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Celebrate the Industrial Revolution

Let us have a day when all of us take a moment to acknowledge the enormous contribution made to human life by the inventors and businessmen of the Industrial Revolution.

By Robert W. Tracinski

On April 22, thousands will gather across the country to celebrate Earth Day, a holiday that has risen in the past decade from obscurity to the status of a mainstream, uncontroversial event. After all, who could be against clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment?

But the message of Earth Day runs much deeper than that. Its message is not just that pollution is bad. Instead, it stands for wholesale attack on industry and technology. Watch the crowds of environmentalists who gather on Earth Day, and notice that they have never met a form of technology they liked. You will see protests against coal and oil, which allegedly release too much carbon dioxide. If you suggest that the alternative is nuclear power, you will be told that this is, somehow, even worse. And what about hydro-electric dams—which, by the way, also provide clean drinking water? You will hear the greens boast about how they have prevented the construction of such dams across the world. Why? To prevent humans from despoiling natural, free-flowing rivers.

And that leads us to the second message of Earth Day: the worship of untouched nature—of a world untrammeled by such blights as economic development. According to the creed preached on Earth Day, anything done by mankind to reshape nature and “exploit” the earth for our own purposes is evil and must be stopped. Free-flowing rivers, old-growth forests, roadless wilderness—any form of nature uncorrupted by the actions or purposes of man—are sacred and must be preserved.

And to the hard-core greens, these things take precedence over human life and well-being. The name of one radical environmental group is admirably exact: “Earth First!” The unspoken implication is: humans last.

Of course, moderate environmentalists will dispute this characterization. Although this is true of a few “extremists,” they will claim, most environmentalists do not reflexively hate technology and economic development.

I challenge them to prove they mean it. I propose that we devote a day to celebrating the achievements of industrial civilization.

Isn’t it strange, after all, that we live in a society of heavy industry and advanced technology—a society of automobiles, airplanes, electric lights, televisions, and computers—yet we never take a day to honor the inventors and industrialists who made these things possible?

The Industrial Revolution was an enormous advance for mankind. Consider only the basics of life: food, shelter, and clothing. The Industrial Revolution brought such inventions as the power loom and the knitting machine—which made a vastly greater abundance of variety of clothing available to even the poorest. As for shelter, it was coal, oil, natural gas, and electricity (provided by coal-fired or nuclear power plants) that brought a clean, reliable source of heat into everyone’s homes, protecting us from the deadly cold of winter. And it was the logging industry, that bete noir of the greens, that made it possible for practically anyone to own his own home.

And what about food? A whole array of farm machinery, from the mechanical reaper to the corn header—not to mention chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and genetically engineered crops—have created such an abundance of food that the biggest problem, in industrialized countries, is not to avoid starvation but to prevent ourselves from eating too much.

Take the time one day to count the ways in which machines make your life better and easier every minute of the day. Consider how much more abundant, and less expensive, mechanized mass production has made even the most mundane everyday objects, from toothbrushes to toasters to cordless phones.

We have a whole day devoted to a crusade against the supposed dangers of technology. That we don’t take a day to count its benefits is inexcusable.

All I am asking, for now, is equal time. Let the greens have their day to honor John Muir and Rachel Carson—so long as we also have a day to honor Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Let us have a day when all of us take a moment to acknowledge the enormous contribution made to human life by the inventors and businessmen of the Industrial Revolution.

But I doubt that the environmentalists would ever agree to having such a day—because if they did, people might begin to realize that the Fords and Edisons, the giants who created new industries, have done far more to advance human life than the armies of environmental activists who seek to shut those industries down.

And then we might end up celebrating Industrial Revolution Day instead of Earth Day.