Did Frederick Brodie Discover the World's First Environmental Kuznets Curve? Coal Smoke and the Rise and Fall of the London Fog

Karen Clay, Werner Troesken

NBER Working Paper No. 15669
Issued in January 2010
NBER Program(s):   DAE   EEE   HE

In a paper presented to the Royal Meteorological Society, Brodie (1905) presented a data series that presaged the modern Environmental Kuznets Curve: in the decades leading up to 1890, the number of foggy days in London rose steadily, but after 1891, the fogs began to subside. Brodie attributed the rise and fall of the London fog to variation in emissions of coal smoke, arguing that before 1890 Londoners burned excessive amounts of soft coal, while in the years following, a series of legal, demographic, and technological changes mitigated the production of coal smoke. This paper asks two questions. First, are Brodie's underlying data trustworthy? Do other, independent sources of evidence same patterns Brodie identified? Was London's atmosphere becoming more polluted and foggy for most of the nineteenth century, only to improve around 1890? Second, if so, is Brodie's interpretation of the data correct? Can the changes in London's atmosphere be attributed to changes in the production of coal smoke, or were they the result of some broader meteorological phenomenon. The evidence we present here is consistent Brodie's data and interpretation.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w15669

Published: Did Frederick Brodie Discover the World's First Environmental Kuznets Curve? Coal Smoke and the Rise and Fall of the London Fog, Karen Clay, Werner Troesken. in The Economics of Climate Change: Adaptations Past and Present, Libecap and Steckel. 2011

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