George’s mention of Mayan (and later Aztec) civilizations. A good book to read here is “1491”. Both groups could sustain a large population with an abundant food supply, whereas the Native population of NA was still in small villages and semi-nomadic. We only had one large city in the pre-Columbian era, Cahokia, with around 35,000 inhabitants. That plus the Indians made no use of the wheel (considered sacred) retarded industrial growth. However, the demise of all Native Amer. cities DOES have a background in climate. Palentologists and climatologists agree that by cutting the forests in the area the climate was changed by the warming of the Earth , causing a drought that led to the cities being abandoned, but that’s only a THEORY! (touch of irony here). Bibliography available upon request folks, I ain’t writing it all down.

Cap’t Jack

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Posted: 14 November 2011 06:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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You might find this little series quite interesting.

James Burke : Connections,

[ Edited: 14 November 2011 06:29 PM by citizenschallenge.pm ]
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Posted: 14 November 2011 07:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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citizenschallenge.pm - 14 November 2011 06:20 PM

You might find this little series quite interesting.

James Burke : Connections,

Hooray for James Burke!

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Posted: 14 November 2011 09:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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thevillageathiest - 14 November 2011 05:41 PM

I don’t know if that is the entire reason that the industrial revolution started in Englanf and Northern Europe, but it may very well be a contributing factor.  Even in the US the industrail heartland was in the cooler NE; upper Midwest and not the South.

Well, not quite, although I’ve never seen this proposed as a cause of the Industrial rev. The 3 causes traditionally stipulated for an industrial rev. are:
1.  abundant raw materials
2. surplus population
3. plenty of capital
England was the birthplace of the IR because she had all three, plus a canal system to link them. According to most historians the rev. began ca. 1787 with the creation of woolen mills. Nowhere have I read of climate being a major contributing factor for the rev. But hey, history isn’t an exact science! You know, there might even be a god, but I doubt it. Without one of these there could be NO rev. Ex. the US. Although we had an abundance of raw materials, we lacked the manpower and capital. Case in point is George’s mention of Mayan (and later Aztec) civilizations. A good book to read here is “1491”. Both groups could sustain a large population with an abundant food supply, whereas the Native population of NA was still in small villages and semi-nomadic. We only had one large city in the pre-Columbian era, Cahokia, with around 35,000 inhabitants. That plus the Indians made no use of the wheel (considered sacred) retarded industrial growth. However, the demise of all Native Amer. cities DOES have a background in climate. Palentologists and climatologists agree that by cutting the forests in the area the climate was changed by the warming of the Earth , causing a drought that led to the cities being abandoned, but that’s only a THEORY! (touch of irony here). Bibliography available upon request folks, I ain’t writing it all down.

Cap’t Jack

But wouldn’t those 3 causes have been there in the first place because of the climate? BTW, that’s interesting that the wheel was not utilised by the native americans because of it’s “sacredness”- but remember, there weren’t too many work animals here to start with.

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Posted: 15 November 2011 05:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Hey Mike,
You’re right in a way, after the last ice age the climate warmed to the point that domesticated plants and animals could flourish there. Without those conditions there would never have been a ready source of labor available, and the capital to create the factories came from wealthy landowners who raised cereal crops and sheep and cattle. The raw materials however, like and abundance of iron and coal deposits in the Midlands and Wales that produced the iron necessary to make the machines weren’t climate controlled. So I’ll give you 2 out of 3!
Also, as to animals in the Americas, the Incas, Moche and other South Americans used the Alpaca and Illama for beasts of burden. The Mayans and Aztecs used pow’s, slaves, and volunteer hand labor to build their magnificent cities. The Spainards were amazed that Mex. City was bigger than their capital!. But they still didn’t use the wheel. They knew about it though. Several wheeled toys have been uncovered at various sites in Central Am. So I guess you could say that climate plays a supportive role here.

Cap’t Jack

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Posted: 15 November 2011 06:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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WoW! Just looked in on James Burke’s series. It’s like Will and Ariel Durant on video! Excellent stuff to use in a classroom. I like his style. there’s a lot to review here but what I’ve seen is impressive.

Cap’t Jack

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Posted: 15 November 2011 06:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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IMO, the environment has been the greatest influence on the direction of technological development. Harsh conditions (long cold winters, etc), scarcety of food, size of local predators and prey, all create a need for sophisticated weaponry and hunting tactics (war strategy). I am sure this was instrumental in the development of tools and eventually technology.
OTOH, a benign climate conditions (forests, jungles) provided abundant fruits and a host of small animals with little need for sophisticated hunting and harvesting techniques. However, a tropical climate also creates more disease and poisonous organisms, which needed development of medicines to combat bacterial diseases. Native medicine in the jungles of SA were way ahead of medicine development in Europe.

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Posted: 15 November 2011 06:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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The problem here is that other countries also had enough people, raw material and adequate weather to start the IR. But they didn’t. Why England? Why not, say, Japan? And why did it have to wait until the 19th century? They have had coal and the same climate for hundreds of years.

No, something else happened in England. The people became productive, less violent, healthier and better educated. This was the cause and not the product of the IR revolution, because when the English brought their technology (i.e., textile industry) to India and then Africa, they quickly realized there was more to it than sophisticated machinery.

Read the book by Clark I mentioned in my first post, guys. The beauty of that book is that Clark didn’t realize what all this meant until after he published it. What he came to see is something that Diamond could never, or perhaps didn’t want to, see. And that is that the society in England had changed and that it changed genetically. Why this happened doesn’t seem so clear, but it is evident that the poor (the unproductive, violent, sick and uneducated) vanished and were replaced by the rich ones.

[ Edited: 15 November 2011 06:51 AM by George ]
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Posted: 15 November 2011 07:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Don’t forget the role coffee played in the Renaissance. The water was not fit for human consumption back then, and until the introduction of coffee to Europe most people drank mead all day. Coffee transformed the citizenry from drunken sleepyheads to energetic worker bees. Yes, it took a century or two for the effects to produce the Industrial Revolution, but coffee played a key role.

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Posted: 15 November 2011 09:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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First, let’s acknowledge that a myriad of factors contributed to the IR, even though some were of greater importance than others. I agree with George that Mr. Clark’s book offers important ideas, but his conclusions regarding genetic factors are, in my opinion, absurd. Genetic change manifests itself over many generations; the IR popped in a single generation. Moreover, given the vast complexity of cultural factors at work, genetic explanations fall to Occam’s Razor.

My own opinion on the matter is that English mercantilism was one of the primary factors in the IR. Throughout history, mercantilism has always been closely associated with culture fluorescence. The Glory That Was Greece sprang directly from the fact that Greece was the first society dominated by a merchant class. The Renaissance took place in the trading cities of northern Italy. The Dutch cultural explosion corresponded directly with the sudden expansion of Dutch trading in the 17th century. Power in England shifted to the merchant class after the Glorious Revolution—and the IR ensued less than a century later.

It wasn’t wealth that made these things happen: Spain enjoyed fabulous wealth from American silver, but never experienced the cultural and rational boom that attended the mercantile societies.

Mercantilism is crucial because it is fundamentally rational. You can’t get rich in a mercantile culture clinging to irrational beliefs; the market is realist and you climb on board or go broke. Monarchy and aristocracy places no value on rationalism; power is obtained through interpersonal machinations.

Mercantilism begets rationalism; rationalism feeds science and technology.

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Posted: 15 November 2011 09:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Posted: 15 November 2011 09:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Chris Crawford - 15 November 2011 09:10 AM

First, let’s acknowledge that a myriad of factors contributed to the IR, even though some were of greater importance than others. I agree with George that Mr. Clark’s book offers important ideas, but his conclusions regarding genetic factors are, in my opinion, absurd. Genetic change manifests itself over many generations; the IR popped in a single generation. Moreover, given the vast complexity of cultural factors at work, genetic explanations fall to Occam’s Razor.

I don’t know if you read the book, but I don’t think you’re understanding it correctly. It didn’t happen within one generation. Rather, it began to happen at least 400 years earlier (this is as far as Clark was able to trace written documents to support his theory) and culminated around 1800.

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Posted: 15 November 2011 10:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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As it happens, I have the book right here. Yes, he argues that the genetic change began much earlier, but how could a slow-moving cause yield a fast-moving effect? Yes, it’s possible that there was some sort of trigger, tipping point, or critical mass at work, but that’s starting to pile on the assumptions about the process. Furthermore, he needs to demonstrate that such genetic changes were not taking place elsewhere. He’s got great data for England, but the data for other European countries is too sparse to yield an answer. Genetic factors might—MIGHT—have played a role, but I don’t think he’s got much support for the claim that they played a primary or even important role.

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