Smog alert

Apparently I’m running behind in my TV viewing. I just started watching the first season of The Crown, an absorbing Netflix series about the life and times of Queen Elizabeth II. (That’s the current Queen Elizabeth.)

Though I’m not nearly old enough to have experienced many of her life events at the time, I was already familiar with many of the characters and major incidents that marked the early decades of her life.

However, Episode 4 covered a major event of which I was totally unaware: the Great Smog of London, 1952.

If you worry about pollution and the future of our planet, you should see this. And if you don’t worry so much but suspect that you should, you should definitely see this.

I’m in the latter group, and this episode has shaken me.

I believe that climate change is a real problem and I’ve cared, but frankly, it hasn’t led my list of worries. It has seemed like a jumbled issue encompassing global warming, the demise of dinosaurs, rising sea levels, melting icecaps, extended warming and cooling cycles and loads of other issues that by and large we as individuals can do little about beyond looking forward to future elections.

A big problem but remote, especially if you don’t live by an ocean.

This show really brought the issue to life, demonstrating one way that pollution can kill us by portraying an incident that actually happened.

What is the Great Smog of London?

The Great Smog was an air-pollution event taking place from December 5 to 9, 1952, in London. Unique air conditions—cold weather, an anticyclone, and no wind—resulted in thick smog over the city.

The situation was also attributed to coal heating (more heating than usual because of low temperatures) using lower quality coals that increased the sulphur dioxide in the smoke. Also, there was excessive pollution from vehicle exhaust, exacerbated by the switch to steam and diesel-powered transportation from an electric tram system.

At first, Prime Minister Winston Churchill played down the smog’s significance, calling it a “weather event,” but a few days in he got on board with the need for attention to the immediate situation and longer-term efforts to monitor and control pollution. The Clean Air Act of 1956 was one result.

It is estimated that 12,000 died and 200,000 were injured as a result (up from estimates at the time of 12,000 fatalities).

The smog was so thick that there was essentially no visibility. Pedestrians couldn’t even see the curbs. In The Crown, one of Churchill’s secretaries dies not from breathing problems but rather from being struck by a vehicle.

The smog scene is jarring

It’s not spooky or supernatural, just very lifelike. I sure wish Donald Trump would watch it.

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Filed under: politics

Tags: air pollution, smog

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