Two hundred years ago, the Industrial and Agricultural Revolutions were in full spate, with first a trickle and then a flood of machines, which facilitated increased production, and the mechanisation of every form of agrarian and industrial pursuit. Prior to the invention of the steam engine and the mechanisation of production, invention of factories etc., the Domestic System meant that each family was involved in its own cottage industry, which contributed to the whole. Production was small scale, involved the whole family, and home based. Communities were self-sustaining and interlaced, travel was limited and expensive and a high value was placed on goods, workmanship and food, where the manufacturer or producer was an integral part of the population.
The invention and then improvement of the steam engine, and the subsequent increase in demand for coal changed all that. Previously mining had been small scale, local and shallow. The huge demand for coal to fuel the new machines meant ever-deeper exploration of the earth and the invention of factories started the migration of workers and the centralisation of population into the cities that housed them. Production was increased across every sphere but life started to become very different. Instead of home based industries, which accommodated the family in every age and stage, and embraced community, the smoke belching cities became a magnet and families were divided into those who went to work and others stayed home. Entire families went to work in the new factories and the mines in order to increase income, which was often a pittance, workers were crowded into slums with no sanitation where disease was rife.
While the poor gravitated to the cities with the promise of a better standard of living, all that was created was a new class of ‘working poor’ with just enough for a subsistence existence, literally ‘working for the man’ who owned the factory, the slums, the factory school and the shop where they spent their meager earnings.
The Luddites rebelled by smashing the machinery that replaced their skilled artisanship with cheap, unskilled, labour and mass production. Many of these rioters and wreckers were either executed or transported to penal colonies in America or Australia. Riots swept the U.K, culminating in the Peterloo massacre. The Luddites might have been a restless minority and seemingly achieved little, but like the 1891 shearer strike and riots in Australia, the underbelly of unrest politicised the country and led to the rise of the trade union movement.
Two hundred years later we are totally dependent on coal and the mechanisation of every facet of our existence. Little could any Lancashire Luddite have dreamt how mass produced our clothes are now – let alone that they are mainly made of plastic, not the wool they carded and wove with such skill and dexterity. No Farmer would believe our vast treeless plains of GM crops or acres of monoculture cropping. They would shudder at our industrialised feedlots, poultry houses, and egg production. We have industrialised and made factories of every facet of our lives – our schools, syllabus, day care centres, farming, and supermarkets.
And while we have gained in convenience, we have lost in connection as we become ever more dependent on machines and ever more removed from the land that feeds and fuels us.
But there is a groundswell moving in the opposite direction (some would say backwards). Seeking to create intentional communities, sharing transport, centred on home based businesses. City dwellers relieving themselves of the rat race and going back to a simpler, less stressful way of life. Seeking self-sufficiency and a more meaningful relationship with the earth, their children, neighbors and family.
A growing number of global citizens who see that our reliance on fossil fuels feeds our ‘greed is good’ mindset and is destructive – to the planet, to the atmosphere, to our connections to each other and community, and to our connection to Mother Earth. These visionaries have led the Renewable Revolution by showing us that we can indeed have all the machines we are so dependent on, but that they needn’t be destructive. That Nature’s abundant resources can fuel us. We don’t need to keep digging deep into the earth, destabilising our foundations, when sun, sea, wind and water can give us all we need in terms of power.
The Industrial Revolution was driven by a monied few excited by the linings of their own pockets, while the Renewable Revolution is being stymied by the same monied minority scared of what the future holds if we cease to be reliant on their coal and oil.
In Australia those people are larger than life and twice as vocal. In the U.S. they are more veiled and powerful behind closed doors. But the populace sees the sense in solar, wind and geothermal and no amount of naysaying by the power brokers will convince them otherwise. Because ordinary Australians look up and see how much sun we are blessed (and sometimes cursed with) we feel its heat on our skin, we experience the abundance and so harnessing it makes total sense. If the grey and gloomy skied Europeans can be leading the world in their take up of wind and solar power, why are we lagging so far behind?
Is it simply that the powerful few have Government so tightly in their grasp? Like the Luddites they will have to accept that progress is inevitable, we have to keep evolving and the new revolution is literally ‘back to the future’ – powering our lives and needs without pollution, high prices and petrochemicals.
A hundred years from now we will look back on the late nineties and noughties as The Renewable Revolution. We need to embrace it, advocate for it, force Government and Industry to accept it and welcome in the dawn of this new age.