Because of its phenomenal recent growth and the revolutionary technological changes which have accompanied it, industry is the cause of many contemporary environmental problems. Where there has been no effective environmental planning, industries have been located in a haphazard way, often in conflict with residential and other areas. More recently, accelerating industrialization resulted in residential areas being increasingly located around industrial complexes. These have usually been concentrated in a few, large centres, resulting in excessive concentrations of population. Large, economically-active population centres provide both markets and labour, thus encouraging further industrial growth; so that urbanization further progresses in an uncontrolled manner.
Excessive concentrations of industry lead to a disparity in economic development between regions. In addition, over-concentration of industry causes serious environmental over-loading, particularly in terms of pollution and congestion, and a consequent threat to health and a reduction in the quality of life. In most countries the crux of the problem remains at the national and regional levels, where the development of reasonable industrial patterns within overall environmental development plans has still to be achieved.
Emerging technologies offer the promise of higher productivity, increased efficiency, and decreased pollution, but many bring risks of new toxic chemicals and wastes and of major accidents of a type and scale beyond present coping mechanisms, especially in the case of transportation of hazardous materials and the disposal of toxic wastes.
Many so-called consequences of industrialization turn out not to be due to industrialization per se, but rather to the preservation or attempted preservation of pre-industrial ways of life in an alien and inappropriate environment. Thus, child labour in factories may be regarded as a continuation of the much less harmful rural customs of child labour on the farm; and urban slums often reveal a carry-over to the cities of rural methods of house construction, refuse disposal, use of water, and so on. In fact, many of the undesirable social consequences of industrialization are more properly regarded as results of failure to deal with the problems of social transition that inevitably arise from so basic a change in economic and social organization. Those that constitute social evils are not, generally speaking, necessary or inescapable consequences of industrialization itself. Given appropriate measures, they can be mitigated, if not avoided. Some of them, moreover, are actually related less to the growth of secondary industry itself than to one or another of the many political, cultural, legal or intellectual changes that tend to accompany that growth.
The social consequences of industrialization are, in many cases, little more than a transfer to the urban industrial environment (by population movement) of problems of destitution and need that had previously existed in the rural environment, where, being less concentrated, they were usually less noticeable. Where stagnant and depressed agricultural communities force into the industrial centres uprooted peasants and tribesmen in numbers far beyond available opportunities for gainful employment, urban growth tends to reflect not the expansion of industry but the wretchedness of agricultural conditions and the high incidence of under-employment in rural areas. In countries with rapidly increasing rural population, this disproportion between employment opportunities and labour supply in the industrial areas, increasing constantly through new influxes from the country, has exercised a depressing effect on urban levels of living, to the extent that in some cases the newcomer to the town has merely substituted urban misery for rural poverty.