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

77 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2010 Last revised: 15 Dec 2013

See all articles by Karen Clay

Karen Clay

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Werner Troesken

University of Pittsburgh - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: January 2010

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

Clay, Karen B. and Troesken, Werner, Did Frederick Brodie Discover the World's First Environmental Kuznets Curve? Coal Smoke and the Rise and Fall of the London Fog (January 2010). NBER Working Paper No. w15669. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1540954

Karen B. Clay (Contact Author)

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Werner Troesken

University of Pittsburgh - Department of Economics ( email )

4901 Wesley Posvar Hall
230 South Bouquet Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States
412-648-7451 (Phone)
412-648-9074 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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