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Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors: The Politics and Culture of Air Pollution

EDITED BY E. Melanie DuPuis
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Smoke and Mirrors
    Book Description:

    Who gets to breathe clean air? Who benefits from the cheaper products produced with dirty air? The answers, as the contributors to Smoke and Mirrors tell us, are sometimes as gray as the air itself. From the coal factory chimneys in Manchester in the late nineteenth century to the smog hanging over Los Angeles in the late twentieth century, air pollution has long been one of the greatest threats to our environment. In this important collection of original essays, the leading environmental scientists and social scientists examine the politics of air pollution policies and help us to understand the ways these policies have led to, idiosyncratic, effective, ineffective, and even disastrous choices about what we choose to put into and take out of the air. Offering historical, contemporary and cross-national perspectives, this volume provides a refreshing new approach to understanding how air pollution policies have evolved over time.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8543-0
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)
    E. Melanie DuPuis

    In air pollution policymaking today, the primary language spoken is that of science, engineering, and economics. This was exactly the language I didnotspeak when I began my career as an energy and environment policy analyst for the New York State Department of Economic Development in the early ’90s. As a political sociologist, I had been trained to see policy as politics. Yet I learned to speak the idiom of numbers, percentages, and prices, of costs and benefits valued in dollars. Much like the typical definitions of “public policy” analysis, the academic literature we relied on in air pollution...

  5. The Emergence of Air Pollution as a Problem

    • 1 Perceptions and Effects of Late Victorian Air Pollution
      (pp. 15-26)
      Peter Brimblecombe

      A general problem of environmental history is to understand the relationship between the effects of environmental pollution and its social perception. Some have argued that environmentalism arises as a response to environmental stress (e.g., Pfister’s 1950s syndrome), while others have felt that pollution is probably a necessary disposition but not a sufficient reason for changing perceptions of the environment. The subtitle to this book reminds us that we cannot ignore that the perception of pollution takes place within the broadest social context.

      This chapter examines the air pollution in late Victorian cities and explores both its effects and its social...

    • 2 “The Invisible Evil”: Noxious Vapor and Public Health in Manchester during the Age of Industry
      (pp. 27-50)
      Harold L. Platt

      In a pioneering essay on European efforts to identify and reduce the environmental impacts of acid rain, E. Schramm draws a sharp distinction between town and country. Dating the inauguration of the city’s campaign against air pollution in the early 1880s, he argues that “its political imagination, however, only extended to technological solutions, especially smoke prevention measures, such as better fuel economy, use of improved smokestacks and ovens, electrification, etc. In contrast to that of the urban movement, the foresters and biologists saw the limits of a technical solution to the smoke problem.” Only these scientists understood the paradox that...

    • 3 Public Perceptions of Smoke Pollution in Victorian Manchester
      (pp. 51-76)
      Stephen Mosley

      Unlike many of today’s environmental dilemmas, such as climate change and the thinning of the ozone layer, the smoke of Victorian Manchester did not elude the sensory perceptions of contemporaries. Coal smoke characterized the nineteenth-century urban atmosphere and affected the lives of all city dwellers, rich and poor alike. People lived and worked beneath lowering coal-black skies and imbibed the sulphurous, smoke-filled air with every breath they took. At the inaugural meeting of the Manchester Association for the Prevention of Smoke (MAPS) on 26 May 1842, the Reverend John Molesworth, the association’s chairman, vehemently denounced a nuisance that “polluted our...

    • 4 Uplands Downwind: Acidity and Ecological Change in the Southeast Lancashire Moorlands
      (pp. 77-99)
      Matthew Osborn

      The High Moorlands zone of the Pennines is among the most desolate and uninhabited regions of Britain. Even with the population densities of the present day, there are a few areas of up to twenty square miles without a house, fence, tree, road, or even a path. In the midst of these open spaces, it is still possible to travel for miles without seeing humans or evidence of their passing. Heavy rainfall cuts deep channels through the blanket peat, known locally asgroughs, right down to the solid rock or the hard clay. Each section of moor is a mini-watershed,...

    • 5 The “Smoky City” between the Wars
      (pp. 100-118)
      Angela Gugliotta

      Stories of Pittsburgh from the First to the Second World War are self-conscious narratives of transformation.¹ Residents, observers, and critics of the city sifted through competing claims of change accomplished, change expected, and change endured. What kind of change this was to be, which aspects of the city’s identity were to be treated as foundational and which as alterable, and who would benefit from proposed changes were subjects of local conflict. Smoke, through assertions of its reduction, persistence, or painful absence, was also the subject of transformation stories. Questions about civic identity in this time of change were often worked...

    • 6 The Merits of the Precautionary Principle: Controlling Automobile Exhausts in Germany and the United States before 1945
      (pp. 119-153)
      Frank Uekoetter

      This chapter seeks to explain why the control of automobile exhaust failed miserably in Germany and the United States of America before 1945. Following the contemporary definition of the exhaust problem, the essay concentrates on three issues: (1) the visible and malodorous components of the exhausts, (2) the carbon monoxide problem, and (3) the lead emissions that resulted from the use of tetraethyl lead as an antiknock fuel additive. In all three cases, contemporary knowledge gave reason for concern, but abatement never moved beyond the first stages. The key problem was the deficient communication between the parties involved. The public...

    • 7 Interpreting the London Fog Disaster of 1952
      (pp. 154-169)
      Peter Thorsheim

      London has long been synonymous with fog, particularly during the damp and chilly months of November and December. In 1952, however, Londoners experienced an extraordinarily dense and long-lasting period of fog. For five days, over one thousand square miles were blanketed with fog so thick that it was impossible to see more than a few feet. The lack of wind and the temperature inversion that produced this fog trapped pollution from millions of coal fires over the metropolis and caused smoke and sulphur dioxide to rise to critical levels. Half of the devices that measured airborne particulates in London became...

    • 8 Localizing Smog: Transgressions in the Therapeutic Landscape
      (pp. 170-200)
      Joshua Dunsby

      In May 1946, the office of the mayor of Los Angeles hosted a conference to address the mounting problem of smog. Anson Ford, a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, began the conference by reading a letter from what he called a “typical citizen.” The letter described a family that came to Sierra Madre—a town in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, adjacent to Pasadena—from their home in Seattle “to establish a part-time residence, in order to enjoy the sunshine, wonderful, clear mountain air and health-giving qualities of this area, as publicized so widely...

  6. Air Pollution Policy Today

    • 9 A Fine Balance: Automobile Pollution Control Strategies in California
      (pp. 203-222)
      Sudhir Chella Rajan

      When a democratically elected polity is confronted with a severe environmental problem that is caused by the normal and otherwise sanctioned behavior of nearly everyone in its constituency, it generally takes one of two distinct regulatory routes. The state could try to identify a small number of agents as the primary perpetrators and look for justifiable ways to go after them aggressively. Alternatively, it might formulate hedging measures and pool risks among the majority, much as an insurance agency would, to ensure that virtually everyone pays a small but relatively unobtrusive “premium” whose collective impact might mitigate the extent of...

    • 10 Who Owns the Air? Clean Air Act Implementation as a Negotiation of Common Property Rights
      (pp. 223-240)
      E. Melanie DuPuis

      “Who owns the air?” Because our everyday breathing appears to put us under no financial obligation, people seldom think of air as property. Economists tend to agree, defining air as a “public good,” a resource that is indivisible and therefore non-appropriable by any private party or group. This “non-appropriability” aspect of air tends to make it uninteresting to those concerned with the politics of resource use. The idea of “air use struggles” simply doesn’t have the same resonance as more clearly definable and visible struggles over water, land, or trees. Yet, as other chapters in this book have shown, the...

    • 11 Air Pollution in Spain: A “Peripheral” Nation Transforms
      (pp. 241-260)
      Alexander Farrell

      Energy and resource issues have become increasingly internationalized over the last several decades, which has changed how societies view the environment in many important ways. Naturally, this has had major effects on what societies do to protect the environment, and thus on environmental quality. This chapter looks at air pollution in Spain over the last half of the twentieth century, emphasizing the 1990s and, in particular, the roles of different levels of government (local, national, and international); the relative importance of energy, economic, and environmental policies; and the role of scientific research. In the telling of this story, overall political...

    • 12 Clearing the Air and Breathing Freely: The Health Politics of Air Pollution and Asthma
      (pp. 261-287)
      Phil Brown, Stephen Zavestoski, Brian Mayer, Theo Luebke, Joshua Mandelbaum and Sabrina McCormick

      The current asthma epidemic is one of the most important public health challenges. The increasing prevalence of asthma has led to much community organizing, especially among environmental justice groups. This epidemic is also a source of much contention among scientists, as well as between government regulators and corporate interests. The debate around the linkage of air pollution to the causation and exacerbation of asthma is set within a larger controversy regarding the science and politics of regulating air pollution in general. Scientists who study air quality are influenced both by regulatory disputes and by the growing activism around environmental causes...

    • 13 Invisible People, Invisible Places: Connecting Air Pollution and Pesticide Drift in California
      (pp. 288-304)
      Jill Harrison

      For decades, public health experts have recognized pesticide pollution as a problematic consequence of agricultural production. Pesticide drift is the latest version of these debates about the public health impacts of pesticide use and refers to situations in which pesticides move away from their target pest or crop and cause harm to people nearby.¹ The following two cases are examples of the type of drift incidents that received media attention in recent years:

      In November 2000, at least thirty-five elementary school children and several teachers in Ventura County were hospitalized after a cloud of chlorpyrifos (Lorsban) drifted onto school grounds...

    • 14 Notes from the Field: Air Pollution Engineering as Cultural Experience
      (pp. 305-323)
      Roger K. Raufer

      I was recently asked to make a presentation at a workshop designed to encourage the development of combined heat and power (CHP) systems in Pennsylvania, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the State of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection. I had spent a period of eight years working on the Grays Ferry Cogeneration project, a 150-megawatt combined-cycle facility located in downtown Philadelphia, and had obtained a number of air quality permits that allowed that facility to be constructed and operated. What was most unique about the experience in my mind was that I had three bosses—the developer,...

    • 15 The Social and Political Construction of Air Pollution: Air Pollution Policies for Mexico City, 1979–1996
      (pp. 324-336)
      José Luis Lezama

      According to official data, more than 2.5 million tons of pollutants are discharged into the Mexico City’s atmosphere annually. Official environmental standards are violated over 320 days a year, 150 days a year in the case of suspended particles. The problem is compounded by the fact that, apart from the substances that are officially acknowledged and regularly monitored, there is also a group of pollutants known as toxic substances that are virtually ignored by official programs. A number of specialists agree that the latter constitute the greatest risk for the population, not only because of their high degree of toxicity...

  7. Afterword
    (pp. 337-342)
    Joel A. Tarr

    This collection’s creative title,Smoke and Mirrors, aptly describes the scholarly articles in this volume that explore issues relating to air pollution in historical, contemporary, and cross-national perspectives. The articles examine air pollution issues at different times and in different locations, but with a common perspective: that air pollution and its abatement policies need to be viewed as “social artifacts,” rather than “scientific facts” or “economic values” alone. This perspective reflects the current thrust in historical and social science studies to study phenomena from a wider cultural and social perspective, rather than from a narrow political, policy, or technological focus....

  8. Contributors
    (pp. 343-348)
  9. Index
    (pp. 349-360)