Someone asked me if the fog reminded me of a London pea soup fog. No, it didn’t. I’m not (quite) old enough to remember the last days of the London pea soup fogs, the thick, yellowish-green killer fogs where you could only see a yard or so ahead. (Hint: want to kill off a character? Easy. Very busy streets and poor visibility. I think Galsworthy killed someone off in the Forsyte Saga like that.)
London got a wake up call in 1952, when thousands of people died in four days from what is now regarded as one of the deadliest environmental disasters of modern times. You can read and hear about it from a report NPR made on the fiftieth anniversary. The Clean Air Act of 1956, which banned the use of coal in the city, began the cleanup.
So what caused the London fogs? The River Thames, the climate, and coal. In 1800, London, with its population of one million, was the largest city in the world; and every household burned coal for heating and cooking. By the Victorian era the city had grown even bigger and dirtier:
No morn – no noon –
No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member –
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! –
So how is your November? Do you feel the onset of winter yet and what are you doing to counteract cold weather and short daylight hours?
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