The four great steps in the human process |

The four great steps in the human process

As I See It
Hal Sundin
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

The progress of the human race from its early primitive condition to its current technologically advanced state can be credited to four major events.

The first of these events was the emergence of agriculture and animal husbandry about 12,000 years ago, which enabled humans to abandon the nomadic life of hunters and gathers and lie in permanent settlements. It also allowed them to store food for a more dependable food supply, offered free time for pursuits other than constantly being on the move, grubbing for survival. Out of the larger population centers that this permitted evolved a social hierarchy and the ability to acquire and possess wealth.

The next great step was the invention of the wheel in Mesopotamia nearly 6,000 years ago. The wheel, used for carts and wagons, not only revolutionized transportation, but with the addition of a toothed perimeter, became the basis for all of our machinery.

The third major event in man’s progress was the discovery of the nature of electricity and its interaction with magnetism, which resulted in the invention of the first generators and motors in 1832 by Michael Faraday. But it was Nikola Tesla who was responsible for the development of alternating current generators, transformers and induction motors, which in 1892 formed the basis for the electrical system that supplies the power that feeds the modern industrial age.

The development and availability of electrical power opened the door for the miracles of instant communication: the telegraph in 1837, the telephone in 1876, commercial radio broadcasting starting in 1929, and television, which although available on a limited scale in the 1930s, did not enter the mainstream until the end of World War II in 1945. And without electricity, the computer, on which out world has become so highly dependent, would not be possible.

The final event that makes the modern technological age possible is the utilization of fossil fuels to power our world. It started with the double-acting steam engine invented by James Watt in 1782, powered by coal, followed by steam driven ships and trains in the 19th century. With the drilling of the first oil well in Pennsylvania in 1859, petroleum, from which gasoline could be distilled, provided fuel to power the internal combustion engine, which was developed in the last two decades of the 19th century. The internal combustion engine made possible the automobile in the 1890s, powered flight starting with the Wright Brothers in 1903. Petroleum derived diesel and jet fuels now power most of the world’s railroad locomotives and aviation fleets. And without coal, petroleum and natural gas (the other fossil fuel) we would be unable to sustain the electrical power supply on which our economy and way of life totally depend.

As we look back on the incredible advances that have changed the way people have lived over the past 12,000 years, we find that all of them are now dependent on fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are providing the energy to manufacture the fertilizer needed to support the world’s agricultural production, to keep the wheels of industry rolling, to generate the enormous supply of electrical energy that powers the world, to keep our trains running, and to fuel our automobiles, trucks and airplanes.

Fossil fuels have made the phenomenal technological progress of the 20th century possible. The challenge facing us in the 21st century is being able to find a source of energy to replace the world’s dwindling fossil fuels, in the absence of which it will be impossible to sustain the progress of the last century.

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