I get misty the moment you’re near…

The Industrial Revolution was one of those game-changing periods in human history when life was altered so thoroughly for so many as to be essentially unrecognizable to previous generations, and the Revolution was powered by burning coal.  Coal in the nineteenth century ran the machines and also heated the houses in the great cities that were being built, like London.  In today’s London, it’s worth climbing to the top of St. Paul’s for the spectacular view, but in the winter of 1901 smog limited the average visibility to half a mile.  Street intersections were blocked due to lack of visibility, busses were abandoned as unsafe to drive, and people literally walked into the posts of street-lamps during the daytime.  The smoky air was of course nothing new…Londoners had been burning coal and irritating lungs as far back as 1272 when King Edward I banned the burning of sea coal.  He got nowhere with that, and neither did Richard III or Henry V when they attempted to legislate for clean air.  The smog phenomenon even contributed to our understanding of evolution.  Before the Industrial Revolution when the air was still relatively clean, the peppered moth was a mostly white-winged creature that hid in plain view among the lichens on trees in London.  After two hundred years of ever-increasing soot deposits on the trees, the moths evolved to feature dark-colored wings to help them hide on the darkened trees.  By 1952, the air was so putrid that more than 4,000 Londoners were killed by smog over a four-day period…leading a few years later to one of the first effective Clean Air Acts the world has known.  These days I find the air in London unremarkable, which is of course much nicer than “chewy”.  The peppered moth is having another go with evolution, changing back to the good, old-fashioned light-colored version of itself.  The image below is of my hometown, where we do have issues with air pollution still, but on this occasion the mist was just a lovely fog rising from the Cumberland River.  (1 December, 2009  Nashville, Tennessee)

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