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 A Milestone That No One Noticed

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nordmann
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PostSubject: A Milestone That No One Noticed   Sat 22 Apr 2017, 12:10



The above tweet, issued by the UK National Grid yesterday, has gone almost unnoticed by the British media. In historical terms however it could almost be described as the official demise of the Industrial Revolution, the end of the last tangible and meaningful legacy of an industrial tradition that could be said to have started on an April day in 1712 when Thomas Newcomen, having perfected Savery and Panin's "atmospheric engine", set into operation the world's first commercially viable steam engine and in doing so unwittingly created a world whose wealth and development would become inextricably dependent on fossil fuels.

The fuel he utilised, of course, was coal - then an abundant resource in Britain if difficult and expensive to extract. In fact the first practical application to which Newcomen's engine would be put was indeed to that end - draining the shafts so that the mining of coal could be accelerated, made safer and more efficient, and crucially more economically viable. The more coal that was produced the more demand for the engines that facilitated these levels of extraction, this economically symbiotic relationship soon extending into almost every single branch of industrial production as these engines were adapted to more and more practical uses. Coal, the fuel on which all these developments were made possible, inadvertently changed not just the methods of production but the very social landscape itself. Coal, it could be said, built the modern world.

Oil superseded coal of course, and we of a certain age are all too aware of how the commodity's death throes as a practical and economically viable resource translated into social unrest and upheaval in recent decades in Britain. The very last great use to which it was still put, the final surviving legacy of the Industrial Revolution's early definition and character, was to generate electricity, and the last surviving coal-powered generating station, West Burton, went "offline" as an integral part of the grid for good on Thursday. It will be maintained until at least 2025 as a reserve generator, but whether called into use again or not is doomed, like all its coal-powered predecessors, to be converted to biomass production or else to be closed down altogether.

Friday 21st April 2017 therefore, being the first time the national electricity grid was maintained for a continuous 24 hour period without a requirement for coal, marks the end - not just of a chapter in British industrial history but symbolically of an entire age in human development. Oil persists of course, and for many oil is the resource which is probably best characterised as the true enabler of our industrial age, but like the once mighty "King Coal" now faces its own extinction day in terms of dependency, as today's milestone surely emphasises too.

Welcome to a post-industrial revolutionary world. Let's hope it keeps fine for us ...


West Burton - a monument to a revolution now, officially, dead.
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PostSubject: Re: A Milestone That No One Noticed   Sat 22 Apr 2017, 13:03

Well done coal! It allowed us to advance science and technology to the point where we can replace it with better, more efficient and less polluting methods of power generation. And not a moment too soon .... unfortunately another milestone that got missed was that the averaged global atmospheric CO2 level hit 410ppm this week, certainly for the first time in human history and probably for the first time in the last 20 million years.
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Vizzer
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PostSubject: Re: A Milestone That No One Noticed   Sat 22 Apr 2017, 13:15

It’s certainly a significant historical milestone. Particularly so when one considers (as pointed out) that the coal-powered industrial revolution began 300 years ago. Yet the Coal Age is only over with regard to Britain. Let’s not forget that electricity production in China and India et al is predominantly coal-powered. And the U.S. still derives 30% of its electricity from coal, which is only just in second place behind gas at 33%.

I have to say that I for one am glad that reliance on coal power is now a thing of the past for Britain. I remember in the 1970s and 1980s feeling rather like D.H. Lawrence (i.e. being embarrassed at being English) whenever the Norwegians and Swedes etc would complain about the acid rain caused in their countries as a result of UK air pollution. And this feeling of shame was exacerbated when the Irish simultaneously complained about radioactivity in the sea as a result of British nuclear power generation. 

Bizarrely, however, a later report from the Norwegian forestry commission suggested that acid rain was actually beneficial to trees. This caused no end of puzzlement in both Oslo and Westminster until it was pointed out that acid rain was, nevertheless, still detrimental to freshwater quality and wildlife habitat. Acid rain was, therefore, confirmed as being basically ‘a bad thing’ and so it’s a good riddance to this major contributor.
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