The Great London Smog of 1952
By: Daniel Otero
The Great London Smog of 1952 came as an initial warning of what could and would happen in the future when pollution seeps highly, and it isn’t controlled once it hits the environment. On December 5th, everything began, but it wasn’t something out of the ordinary; since London is known for its cool and foggy settings that time of year. It was when the air became crystalized with smog and the stench of rotten eggs came into all who breathed in this highly thick and toxic smoke surrounding those who walked into its wake. As those in the thousands began covering their mouths and noses to avoid the fumes and plume of smoke in the air. Everything blackened, as the ground and everything was covered by a descending dark-soupy like substance. People who came from the outdoors into buildings looked more like coalminers than Londoners. It was carbon and sulfur dioxide released into the air, without any restrictions to the burning coal at that time. It got nastier as the thick air grew. It went up the Thames, engulfed Parliament, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace—snaked its way towards St. Paul’s Cathedral and London Bridge. Covering the entire city and until it reached its outskirts causing a 30-mile smokescreen which paralyzed the entire city and began affecting terribly those with massive breathing problems. It circled the entire city dangerously! Those who were affected were the heavy smokers, children, and the elderly. Diesel pollution which from the buses made matters worse. There was an emergency in the city, but the greatest example was how people behaved: remaining calm, cool, collected and didn’t panic.
Crime skyrocketed since thieves would steal something and disappear into the thick smog. This lasted for days.
The only part of the city which wasn’t affected was the London Underground. Initially, The Great Smog of ’52 would take 4,000 lives in a four-day period and numbers would increase to 12,000 by the Summer of 1953.
At that time, Winston Churchill was Prime Minister, and he was enjoying the ‘second-successful wind’ of his career. Yes, it happened during his watch, but he turned this disaster into a win! Furthermore, he did something few Prime Ministers had done until then, take the Underground and talk to people. Like all who went through the Great Smog at that time, he hit the streets and interacted with the population to ease their fears. This is a sign of a great leader and a man of his time, not perfect, but one to be remembered in the annals of history.
What happened on December 10th? A stern wind took the pollutants away from the city and cleared the air. This was a lesson and a reminder of what was to come in the years ahead, as some city’s pollution climbed to staggering amounts.
The government would enact three years later, The Clean Air Act in 1956 (which was later repelled in 1993). It called for the reduction in carbon emissions, sulfuric dioxide, other toxins into the environment and smoke. Also, it would limit the use of smokestacks and chimneys around the greater-London area to control the problems with pollution; however, another disaster happened again in 1962 (a decade later), when 700 people died from direct smoke inhalation in the city of London.
I’d like to think that humanity with all the disasters caused by pollutants can change obtuse attitudes about the environment. I’m hopeful going into the Twenty-First Century since the U.K. has now proposed to eliminate all carbon emission by 2050. This will nearly be 100-years after the fact. With humanity there are things I am still hopeful about, and this is one of thing. I can get onboard with more Clean Air Acts, not only for the U.K., but the rest of the world.