“Sweetheart, does this smell OK to you?” said I standing before the open refrigerator contemplating the edibility of a container of left-over casserole, the date of original creation thereof had eluded me. Trusting to my wife’s much keener sense of smell than my own, I can confidently make the determination whether to eat said casserole or chuck it in the bin.
For those unfamiliar with the Great Stink of 1858, it was essentially the “perfect storm” of a human (and other) waste polluted Thames River combining with a blisteringly hot July and August to produce an incapacitating stench throughout the city of London. Londoners rarely left their homes in order to avoid the wretch-inducing smell. Basic elements of civic government came to a near stand-still. And people at all levels of society called for something to be done.
While it may no longer be a topic of everyday conversation, the draining of the fens – vast wetland areas – of eastern England in the Seventeenth Century in order that they could be turned in to arable farmland was an engineering project of monumental proportions as well as effects. Like the more commonly mentioned Enclosure Acts that followed not long after, it brought about changes to the social, political, and ecological systems of the country that are still felt to this day.
Libraries full of books have been, and could yet still be, written about the human and cultural devastation left behind following wars. Far fewer are available that take up the subject of the scars they leave upon the environment – and of these, only one, the just released “The Long Shadows; A Global Environmental History of the Second World War,” focuses exclusively on the global environmental effects of the largest war the world has yet seen.