The Great Stink

I started out drafting a post about climate change because thank the celestial powers I finally got to use an extra blankie one night this week. But climate change is in the news all the time, and we’re all worried, and we’re all doing what we can.

Then I got to thinking about other times when humanity has faced a gargantuan problem, and managed to muddle through or even solve it. Remember the hole in the ozone that would make going outside on a sunny day bad news? I do, and I also remember the Montreal Protocol, signed by every nation on the planet in 1987 (the first international agreement with 100 percent buy in!). Thanks to that agreement, ozone levels are recovering even faster than hoped for.

Crossness Pumping Station, photo by Christine Matthews

On a smaller scale, but no less daunting for those affected, was the problem of the London sewers. As Victoria took the throne, London’s sewer system included wooden pipes that had been in service since the Middle Ages. A patchwork of septic tanks, drains, small sewers, and covered rivers draining into the Thames became utterly unworkable as London’s population tripled in less than fifty years.

The Victorians believed that disease was transmitted by foul miasmas, and by 1850, the Thames River was mighty foul indeed. Cholera epidemics in 1831, 1848, and 1853 meant everybody was giving the reeking river a side-eye, but nobody wanted to take the politically unpopular step of spending money to implement a solution.

Then in 1858 came a big old drought and a mighty heat wave, with London temperatures reaching 118F. The level of the Thames dropped, and on its shores were  enormous, reeking piles up to six feet deep of you-know-what. The curtains of parliamentary chambers on the river-side of Westminster were drenched in chloride of lime to try to tame the smell, but can you say Utterly Hopeless Gesture? The Victorians called it The Great Stink.

At a cost of more than a billion present-day dollars (as near as I can figure), using plans drawn up by engineer Joseph Bazalgette, and taking more than twenty years to complete the job, London got a working sewer system. The result was not only to foil further cholera outbreaks, but also to decrease the impact of both typhus and typhoid.

Plenty of people said it couldn’t be done, and at the time, the technology to make it happen was far from proven. But people also said the Great Barrier Reef couldn’t recover (it’s making a good try). People said electric cars would never catch on (sales tripled between 2018 and 2021). People said solar power would never be affordable (price has dropped 89% in ten years).

Amid all the climate worry and political worry and economic worry, what do you see that gives you hope? Yuletide Gems is already for sale on the web store, so I guess it’s time to start my ARC list for Miss Dauntless!

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14 comments on “The Great Stink

  1. Today’s youth is one of the few things that gives me hope in this era’s otherwise hopelessly divided political landscape. It appears that the young people of today are waking up to the fact that this is their future that could very well be decided by legions of old white men, who are sadly and relentlessly out of touch with what this country and, in fact, this world, needs to survive. And the “kids” are doing something about it! My grandkids are too young to have any significant political influence yet, and still, I see stirrings of their belief in equality for all, regardless of gender, race or religion. It makes me proud and gives me hope that all is not lost. Stay safe. Stay well everyone!

  2. I love that so many denizens of a nearby rural community in my county showed up to protest a “business as usual” + “let’s cram new developments anywhere without planning for infrastructure” zoning change in that would forever put small farms at risk, that the venue for comments had to be moved from a small schoolroom to a different date & time in a large church sanctuary as half the county showed up. At least one incumbent on the planning board found themselves voted out despite the huge war chest donated by developers. People are starting to remember We the People run things, not special interests or far off politicians or union bosses in other states, & votes really do count. Turnout is reaching levels not seen in generations & public servants are waking up to SERVANT being the key word as the local populace begins showing up in droves & discussing job performance.

    School board meetings are standing room only now parents have had a few years to see what their children aren’t learning & there are enough military families living locally who are familiar with overseas school systems & exactly how far our children are falling behind the rest of the world. They are attending & even stepping up to teach.

    The best calculus teacher I ever had was a retired Naval engineer used to solving for real world solutions. Seeing retired business leaders, farmers, & military professionals who’ve actually USED the subjects in the real world step up is a thing of beauty. They’re used to professionalism, discipline & decorum. Parents are crowing their pleasure at seeing teachers coming to work in business attire & explaining to students how they need to look & act if they want to rise above “would you like fries with that?” in the real world. Learning how to make change at the cash register is no longer arcane knowledge.

    I’m not dissing professional teachers. Members of my family taught for years, including my mom, who was a fifth grade teacher. But bureaucrats & social experiments run amuck hamstrung the professionals along with low pay & disrespect. Now the community is stepping up to rectify that.

    It’s beautiful seeing a community come together & working together to achieve what THEY want to have happen locally. Best of all, stuff the bus & library programs are ensuring basic materials are covered for everybody. Business leaders are buying textbooks or needed classroom materials instead of only sports jerseys.

    Sure there’s still debates about which child uses what bathroom, but getting kids out of steaming portable classrooms into buildings that HAVE bathrooms to argue about is front & center again.

  3. The tide is starting to turn on letting wildfires burn out, too. Even some conservation areas are allowing firebreaks and staging areas to be constructed. And let’s hear it for the goats who are occasionally working in forestry keeping the brush down.

    • Marianne!
      Yes to goats!! I just thought about an hour before coming here that I’d love to get a goat to take care of the brush on my property. 😀
      So, *high five for goats! 😀

  4. I think our best hope is in the young people. Tina Ann Armato said what i would be saying… but she said it way better than I could manage.

    I have hope in a free press that educates instead of fear mongering.

  5. I would love an ARC of Miss Dauntless. What gives me hope is the kindness of strangers and the fact that writers can still produce wonderful books that give people a respite from a very grim world.

  6. I can’t point to anything specific but I am somewhat hopeful, nonetheless. I see pockets of people trying to do right for the planet and each other, even in the face of many obstacles. I see people still getting married and having children and that gives me hope that they at least will behave to make the world better for their future.

  7. I live in the South East of England and on the coast.We have had a very hot summer and three weeks ago we had the end of summer STINK.On the high tides we had rotting seaweed washed ashore.The air was so bad we kept our Windows shut for days.The council cleared it eventually.But it was used on farms and ploughed in good for cabbages I’ve been told.I felt sorry for the folk living in the countryside because the smell is so bad.But they will have the biggest cabbages around.What goes around comes around.Shame I dislike cabbage though.I enjoy all other vegetables.So until the next big STINK which will be the end of summer 20023 we have good fresh sea air and our little bit of paradise perfect.

  8. Well, I would say that your post gave me hope. I loved the story about The Great Stink.

    I see climate change as one of our largest challenges for the next decades if not more. We will adapt but change is frequently painful. Knock on wood, at least we have it better than the dinosaurs. Hopefully there is no giant meteor headed our way …

    Miss Dauntless sounds fantastic! I would love an ARC (of course) but I also already have it preordered.

  9. What gives me hope is the growing worldwide ban on glyphosate — 33 countries so far.

    A 2015 study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded the weed killer’s main component, glyphosate, was “probably carcinogenic in humans.”

    According to the findings, the cancers most associated with glyphosate exposure were found to be non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other hematopoietic cancers. Of great concern,the substance can probably cause DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells, as well as genotoxic, hormonal and enzymatic effects in mammals.

  10. I teach at a community college, and my students give me so much hope. They are so invested in making the world better on many levels.

  11. Hmmm, i see small acts of kindness and individual responsibility. It’s not enough to move the needle on the world, but it can be enough to move the needle for a small subset of people or area. So at least that provides a little hope!
    I am pretty pessimistic, though, sadly.
    Better for my health if I were an optimist, I know, but I just can’t get myself there

  12. I don’t worry. I believe in human ingenuity. We’ll be in trouble if the problem appears in a hurry, though. Like an asteroid. Can’t prepare for that.