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From the past to the future

1 Old railway track

I took this photograph last Sunday. It shows an abandoned railway track going under a new road. On the other side of the road is a 18th century canal. On this side of the road, the river goes through a culvert. The three main transport links of the past all come together. Some believe that transport underpins wealth creation in Britain, but is there something more important?

The canals transformed Britain as they realised more goods could be transported with more waterways. It made fuel and food more accessible and building materials could be moved more easily. It allowed cities to expand and the beginnings of the industrial revolution to form.

It was the steam engine that really revolutionised Britain and led to the railways being built. Steam gave us factories that made affordable clothing and other goods. It was the other things that brought in much of the money. Some of those things were quite trivial, trinkets that were sold all over the world. Of course this revolution created well paid jobs and the mechanisation was to revolutionise farming and give us more food and cheaper food.

Where did it all start though? My interest in history focuses not on the exploits of royalty, but on the achievements of engineers. Thomas Telford built many of the canals and canal bridges that I photograph today. Reading about him on Wikipedia you will notice he was a fellow of the Royal Institute of London. These institutions played an important role in the development of Britain in the 18th and 19th century. James Watt was similarly a fellow of the Royal Institute and coincidentally both of these men were Scottish. They were both fortunate in coming from families that valued education, but neither went to university. It was their education that led to their success and to them playing a part in the success of Britain. It was also family support and a structure in society that encouraged enterprise and learning. Invention and engineering was considered important.

Can we learn from the past? Which is more important learning about the exploits of the royals and aristocrats of the past or the engineers and great thinkers of the past? Which is more important now? Engineering and technology or the more popular and easier media studies and the politically correct subjects that hope to give us social equality?

We sometimes lose sight of what is important. We need to build thing to last like the Victorians did, that is sustainability. Sustainability isn’t just using the latest trendy light bulbs. Money is the means to exchange wealth not wealth itself. Technology and engineering makes life better for everyone, but there tends to be a high price to pay. We have to be aware of the downside. The industrial revolution made people sick, from chimney sweeps getting lung cancer to city dwellers getting bronchitis; there was a price to pay. We have to think carefully before we use science and technology to advance our existence. The Victorians only built public parks for people to get fresh air when it became hard to breathe.

We cannot keep ignoring the damage to our environment that our technology and engineering brings. We have to move to a sustainable plan for the future. We have to waste less, travel less and adopt new ways of working and thinking. We have to think local and stop empire building. Trade may be global, but do we really want the next generation to pay the price?

What do you think? You can share your views in the comments box. You can also follow me on Twitter.

One Response

  1. Pingback: The weekend review | Mike10613's Blog

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