Since our ape-ish ancestors gained consciousness, technological advancement has always been the driving force in the progression of our societies. They have brought about revolutions, explosions in understanding that further progressed civilisation. Harnessing the power of fire and the wheel allowed our neanderthal ancestors to progress beyond cave-dwellers and into the first man-made habitats. Moving from a piece of flint on the end of a stick to the mechanised catapult allowed us to dominate land and progress our villages. Later developments into gunpowder and bullets really improved our ability to dominate each other, and also really solidified our insatiable need for competition.
The revolutions associated with technological development have long been benefited most by those that seize them first. Most recently, the Enlightenment, the agricultural revolution, and the industrial revolution were most benefited by the Global North because they became the centres of advancement. The specifics are often argued, but evidence points to that by 1500, emboldened by superior weaponry, shipbuilding and agricultural technology, Europe garnered significant progress above all other nations. Vast innovations and technologies spawned luxurious living conditions, industries and employment. Used to colonise, enslave and expand, Anglo hereditaries, who in 1500 accounted for only 10% of the worlds land surface and at most 16% of its population, by the 20th century controlled more than half of all territory and population, and 80% of global economic output.
The discovery of the power of fossil fuels that lead to the industrial revolution exalted those with access to underground deposits of coal and oil into the lead. With a head-start in conquering and expansion, Europe and their now cousins in the new plains of the American continent embarked quickly into the age of automation. The promise of trade was offered to those that took resources for themselves, growing economic wealth and those nations flourished. In the grandeur of their stolen wealth, these nations built the model of 20th-century progress, devised from captive labour and stolen resources.
Anglo incarceration of resource and technology has lead to a five-century-long imbalance that perpetuated their dominance. They became the history writers, economists that devised the scales of development were evidently biased to the environment they were raised in. The classification of ’developed and developing’ was created by westerners, designed to put themselves at the top. Progression, spurred by the industrial revolution was built on the back of fossil fuels for the benefit of the few, which 200 years on is reaping consequences on all.
Northern development came at the cost of the global south. Enslaving citizens on their own soil, commandeering resources that were not their own and then denouncing those who saw it as an opportunity, as evidenced by current events. The windfall generation, residents of former commonwealth countries seized during the time of the Great British Empire, were encouraged by the UK government to come to the UK on free visas to bolster employment in the 1960s, have recently been deported under newly tightened controls immigration. The growing racial tensions spawned by the Alt-Right in America, denouncing the younger generations of those who were taken from their native homes and put to work to build their country.
Developed nations culture of exploiting the work and resource of others has consistently caused vast negative impacts on poorer nations. Western-style industrial democracies unlimited use of fossil fuels, 40% of the world’s total in 2016, to bolster their own economy has reeked havoc on the globe. The use of oil to progress their own societies has had indeterminable consequences around the globe, and as an unfairly ironic turn of events, repercussions that will be most felt by the Global South. Flooding in Bangladesh, plastic coated shoreline waves along the Dominican Republic, UK brands like marmite tubs found in the remote beaches of Indonesia are all scenarios that we have forced on the most deprived areas in world while telling them they should probably clean up the mess. But Western dominance doesn’t stop there. Even the media narrative only focuses primarily on Western impacts, like NYC will suffer coastal erosion, conveniently ignoring the huge numbers of islands who have already succumbed to rising tides.
Not only fraught with inequitable consequences from emissions, oil has also become the leading driver of war. As the progressive nations international currency, billions have been killed in the pursuit of the black gold. Only furthering the example of the West’s history of separating our direct cause and the immediate effect, ignoring long-term human rights consequences in favour of short-term gains. Most clarified by our exasperation of Middle Eastern tensions for access to oil, and then direct refusal to deal with those displaced by our actions. With an estimated 200 million people predicted to become refugees to the impact of the climate, will their reasons also become conveniently forgotten as we turn them away?
Western impact, spurred by the industrial revolution has had such a profound impact that the Holocene will be categorised by our influence on the environment. From the industrial revolution that led to the information age, and now into the transitional period towards the era of self-sufficiency. Today the use of the very resources that present-day economic powerhouse nations were built on the back of, fossil fuels, use is dropping by necessity. The worlds imperative for alternative energies is demanding a new route to development and is putting renewable energy to be the driving force into the modern age. As we move into the age of transition towards energy autonomy, the last few years have seen a turning point in the driving force of our economy. Increasing amounts of energy are coming from renewable sources, more countries than ever before are independent of fossil fuels, and electric cars are becoming more prominent on our roads, even if you can’t hear them. Nations without the economic wealth of a century head start have been predicted by Westerners to follow the global norths blueprint for success. Criticised by developed nations statistics, poor nations were predicted to be the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in the future. But the opposite is turning out to be true. China, India, South America, all beholden in the past to their colonisers are investing into renewables and are predicted to be the global leaders in the coming decades. Even the Saudi Prince, recognised for his relatively liberal policies having just allowed women to drive, is believed to be moving towards more liberal policies in order to shift the economy away from the oil that it was built on. But over in the West, there are still last-ditch and desperate attempts to revive the fossil fuel industry, here’s looking at you, Trump, and the market is still flooded by single-use plastics despite innovation in degradable materials with the same properties.
Historically wealthy nations are having to slowly unshackle themselves from the industries that made them, encumbered by the ego of the societies their ancestors built. While emerging countries steam on without cumbersome industrial set up can develop quickly into the new age, set to overtake them at the next hurdle. Once, GDP and economy rose in conjunction with fossil fuel usage, but with new league tables denouncing those that grow from fossil fuels, the global stage is set to flip. And the industrial market is watching; unbound by geographical location and emboldened by globalisation, companies are eagerly watching developing nations progress into the sustainable era. Progress built on the desecration of other nations will forever be immortalised by future civilisations as a template for how not to develop a society. Ultimately, the Wests drive for success may have sowed the seeds to its own destruction.