Three men in suits and ties wearing gas masks

1661 Air pollution

The book of science

Tom Sharp

John Evelyn atmospheric sciences Three men in suits and ties wearing gas masks

Air pollution

London smog was enough of a problem in 1306 for Edward I to ban the burning of coal in the city. John Evelyn in 1661 published a pamphlet to describe the problem and propose solutions. It is this horrid Smoake which obscures our Churches, and makes our Palaces look old, which fouls our Clothes, and corrupt the Waters, so as the very Rain, and refreshing Dews which fall in the several Seasons, precipitate this impure vapour, which, with its black and tenacious quality, spots and contaminates whatever is exposed to it. Sulfur from coal becomes sulfuric acid in the air. The Great Smog of 1952 killed thousands of people. Today, London’s mayor wants to alleviate the smog by banning polluting buses and cars from the center of the city.


Let none scoff who suffers a cough. Inhaling sea-coal blackens the soul. Instead, we should burn aromatic wood plant fragrant gardens in our environs and move noxious trades to distant glades.

That’s not it

When a man on meth in the square yells his unintelligible anger unto the rooftops, that’s not air pollution. When another car at a stop light beats our ears with its subwoofers, that’s not air pollution. When all I can find on the radio, driving across the state, is country music, that’s not air pollution. When a cattleman shoots his rifle toward a wolf vanishing into the bush, that’s not air pollution. When the railroad bridge is covered with colorful graffiti swirls, that’s not air pollution. When our public radio station spends time to acknowledge its corporate sponsors, that’s not air pollution. We all share the same air. Let’s try to keep it clean.

London is not the only city plagued by air pollution. We also have New Delhi, Beiging, and Los Angeles.

For centuries, climate aggregated and aggravated the effects of air pollution. Today, air pollution is creating climate change.

Burning fossil fuels, incinerating waste, leaving waste to decompose, concentrating animals raised for food, overapplying pesticides and fungicides on crops, leaving farms and ranges susceptible to erosion by water and wind, starting wildfires, allowing nuclear tests and failing to prevent nuclear accidents, choosing construction materials and solvents that emit toxins, and overusing cosmetic products all contribute to air pollution.

Noise pollution, light pollution, and unwanted commercial advertizing combine with air pollution to foul the commons.

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