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We Can't Say We Didn't Know....

Model Engineer magazine, originally published with & Electrician in the title, is as its name implies, for a readership with a lay but reasonably broad grasp of engineering principles and related science.

The latest edition (Vol.225 No.4643, 17 July 2020) publishes two extracts from its early-20C predecessor; the first on international affairs, the second on the "Enviroment" as it was not called then.


1) Fulsomely praising the technical inventiveness and ingenuity of what he called the "Chinese race" [sic] the editor commented,

    ".... The prospect of China becoming the workshop of the world is, perhaps, too remote to contemplate, but that China may be someday a formidable competitor in things mechanical is worth a passing thought."

The date? 1904. (ref. ME&E Vol.XI No. 179; 29 Sept. 1904.)

Particularly prescient for the magazine's modern readers, since most of the small lathes and other machine-tools now sold to model-engineers are made in either Taiwan or the People's Republic of China, as is probably, a lot of the steel used in their projects!

2). The same edition has re-published a photograph it had originally carried in 1912, of a New Zealand newspaper's "Science Notes & News" column.

The brief article headed "Coal Consumption Affecting Climate", in the Rodney & Otamatea Times, August 14th 1912, summarises a study that found:
 "The furnaces of the world are now [1912] burning about 2000,000,000 tons of coal a year.... [this] adds about 7000,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere yearly. This tends to make the air a more effective blanket for the Earth and to raise its temperature. The effect may be considerable in a few centuries." 

The forecasts of the time could not of course, have sensibly predicted the scale of the rise in coal and oil consumption in only one century...... What is not given, unfortunately and wrongly, is the citation. If it was in the R&O Times, it was not copied by ME&E (1912).

I think qualitative suggestions of the effect were already made in the late-19C, in the wake of the rapid development of heavy industries depending on coal for power and process-heating. So what was the world of 1912 doing with all that flammable sedimentary rock?

Most of that coal was used for electricity generation, town-gas production and (after being distilled into coke) for iron-ore smelting. Trains were hauled by steam-locomotives but their overall consumption of coal was more modest; and electric traction was already being used on many countries' railways and for road transport well before the advent of the diesel locomotive. Motor vehicles, with petrol engines, were in their infancy and fairly scarce; while battery-electric cars and light delivery vehicles were comparatively common in British and American cities. Yet - and here we see an uncomfortable parallel with our own times so don't get too excited about "alternative energy" - the electricity for the trains, trams and battery cars 100+ years ago had to come from somewhere. It did - it was responsible for some of that 2000,000,000 tons of coal! 

So... we can't say we weren't warned, even if the forecast developments are rather more rapid than expected!

[Edited to improve formatting.]

Posted - July 15, 2020