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And now the history of WATER

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Steam engine Zeche Muttental
Image via Wikipedia

The world is 70% water and so are human beings. Water is fundamental to life as much as the air we breathe. Lewis Lapham continues our adult ed by reviewing a book about water by Peter Solomon.

Here is an excerpt from that book that I found at NPR’s web site:

In 1763 a twenty-seven-year-old instrument maker named JamesWatt repaired a model of a Newcomen steam engine owned by the University of Glasgow. Britain was in the grip of a dire fuel famine resulting from the early deforestation of its countryside, and many of the primitive engines invented by Thomas Newcomen a half century earlier were working to pump floodwater from coal mines so that more coal could be excavated as a substitute fuel. While repairing the Newcomen machine, Watt had been startled by its inefficiency. Filled with the spirit of scientific inquiry then going on in the Scottish Enlightenment, he determined to try to improve its capacity to harness steam energy. Within two years he had a much-more-efficient design, and by 1776 was selling the world’s first modern steam engine.

James Watt’s improved steam engine was a turning point in history. It became the seminal invention of the Industrial Revolution. Within a matter of decades, it helped transform Britain into the world’s dominant economy with a steam-and-iron navy that lorded over a colonial empire spanning a quarter of the globe. Britain’s pioneering textile factories multiplied their productivity and output by shifting from waterwheel to steam power and relocating from rural riversides to new industrial towns. Steam-driven bellows heated coke furnaces to produce prodigious amounts of cast iron, the plastic of the early industrial age. Watt steam engines helped overcome Britain’s fuel famine by pumping excess water out of coal shafts—and put the discharge to use by supplementing the water supply of the inland canals that had sprung up to expedite the growing shipments of coal from the collieries to the markets. Watt steam engines abetted the rise of urban metropolises, and improved the health and longevity of their residents, by pumping up freshwater from rivers for drinking, cooking, sanitation, and even firefighting. From Watt’s steam engine, a new industrial society took hold that launched human civilization on an altogether new trajectory. World and domestic balances of power were recast, and mankind’s material existence, population levels, and expectations increased more in just two centuries than they had in all the thousands of preceding years.

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