The Environmental History Podcast took on the subject of air pollution in the last episode. Host Jan Oosthoek interviews Stephen Mosley of Leeds Metropolitan University who did research on the subject, most notably about the pollution in the city of London. However, what we would call pollution and look down upon, was not so perceived in London for a long time.
The air in London was polluted, maybe as early as the middle ages, but as off the 17th century it is well documented. The amount of smoke hanging about the city may have bothered some, but was welcomed by many. Oosthoek's example of such is the French painter Monet who came to London because the smog gave such wonderful sky-views. In addition, the smoke, especially with the industrial revolution taking on, was a symbol of progress. Another assumed positive effect was on germs. As soon as understanding of contagious diseases started to spread, the idea smoke drove out the germs came along. And these attitudes persisted for a long time.
What brought about the change? Mosley discusses this at length, but the bottom line is that in spite of a larger amount of respiratory problems in polluted areas, only the smog disaster of 1952, when thousands of people died, made the balance shift. Finally the political efforts to regulate were strong enough and the Clean Air Act came into effect. This has been yet another very interesting issue of the Environmental History podcast. I can recommend this podcast to everybody.
More Environmental History podcast on this blog:
Apartheid and Environmental History,
Environmental History and South Africa,