The Industrial Revolution
has spread scross the world, beginning in England in the 18th century.
It has been based upon the burning of fossil fuels; coal, oil, and natural
gas. These fuels have been created by a natural process requiring millions
of years, while they are now being used at a rate measured in hundreds
of years. The burning of these fuels adds to the accumulation of carbon
dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere.
A scientific consensus has been developing that the accumulation of these gases is contributing to a greenhouse effect, which is slowly raising the average temperature of the earth. This is likely to effect the earth's climate in complex ways, some in beneficial, but more in damaging ways. Gradual rise of sea levels globally, and the development of more fierce storms are among the negative effects.
Other gases, called CFC's, also industrial by-products, are accumulating in the atmosphere. These gases are destroying the thin ozone layer in the upper atmosphere, which protects the earth's surface from excess ultra-violet radiation. The ozone layer is necessary to the survival of life on the land surfaces of the earth. The immediate effect of the depletion of the ozone layer has been the increased incidence of skin cancer in areas near the poles where the effect has been observed.
The burning of fossil fuels, particularly in power plants and in large industrial plants, has also created a problem of acid rain, which is a regional issue. Sulphur combines with oxygen to create sulphur dioxide, which is carried hundreds of miles downwind. The high acidic content of the water destroys fish and vegetation, particularly at high elevations.
These problems have been dealt with through regional and international conferences, and negotiations which may potentially lead to international treaties. The Montreal Protocol involved agreements to phase out some of the industrial products which are creating CFC,s. The Kyoto Agreement set certain timetables for the long-term reduction of greenhouse gases, which will alleviate, but not resolve the problem. The United States failed to ratify the Kyoto agreement, but has re-engaged with the international effort by actively participating in the Copenhagen conference in December, 2009.