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

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  • Karen Clay
  • Werner Troesken

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Karen Clay & Werner Troesken, 2010. "Did Frederick Brodie Discover the World's First Environmental Kuznets Curve? Coal Smoke and the Rise and Fall of the London Fog," NBER Working Papers 15669, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15669 Note: DAE EEE HE
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Robert T. Deacon & Catherine S. Norman, 2006. "Does the Environmental Kuznets Curve Describe How Individual Countries Behave?," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 82(2), pages 291-315.
    2. Eli Berman & Linda T. M. Bui, 2001. "Environmental Regulation And Productivity: Evidence From Oil Refineries," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 83(3), pages 498-510, August.
    3. Welsch, Heinz, 2004. "Corruption, growth, and the environment: a cross-country analysis," Environment and Development Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 9(05), pages 663-693, October.
    4. De Bruyn, Sander M., 1997. "Explaining the environmental Kuznets curve: structural change and international agreements in reducing sulphur emissions," Environment and Development Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 2(04), pages 485-503, November.
    5. List, John A. & Gallet, Craig A., 1999. "The environmental Kuznets curve: does one size fit all?," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 31(3), pages 409-423, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. W. Walker Hanlon & Yuan Tian, 2015. "Killer Cities: Past and Present," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(5), pages 570-575, May.
    2. Fouquet, Roger, 2012. "The demand for environmental quality in driving transitions to low-polluting energy sources," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 138-149.
    3. Kahn, Matthew E. & Walsh, Randall, 2015. "Cities and the Environment," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, Elsevier.
    4. W. Walker Hanlon, 2016. "Coal Smoke and the Costs of the Industrial Revolution," NBER Working Papers 22921, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. W. Walker Hanlon, 2015. "Pollution and Mortality in the 19th Century," NBER Working Papers 21647, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N13 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy
    • N5 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries
    • Q0 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General
    • Q38 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation - - - Government Policy (includes OPEC Policy)
    • Q53 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Air Pollution; Water Pollution; Noise; Hazardous Waste; Solid Waste; Recycling
    • Q54 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Climate; Natural Disasters and their Management; Global Warming
    • Q58 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environmental Economics: Government Policy

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