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.
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!