More Examples of the Impact of Technology

Recent technological breakthroughs around communications are important. On the other hand, some of the past technological breakthroughs have been pivotal and include

i) artificial fertiliser, especially nitrogen, has been the most powerful weapon against hunger and poverty. Nitrogen helps plants to grow. German chemist Fritz Haber demonstrated how to produce ammonia from hydrogen and atmospheric nitrogen. Another German, Carl Bosch carried out around 20,000 experiments to come up with the right process to synthesise ammonia commercially.

" population - its expansion from 1.6 billion people in 1900 to today's 6 billion - would not have been possible without the synthesis of ammonia..."

Vaclav Smil as quoted by Johan Norberg 2016

NB Nitrogen has some negative impacts, ie it makes everything grow (including weeds) and causes toxic algae blooms in waterways and coastal areas

ii) agricultural technology, ie automation

"...150 years ago it took 25 men all day to harvest and thrashed a tonne of grain. The modern combine harvester, a single person can do it in 6 minutes. In other words, contributed to a 2,500-fold productivity increase. It used to take half an hour to milk 10 litres. With modern milking machine it takes less than 1 minute. Expanded trade, better infrastructure, cheap electricity and fuel, food packaging and refrigeration have all made it possible to move food from surplus areas and places of shortfalls. In the USA it took around 1,700 hours to the purchase the annual food supply for a family in the late 19th century. Today, it takes no more than 260 hours...."

Johan Norberg 2016

iii) diet

"...In the mid-19th century, the every daily calorific intake in western Europe was between 2,000 and 2,500 - below what it is in Africa today. In 1950 it was already around 3,000. One indicator of health is average height, since the human body reduces its growth if the necessary amount of nutrition is not available. The historical records show that the difference in height between Western Europe and the rest the world was marginal until 1870. After that, the average Western European grew in stature by around 1 cm per decade......this was incredibly important to health......generally live longer......children who receive better nutrition can resist disease...... stood a better chance of surviving..."

Johan Norberg 2016

At the same time fertility was falling, ie

"... As people become richer and better educated, they have fewer children......US fertility rates plummeted from seven children per woman in 1800 to 3.8 children in 1900 to 1.9 children in 2012 - below the replacement rate. This trend is the same all over the Western world..."

Johan Norberg 2016


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