Disease During the Industrial Revolution and Modern Global Warming: A Painfully Delayed Response

Upon reading about urban development and planning during the early nineteenth century and its health consequences and the government’s response, I was interestingly reminded of global warming and our government’s response. As discussed in tonight’s reading, The New Modern City, it appeared as though it took a significant amount of time for the government to recognize the health crisis and the need for cleaner cities. According to the article, the concentration of work opportunities in the cities attracted people to live in the cities, increasing the population of certain cities like Whales from “1.5 million in 1801 to 6.3 million in 1851”. While a boom in population may have provided more workers in factories and thus more efficient industries, the health consequences (i.e disease) was so severe that the morality rate continued to rise. Nonetheless, it was only until the 1820’s and 1830’s, about 40 years after the population boom, that people began questioning and considering the sanitation of their city. In fact, according to The New Modern City, these poor conditions were attributable to the fact that settlers in urban cities did not prioritize urban sanitation. The result of these poor conditions were fatal diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and typhus, to name a few.

Interestingly, however, the ignorance of the living conditions of the cities and the government’s slow acknowledgement of these conditions reminded me of government and global warming today. According to a source on nations’ carbon footprints of the world, the United States emits an average of 19 tonnes of carbon dioxide per capita and has therefore one of the largest carbon footprints in the world. While our nation heavily relies on energy economically and infrastructurally  my question is, how long will it take the government to act on and prioritize global warming, considering the fact that we are one of the largest carbon dioxide emitters? During the Industrial Revolution, it took reformers such as Edwin Chadwick to begin questioning and highlighting the importance of improving urban sanitation, despite the fact that morality rates were increasing. This is similar to today’s issue of global warming. Despite the recent unusual number of natural disasters over the past few years such as hurricanes and earthquakes has made me question as to when the government will begin to take more serious measures on preventing global warming, in the same way that the European governments during the Industrial Revolution eventually took more responsibility for urban sanitation?

This connection reminded me of a conversation I once had with Dr. Korfhage. We discussed the idea that people react more to more sudden events rather than long-term issues like global warming. Dr. Korfhage then introduced me to an article entitled, Sandy’s Closing Argument from the Washington Post by a columnist who discussed this idea. The idea that the government (and people) respond more dramatically to sudden, one-time effects (like Hurricane Sandy) rather than long-term issues, perhaps like global warming. It is a fascinating article and I found it interesting to connect to the discussion of the government’s response to urban planning and sanitation during the Industrial Revolution.

If you would like to read this article, here is its URL: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/matt-miller-sandys-closing-argument/2012/10/31/555f0214-238d-11e2-ac85-e669876c6a24_story.html

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4 Responses to Disease During the Industrial Revolution and Modern Global Warming: A Painfully Delayed Response

  1. lcharpentier2013 says:

    I agree with you Sarah that people are more likely to respond to sudden short term problems opposed to long term problems. I think the reason is simply because people tend to avoid problems initially, so therefore it becomes a long term problem in the first place. Additionally, because this long term problem is always constant and seems to not be making huge differences to daily life, it is not dealt with immediately. Unfortunately, I believe ignoring a long term problem is what causes it to get very bad and create sudden drastic changes, therefore leaving one with no other choice but to react. For example, global warming is a long term problem yet like you said there isn’t any drastic changes made to fix this problem because it seems as though global warming hardly effects our daily lives. Yet, overtime global warming is becoming worse and causing more unusual natural disasters such as hurricane Sandy. This caused sudden reactions because this drastic change did effect many people’s daily lives. Overall, as one can see it would be easier just to address problems initially in order to prevent long term problems.

  2. mcleverley2015 says:

    Interesting comparison of the two. Both are certainly large problems, especially with the recent weather (and future projections, which also look rather gloomy: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/future.html). It seems like global warming is taking a rather long time to change public opinion; while it took time for germ theory to come about and gain popularity, things take significantly less time to change in today’s information era, so why hasn’t an issue as big as this made significant change?
    A key difference between the medical breakthroughs of the mid 1800s and today’s global warming is the setbacks that they face: The old miasmatic theory was generally hard to get rid of, but there was no desire to cling to it other than it being easier than changing to new ideas; today’s global warming faces a challenge in a nation that benefits economically (in the short term) from ignoring it. When germ theory came about, cities already had poor health conditions and had so for hundreds of years, while we’re only starting to personally feel the effects of global warming now (we had campaigns about polar bears over the past 20 years, but didn’t really have the consequences hit us hard until recently).
    As a whole, people tend to fix a problem only when they can’t deal with it any more. Real change will likely come some years in the future, when we’ve had enough of the weather and will try to change to fix it.

    • sweiswasser2015 says:

      Sam, I think you idea is a fascinating one that reveals a way of thinking that scares me. It is true that disease is more of a direct setback to humans, physically, while global warming is not as tangible and is slower to evolve. I think that it is tragic that politicians today do not focus on global warming simply because ignoring it benefits the nation economically. That mentality further supports my point that people only respond to the now or the present. This mentality also reflects the idea that people are incapable of prioritizing. Politicians today would rather ignore global warming and gain economically than help save our planet that directly impacts our economy. I do not think this is any different from disease during the Industrial Revolution. The only difference is that the government eventually responded to it. People (and the government) in Britain were so focused on developing Britain economically that they “forgot” or deemphasized urban sanitation. A lack of sanitation had detrimental results, quite literally. The fact is that the government and the people can ignore these long term problems as much as they want, but in truth, it is these prolonged issues that have the most serious of effects often.

  3. GO ON!! says:

    Sam, I think you idea is a fascinating one that reveals a way of thinking that scares me. It is true that disease is more of a direct setback to humans, physically, while global warming is not as tangible and is slower to evolve. I think that it is tragic that politicians today do not focus on global warming simply because ignoring it benefits the nation economically. That mentality further supports my point that people only respond to the now or the present. This mentality also reflects the idea that people are incapable of prioritizing. Politicians today would rather ignore global warming and gain economically than help save our planet that directly impacts our economy. I do not think this is any different from disease during the Industrial Revolution. The only difference is that the government eventually responded to it. People (and the government) in Britain were so focused on developing Britain economically that they “forgot” or deemphasized urban sanitation. A lack of sanitation had detrimental results, quite literally. The fact is that the government and the people can ignore these long term problems as much as they want, but in truth, it is these prolonged issues that have the most serious of effects often
    Special thanks to sweiswasser2015 for helping me with the info.

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