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The Age of Smoke

The Age of Smoke: Environmental Policy in Germany and the United States, 1880-1970

Frank Uekoetter
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    The Age of Smoke
    Book Description:

    In 1880, coal was the primary energy source for everything from home heating to industry. Regions where coal was readily available, such as the Ruhr Valley in Germany and western Pennsylvania in the United States, witnessed exponential growth-yet also suffered the greatest damage from coal pollution.These conditions prompted civic activism in the form of "anti-smoke" campaigns to attack the unsightly physical manifestations of coal burning. This early period witnessed significant cooperation between industrialists, government, and citizens to combat the smoke problem. It was not until the 1960s, when attention shifted from dust and grime to hazardous invisible gases, that cooperation dissipated, and protests took an antagonistic turn.The Age of Smokepresents an original, comparative history of environmental policy and protest in the United States and Germany. Dividing this history into distinct eras (1880 to World War I, interwar, post-World War II to 1970), Frank Uekoetter compares and contrasts the influence of political, class, and social structures, scientific communities, engineers, industrial lobbies, and environmental groups in each nation. He concludes with a discussion of the environmental revolution, arguing that there were indeed two environmental revolutions in both countries: one societal, where changing values gave urgency to air pollution control, the other institutional, where changes in policies tried to catch up with shifting sentiments.Focusing on a critical period in environmental history,The Age of Smokeprovides a valuable study of policy development in two modern industrial nations, and the rise of civic activism to combat air pollution. As Uekoetter's work reveals, the cooperative approaches developed in an earlier era offer valuable lessons and perhaps the best hope for future progress.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7350-8
    Subjects: Technology, History

Table of Contents

  1. 1 The Age of Smoke
    (pp. 1-19)

    Smoke was the most severe air pollution problem of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Wherever coal was used in major quantities, smoke and soot, the typical by-products of incomplete combustion, infested the local atmosphere, provoking countless complaints and attempts at abatement. But this fact alone conveys an inadequate sense of what it meant to live in the age of smoke. The key characteristic of smoke was its pervasiveness: one did not simply live with the problem of smoke, but literally in it. In urban areas, smoke was everywhere: in cities large and small, in industrial and residential areas,...

  2. 2 Modern Times, Modern Problems: CONTROLLING SMOKE, 1880–1914
    (pp. 20-66)

    When American city dwellers of the Progressive Era talked about smoke, anger was usually their dominant state of mind. Since smoke had grown into a chronic problem of American cities in the late nineteenth century, complaints were as numerous as they were vigorous, often expressing indignation about the extent of the nuisance. Many urbanites thought that smoke was “a shame and an outrage on common decency,” and the reasons are not difficult to understand in retrospect.¹ After all, coal smoke had numerous consequences, and they were all unpleasant. Perhaps most prominently, smoke was dirty and thus incompatible with bourgeois values...

  3. 3 Pollutants and Politics: AIR POLLUTION CONTROL BETWEEN THE WARS
    (pp. 67-112)

    After the intensive debates in the early 1900s, the postwar discussions in both the United States and Germany seem like a lukewarm postscript, devoid of the sense of urgency and the reform spirit so prominent earlier on. The only exceptions are the spectacular campaigns in St. Louis and Pittsburgh around 1940. In focusing on the tricky issue of domestic smoke, these campaigns dealt with an issue that had given advocates of smoke abatement headaches for more than a decade. Much has been made of Raymond Tucker’s pivotal role in the St. Louis campaign, but in the end, Tucker merely implemented...

  4. 4 Beyond the Pall of Smoke
    (pp. 113-148)

    Both Germany and the United States saw growing public interest in air pollution control in the 1950s. As a result, administrative oversight began to grow, but that meant very different things in each country, with the position of industry making for the greatest contrast. American entrepreneurs were in many cases represented on boards of directors and were thus able to directly influence the relevant agencies, whereas German industrialists, shaped by constant contact with a self-confident and assertive bureaucracy, probably did not even dare to dream of such a strong position. To be sure, German officials, too, were by no means...

    (pp. 149-186)

    It is rewarding to compare the postwar period of institutional change with the Progressive Era. In principle, the situations were similar: in both cases, new public opinion demanded reforms in order to gain control of a pending problem—and in both cases these reforms actually came about. But the way in which these reforms were discussed reveals a far-reaching difference. The Progressive Era saw a broad public debate in which civic leagues, entrepreneurs, and scientific experts participated and that eventually led to a consensus about a strategy that promised benefits to everyone involved. The situation after World War II was...

  6. 6 Forerunners and Pioneers
    (pp. 187-207)

    Policy decisions on air pollution problems were local and regional matters in both Germany and the United States until far into the twentieth century. As a result, it should come as no surprise that the national styles of regulation described here imply an enormous amount of regional variation. A multitude of factors accounts for sudden advances or delays, for rapid progress or stagnation. Many of these conditions are of little interest in a study of national paths toward air pollution control. For example, the peculiar development of air pollution control in New York City was due simply to the city’s...

  7. 7 Environmental Revolutions and Evolutions
    (pp. 208-259)

    In the 1960s, the American regulatory tradition, born during the Progressive Era and modified after World War II, faced a double crisis: an internal crisis arising from strategic problems (see chapter 5) and an external crisis produced by several changes in the general context in which local officials were operating. First, it was discovered that automobiles were major contributors to the country’s air pollution problem. Needless to say, municipal authorities were in no position to get a grip on an inherently mobile pollution problem; furthermore, the American automobile industry showed only lukewarm interest in solving the problem. Second, new federal...

    (pp. 260-268)

    The 1970 Clean Air Act defined national ambient air-quality standards for six pollutants: carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, lead, and particulate matter. Three decades later, aggregate emissions had declined by 29 percent, and air-quality levels showed noticeable improvement. Progress was greatest for lead and particulate matter, where emissions declined by 98 and 88 percent, respectively. Sulfur dioxide emissions had declined by 44 percent, much of that due to the Acid Rain Program, which seeks to cut sulfur dioxide emissions in half between 1980 and 2010. Carbon monoxide emissions were down by 25 percent, a remarkable achievement against the...