The Parrot and the Igloo Notes

The Moles

95   Spotters along the route: The New York Times, “Oxford Beats Fog, Cambridge in Run,” December 7, 1952.


95   Buses collided: “Eleven persons were injured in a triple bus crash.” Triple. It’s hard to even feature, until you recall that visibility in some spots had declined to one yard. “Pedestrians carried flashlights, but these were of little help.” Donora on a world-capital scale.

Associated Press, “Thick, Choking Fog Enshrouds London,” December 7, 1952.


95   a suburban train: The New York Times, “London Fog Tie-Up Lasts For Third Day,” December 8, 1952.

The New York Times, “London Fog Crash Of Train Kills 2,” December 7, 1952. “Both accidents were blamed on the thick fog, which has crippled transportation and resulted in scores of highway crack-ups.”

Commuter rail too. The New York Times, “London Fog Returns After Brief Respite,” December 9, 1952. “Collisions involving three London commuter trains crowded with homebound workers occurred early in the evening, but no one was seriously injured. Passengers in one accident found their way to the nearest station by forming a human chain.”


95   Motorists cut their engines: The New York Times, “London Fog Returns After Brief Respite,” December 9, 1952. Motorists who had abandoned their cars “because they could not see to drive found them covered with a layer of muddy soot.”


95   Ambulances and firetrucks: The New York Times, “London Fog Crash Of Train Kills 2,” December 7, 1952.


95   escorted through the streets: Christine L. Corton, London Fog: The Biography, Belknap | Harvard University Press 2015. Chapter 8, “The Last Gasp,” 281. Visibility twenty-hours later was twenty-four hours worse. “As night fell on Saturday, visibility grew worse, and London, cleared of most of its traffic, was eerily silent ‘apart from an occasional convoy of buses crawling nose-to-tail back to their depôts.’”


95   A breeder tried to save prize heifers: The New York Times, “London Fog Returns After Brief Respite,” December 9, 1952.


95   a rash of muggings: The New York Times, “London Fog Returns After Brief Respite,” December 9, 1952. A kind of bedtime story sentence, for criminals: “Petty crime flourished in the night.”


95   home invasions: Christine L. Corton, London Fog: The Biography, Belknap | Harvard University Press 2015. Chapter 8, “The Last Gasp.” 281. “The Times reported many ‘burglaries, attacks, and robberies under cover of fog.’ One burglar climbed a drainpipe and gained access to three flats in the same building in Princes Gate unobserved; one of the victims was the actor Kenneth More. Another burglary was committed by thieves who boldly propped a ladder up to a balcony in Cheyne Place, Chelsea. Nobody noticed because it was barely visible . . .”


95   shops, even a post office: The New York Times, “London Fog Tie-Up Lasts For Third Day,” December 8, 1952. “Housebreakers and street robbers were active over the weekend. Scotland Yard reported a series of apartment house burglaries, a post office robbery and street attacks and handbag snatchings . . . ”


95   a perfect, climatic accomplice: Kate Winkler Dawson, Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City, Hachette Books 2017. Chapter Three, “Restrained.” 54-5. “Meanwhile, the calls continued to pile up at the Yard. Thugs attacked people on the streets, smashed shop windows, snatched purses, and burgled homes. Someone robbed a post office in the West End [and] deadly car crashes frightened drivers. Cops were furious. . . . It was exhausting and bewildering. The police faced an adversary that was defending criminals. The fog was everywhere now.”


95   hospital beds: Jane Onyanga-Omara, “Mystery of London Fog That Killed 12,000 Finally Solved,” USA Today, December 13, 2016. There were also about 150,000 hospitalizations.


95   People had begun dying on the first day: Edith Iglauer, “A Reporter At Large: The Ambient Air,” The New Yorker, April 13, 1968.

“In London, a number of the unexpected deaths occurred within the first twenty-four hours.”

David Laskin, “The Great London Smog,” Weatherwise, Vol. 59, No. 6, November/December 2006. “As people coughed and choked on the foul air, their breathing became labored, their blood oxygen levels dropped, and they suffered chest pains. By the evening of the first foggy day, hundreds of Londoners had died of heart failure, inflammation of the airways, pneumonia, or suffocation.”

The New York Times, “4,000 London Fog Deaths,” February 13, 1953.


95   a classic London smog: As the Times put it, “Compounding the problem, London is a coal-burning city and, with the cold weather, the city consumed more fuel.”

Robert Alden, “1948 Donora Smog Killed 20; London Toll Was 4,000 in ‘52,” The New York Times, November 26, 1966.

David Laskin, “The Great London Smog,” Weatherwise, Vol. 59, No. 6, November/December 2006. “With population of more than eight million, London was the world’s largest city and nearly all of its residents kept themselves warm by burning coal . . . Smoke from the city’s coal fires—as well as the exhaust from industrial smoke stacks and the fleet of 8,000 diesel buses that had recently replaced the city’s trams—had no place to go,” Laskin writes. “When the sulfur dioxide interacted with oxygen and water vapor in the air, sulfuric acid resulted, adding a corrosive ingredient.”


95   London factories and power plants: Kate Winkler Dawson, Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City, Hachette Books 2017. Epilogue. “There were 1,000 metric tons of smoke particles, 2,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, 140 metric tons of hydrochloric acid, 14 metric tons of fluorine compounds, and 370 metric tons of sulphur dioxide.”


95      eight hundred thousand pounds: 370 metric tonnes, or 815,7310 pounds. As the UK Meteorological Office writes, “Perhaps most dangerously, [the] 370 tonnes of sulphur dioxide were converted into 800 tonnes of sulphuric acid.”

The Met Office, “Case Study—Smog: The Great Smog of 1952,” Met Office Education, September 3, 2014.

Accessed 10-8-22.


95      The smoke was yellow and white: Netflix subscribers can experience the smog vicariously via The Crown, Season One, Episode Four. (The Crown, “Act of God,” S01E04.)

The Times preserves some haunting details. A lovely gray-tone sketch—like Edward Hopper illustrating some imagist lines by Ezra Pound. “Ghostly throngs moving in and out of tiny oases of visibility under street lamps.”

The New York Times, “Travelers Prefer Subways,” December 7, 1952.

The smog erased waterways (“boat traffic on the Thames halted”), oozed through the doors of pubs and auditoriums. “The fog seeped indoors and yellowed the lights of restaurants. . . . Outside a movie theatre the manager posted a notice: ‘Screen visibility nil.’”

BBC, “Days of Toxic Darkness,” December 5, 2002. This BBC project commemorated the Great Smog’s semi-centennial anniversary. The speaker, Barbara Fewster, was then a dancer in London.


It was the worst fog that I’d ever encountered. It had a yellow tinge and a strong, strong smell strongly of sulphur, because it was really pollution from coal fires that had built up. Even in daylight, it was a ghastly yellow colour.


The smoke was so thick that after trudging home dancer and fiancé were “absolutely black as sweeps,” Fewster recalls. “As it was so cold — for fog brings the cold with it — I was wearing a woolly yellow scarf and that too was pitch black with soot and muck.”

She goes on, “Our faces were black, our noses were black and everything was filthy — and we were exhausted, of course.”

Accessed 10-8-22.

Fewster’s recollection also turns up in, of all places, a children’s’ book: a young person’s guide to industrial stumbles of the past.

Mary B. Woods, Michael Woods, Environmental Disasters, Lerner Publishing Group 2008. 22.

London resident Barry Linton recalls in that book: “Even in our tiny living room it was misty and choky.” Linton was then seven. “And every time I blew my nose, it looked like soot in my hanky.”

Linton is also quoted in David Laskin, “The Great London Smog,” Weatherwise, November/December 2006. Laskin notes that smog spread even to hospital wards. “Crammed with suffocating patients,” these became “so smoky that it was impossible to see from one end of the ward to another.”


95      lung-stinging: The New York Times, “London Struck Again By Lung-Stinging Fog,” December 28, 1952.

Other descriptors were “acrid,” “oppressive,” “filthy,” “sooty,” “soot-laden,” “gagging,” “choking,” “strangling,” and “sickening.” (Associated Press, “Four Days of Fog in Britain Speed Deaths,” December 10, 1952. Canadian Press, “At Least 100 Is Known Toll of London Fog,” December 10, 1952. United Press International, “London Fog Fatal For 160 Elderly,” December 11, 1952. United Press International, “Strangling Fog Grips London: Loss Estimated At 10 Millions,” December 8, 1952.)

And sometimes many together. “Thick, dirty, gagging fog blacked out London.” Associated Press, “Thick Dirty Fog Darkens London For Third Day,” December 8, 1952.

One ornithologically-minded account had the smog “so thick it even grounded the birds.” Associated Press, “Birds Grounded By London Fog,” December 7, 1952.

And in William Wise’s Killer Smog: The World Worst Air Pollution Disaster (The National Audubon Society | Ballantine Books, 1968), there’s a kind of hanky-wave from Los Angeles. Londoners declaring that, on top of coughing and wheezing, “the fog made your eyes sting.” 137.

Even three months later, an M.P. named Dr. Somerville Hastings reported that patients admitted during December remained in hospital. “If we are to continue to live in London in health, something must be done to prevent these serious epidemics of fog, and the continuous descent of a certain amount of sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere.”

A businessman who’d attended a first-day dinner party “admitted that it was not until three months later that he felt fully fit again.”

Christine L. Corton, London Fog: The Biography, Belknap | Harvard University Press 2015. Chapter 8, “The Last Gasp.” 284-5.


95      weekly death average: The New York Times, “Lung Ills In London Rise In Wake Of Fog,” December 13, 1952.

In Death in the Air, Kate Winkler Dawson notes this funereal series of details. “One of the most astonishing things about this deadly fog was who it first alarmed—not politicians, reporters, or even doctors,” she writes, “but undertakers.”


Across London, funeral directors reported a surge in bodies, so many that the demand for caskets was insatiable. [And] even when a family was lucky enough to purchase one, there was few burial spots left for them to claim . . . Some florists were alarmed too. They couldn’t stock wreaths and flowers quickly enough.


Kate Winkler Dawson, Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City, Hachette Books 2017. Chapter Six, “Postmortem,” 123.


95      eight thousand more: Michelle Bell, Devra Davis, “Easement of the Lethal London Fog of 1952: Novel Indicators of Acute and Chronic Consequences of Acute Exposure to Air Pollution,” Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol 109, June 2001.

The New York Times, “London Smog Deaths High,” November 12, 1953.

Jane Onyanga-Omara, “Mystery of London Fog That Killed 12,000 Finally Solved,” USA Today, December 13, 2016.


96      Headlines: The New York Times, “Alarmed Londoners Ask Anti-Smog Steps,” January 25, 1953.

A somewhat less somberly high-style headline is quoted by Devra Davis: “Mystery Killer Fog.”

Devra Davis’ When Smoke Ran Like Water: Tales of Environmental Deception and the Battle Against Pollution Basic Books 2002. Chapter Two, “The Phantom Epidemic,” 44.

96      topped the worst months of the Blitz: This was, per the Times, 6,957, killed during September 1940, the Blitz’s deadliest month.

Davis quotes an M.P. to the effect that there “were literally more people choked to death by air pollution” that week than had been killed on all the days on all the national roads in all of 1952. Davis, When Smoke Ran Like Water, 44.

Davis then quotes what strikes her as extremely cynical political calculation—by Harold MacMillan, who would five years later become Prime Minister. “Today everybody expects the government to solve every problem,” the parliamentarian noted in a memo. “For some reason or another ‘smog’ has captured the imagination of the press and people. . . . Ridiculous as it appears, I suggest we form a committee. We cannot do very much, but we can be seen to be very busy, and that’s half the battle nowadays.”


96      German bombs: Amusingly—the sort of reversal than makes history eerie fun—one thing that kept casualties light during the blitz was English smog.

“During both world wars, smoke became a defense strategy. In some areas of England, pollution was produced with the intention of masking the city from enemy bombers, like the smoke screens that armed forces used to hide the location of military units during combat. . . a blackout of pollution.”

Kate Winkler Dawson, Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City, Hachette Books 2017. Chapter Two, “Blackout,” 41.


96      A January 1956 smog: This fog lingered from January third through sixth.

Christine L. Corton, London Fog: The Biography, Belknap | Harvard University Press 2015. Chapter 8, “The Last Gasp,” 309.


96      Clean Air Act: A milestone. “It would be called the Clean Air Act of 1956, the world’s first air pollution act enacted by a government that uniformly restrained pollution nationwide.”

Kate Winkler Dawson, Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City, Hachette Books 2017. Epilogue, 294.

Even watered down by parliamentary debate, “The 1956 Clean Air Act,” Dawson writes, “became a blueprint for the rest of the world to follow—the first comprehensive legislation to attack air pollution.”

NPR’s All Things Considered notes that the 1952 smog “changed the way the world looks at pollution. Before the incident, people in cities tended to accept pollution as a part of life. Afterward, more and more, they fought to limit the poisonous side effects of the industrial age.” NPR, “The Killer Fog of ‘52,” All Things Considered, December 12, 2002.

Accessed 10-10-22.


96      a December 1962 smog killed only seven hundred: Philip Eden, “Lightening Up Britain’s Weather: A Farewell to the Old Pea-Souper,” The Daily Telegraph (U.K.), December 2, 2000.

“However, there was a huge improvement in London’s air by 1960, and this was plain to see by December, 1962,” Eden writes. “The fog was just as thick and lasted even longer than that of 1952, but smoke concentrations were down by 60 per cent, and the death toll attributed to the smog was just 700.” Those last two words.

Kate Winkler Dawson in Death in the Air (Epilogue, 295) puts the number at 750.


96      seen as a kind of progress: “The effects of the [Clean Air Act] program became apparent in 1962, for, in December of that year, London experienced a severe fog.” The New Yorker also gives the 700 figure. “Still too many, of course, but an improvement over the previous figures.”

So to understand the world a decade before governments acknowledged the science of climate change—its grime, coughing, forbearance—consider that people accepted 700-person pollution losses as another aspect of life in the bigger cities.

Edith Iglauer, “A Reporter At Large: The Ambient Air,” The New Yorker, April 13, 1968.

Here’s how David Laskin puts it in “The Great London Smog,” Weatherwise 2006. “It’s sobering to learn that Londoners of 1952 were so inured to their filthy air that no one even remarked on the citywide epidemic of gagging and suffocating until the coffins ran out.”


96      ought to be renamed Smaze: Edith Evans Asbury, “Smog Is Really Smaze; Rain May Rout It Tonight,” The New York Times, November 21, 1953.

“Coughing himself, Dr. Morris B. Jacobs, head of the [city’s Air Pollution Control] laboratory, explained that the gray pall overhanging this area was a blend of smoke and haze.” You have to admire the expert who can remain pedantic even under duress.

As with the London event, and that perpetual Los Angeles feature, the pall was “eye-smarting” and “throat-irritating.”

And smaze turned the city—this period we picture as black-and-white, as newsreels and inky headlines and scotch-and-water—psychedelic.


New Yorkers were made uncomfortable by the smaze, which seemed to create optical illusions as well as stinging eyes and scratchy throats. Bridges seemed to vanish halfway over the surrounding waters, skyscrapers’ towers seemed lost in the sky.


96      A ten-day 1953 New York smog: Homer Bigart, “Smog Emergency Called For City; Relief Expected,” The New York Times, November 26, 1966. “. . . saving New York from a repetition of the disastrous smog incident of November 1953, that accounted for more than 240 deaths.”

On the plus side, the paper of record had stopped trying to make smaze happen.


96      Every major city faced a smoke problem: Lauren B Hitchcock, “Will Smog Strangle Your City?”, The Los Angeles Times, January 22, 1956.

“You may not be worrying now, but this expert says people in every big city will breathe dangerously polluted air within a few years—unless drastic steps are taken immediately.”


96      on medicine and private education: Robert L. Heilbroner, “What Goes Up the Chimney,” Harper’s Magazine, January 1951.


96      $5 billion: The New York Times, “Congress Studies Way To End ‘Smog,’” April 11, 1954.


96      $12 billion: George H.T. Kimble, “That ‘Hellish and Dismal Cloud,’” The New York Times, April 21, 1963.


96      Germany’s Ruhr valley: Kimble, “That ‘Hellish and Dismal Cloud,’” New York Times.


96      Thanksgiving holiday: Jane E. Brody, “Millions Plagued By Air Irritants,” The New York Times, November 26, 1966.

Edith Iglauer, “A Reporter At Large: The Ambient Air,” The New Yorker, April 13, 1968.

The Times had warned about this three years earlier. It’s right there in the Times Magazine headline. Fred J. Cook, “Murk, Smog, Smoke — Needed: Fresh Air,” December 29, 1963.


96      this time: To resume my work as premium-TV docent, Mad Men fans can now experience the Thanksgiving smog with Don Draper et al in S05E09, “Dark Shadows.”

“The air is toxic,” Jon Hamm’s second wife says, the apartment balcony erased by clouds behind her. “I don’t want that in here.”


96      National Conference on Air Pollution: Gladwin Hill, “New Era In Smog War: 3,000 At Parley Agree On ‘Action Now,’ and Some Call For Federal Standards,” The New York Times, December 15, 1966.


96      “not a major metropolitan area”: Gladwin Hill, “Nation Is Losing War On Smog, Gardner Warns Pollution Parley,” The New York Times, December 13, 1966.


96      so we need nondiffusion treaties: And the Thanksgiving smog of one month earlier had now acquired the starkness of the symbolic. It was the italics, the underlining beneath every speech. New York’s air commissioner “said New York’s four-day siege of smog at Thanksgiving had ‘threatened to become a catastrophe’ and showed that the air pollution ‘menace is a clear and present danger to the community.’”

Gladwin Hill, “U.S. Approaching Wide Smog Curbs,” The New York Times, December 14, 1966.


96      be any solution: Gladwin Hill, “New Era In Smog War: 3,000 At Parley Agree On ‘Action Now,’ and Some Call For Federal Standards,” The New York Times, December 15, 1966.


97      “rapid and catastrophic increase”: The Washington Post, “Increased Dust in Air Seen Cooling Climate,” February 27, 1967.

Reid Bryson, “Inadvertent Climate Modification,” UIR/Research Newsletter, Vol 2 No 1, 1967. “When sunlight falls on a dusty globe, more sunlight is reflected,” which “lets less sunlight reach the surface.”


97      “atmospheric dustiness”: Bryson published on turbidity again the following year, in the popular meteorology journal Weatherwise.


All other factors being constant, an increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide, by decreasing the ease with which radiant energy leaves the earth’s surface, should cause world temperatures to rise—but they have been falling while carbon dioxide continued to rise. Some other factor must be more important and varying.

All other factors being constant, an increase of atmospheric turbidity (“dustiness”) will make the earth cooler by scattering away more incoming sunlight. A decrease of dust should make the earth warmer.


Reid Bryson, “ ‘All Other Factors Being Constant . . .’: A Reconciliation of Several Theories of Climate Change,” Weatherwise April 1968.

Also in Science. James Peterson, Reid Bryson, “Atmospheric Aerosols: Increased Concentrations During the Last Decade,” Science, October 4, 1968.

Per The Weather Machine (Nigel Calder, Penguin 1975), Russia was logging a similar change: “Combined measurements from eight stations in the USSR show that dust reduced the sunshine by ten percent between 1940 and 1967.” Chapter Two, “Causes and Effects,” 78.

A Bryson phrase the book uses—returning us to that Summerless 1816 Year—is “the human volcano.”


97      retrigger the clock: Kendric Frazier, “World Turning Cooler—No One Knows Why,” The Los Angeles Times, November 20, 1969.

Mark D. Kaufman, “The Ice Age That Never Happened,” ScienceLine, New York University, April 27, 2017.


97      They’d sampled two cities: The Washington Post, “Cooling Trend Linked To Pollution in Air,” June 9, 1967. The two Air Pollution Control scientists were Robert A. McCormick and John H. Ludwig.

Robert A. McCormick, John H. Ludwig, “Climate Modification by Atmospheric Aerosols,” Science, June 9, 1967.


97      global dimming: Spencer Weart, “Aerosols: Volcanoes, Dust, Clouds and Climate,” The Discovery of Global Warming, American Institute of Physics.

As Weart summarizes, “By the 1990s it was clear that overall, human production of aerosols was cooling the atmosphere. Pollution was significantly delaying, and masking, the coming of greenhouse effect warming.”

Accessed 9-20-22.


But the new results incorporating aerosols did give, for the first time ever, a plausible and consistent accounting of the main features of 20th-century climate. In particular, it seemed likely that industrial pollution had temporarily depressed Northern Hemisphere temperatures in mid century. As Bryson had speculated back in the 1970s, the effects of aerosol emissions from human industry were comparable to the effects of a large volcanic eruption. These results led directly to a 1995 announcement by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that human influence on climate had probably become discernible. Global warming might have become evident decades earlier, but for the overlooked cooling effect of aerosols.


Weart continues:


Many aerosol specialists now suspected that they had badly underestimated how strongly greenhouse warming had been held back by the cooling effect of aerosols. That had given the world “a false sense of security” about global warming, the respected atmospheric scientist Paul Crutzen warned in 2003. For the “global dimming” trend was not really global but regional, and since the 1980s it had flattened out or even reversed in some regions. Nobody could be sure why, but a likely cause was the pollution controls that many industrialized nations were imposing, working effectively to reduce sulfates. Europe, which had the strictest controls, was the main region where the sunlight was now significantly brighter.


The U.K. Meteorological Office and the environmental writer Duncan Clark put together a good quick primer, available at the Guardian website.

The Met Office, Duncan Clark, “What is Global Dimming?”, The Guardian (U.K.), May 11, 2012.

Accessed 10-10-22.

Around the turn of the century, big science programs on both sides of the Atlantic—BBC’s Horizon, PBS’s Nova—ran broadcasts about dimming. Both have transcripts available online, which make for disquieting reading.

PBS, “Dimming the Sun,” Nova, April 18, 2006.

BBC, “Global Dimming,” Horizon, January 13, 2005.

This is from PBS’ “Dimming the Sun”: “Between the 1950s and early 1990s, the level of solar energy reaching the Earth’s surface had dropped: Nine percent in Antarctica, 10 percent in areas of the U.S.A., by almost 30 percent in one region of Russia, and by 16 percent in parts of the British isles. This seemed to be a global phenomenon, so [Dr. Gerald Stanhill] gave it a suitable name: ‘global dimming.’” By some calculations, “more than half the warming effect of the greenhouse emissions has been masked by the cooling effect of particle pollution.”

The producers interview Dr. Jim Hansen—then NASA’s lead voice on climate change. “In a way, it is unfortunate that the small particles were in the atmosphere, because we would have realized much earlier that the—how strong the greenhouse effect is,” Hansen tells PBS. “And would have had more time to make the adjustments that are going to be necessary to slow down and eventually stop the growth of greenhouse gases.”

PBS, “Dimming the Sun,” Nova, April 18, 2006.

Accessed 10-10-22.

This is from BBC, a report about its own broadcast. (BBC, “Horizon Reveals Potential Huge Increase In Global Warming,” January 13, 2005.)

“The story of the unmasking of global dimming is as good as any thriller. Two years ago climatologists noticed that the heat of the sun had been dropping dramatically for several decades — for example by up to 10% in the USA and 16% in parts of Britain.

“No-one had noticed because the loss of heat from the sun had been offset by global warming. The dimming is a bizarre by-product of the fossil fuels that cause global warming. It is caused by tiny airborne particles of soot, ash and sulphur dioxide reflecting back the heat of the sun.”

A quick example of the ingenious detective work from the Horizon broadcast:


prof veerabhadran ramanathan (University of California): Almost everything we do to create energy causes pollution.

bbc narrator: Burning fuel doesn’t just produce the invisible greenhouse gases which cause global warming. It also produces visible pollution, tiny airborne particles of soot and other pollutants. These produce the haze which shrouds our cities. So Ramanathan wondered: Could this pollution be causing Global Dimming? The Maldives were the perfect place to find out. The Maldives seem unpolluted, but in fact the northern islands sit in a stream of dirty air descending from India. Only the southern tip of the long island chain enjoys clean air coming all the way from Antarctica. So by comparing the northern islands with the southern ones, Ramanathan and his colleagues would be able to see exactly what difference the pollution made to the atmosphere and the sunlight. Project INDOEX, as it was called, was a huge multinational effort. For four years every possible technique was used to sample and monitor the atmosphere over the Maldives. INDOEX cost twenty-five million dollars, but it produced results — and they surprised everyone.

prof ramanathan: The stunning part of the experiment was this pollutant layer which was three kilometer thick, cut down the sunlight reaching the ocean by more than 10 percent.

narrator: A 10 percent fall in sunlight meant that particle pollution was having a far bigger effect than anyone had thought possible.

prof ramanathan: Our models [had] led us to believe the human impact on the dimming was close to half to one per cent. So what we discovered was tenfold.


BBC, “Global Dimming,” Horizon, January 13, 2005.

Accessed 10-10-22.


97      cleared: Shabtai Cohen, Beate Liepert, Gerald Stanhill, “Global Dimming Comes of Age,” Eos, Vol 85 No 38, September 21, 2004.

Kenneth Chang, “Earth Has Become Brighter, But No One Is Sure Why,” The New York Times, May 6, 2005.


Some scientists have reported that from 1960 to 1990, the amount of sunshine reaching the ground decreased at a rate of 2 percent to 3 percent per decade. . . . the dimming and brightening might explain why for many years temperatures on earth lagged what was predicted by many climate models and then shot upward more recently.

“I think what could have happened is the dimming between the 60’s and 80’s counteracted the greenhouse effect,” Dr. Wild said. “When the dimming faded, the effects of the greenhouse gases became more evident. There is no masking by the dimming anymore.”


Martin Wild, Atsumu Ohmura, Knut Makowski, “Impact Of Global Dimming And Brightening On Global Warming,” Geophysical Research Letters, American Geophysical Union, February 20, 2007.

Yangyang Xu, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, David G. Victor, “Global Warming Will Happen Faster Than We Think,” Nature, December 5, 2018. “Governments are cleaning up air pollution faster than the IPCC and most climate modellers have assumed,” the scientists write. “But aerosols, including sulfates, nitrates, and organic compounds, reflect sunlight. This shield of aerosols has kept the planet cooler, possibly as much as 0.7°C globally.”


This AGU release offers a good quick summary of where the thinking now is. American Geophysical Union, “Aerosol Pollution Caused Decades of ‘Global Dimming’: A New Study Pinpoints the Cause of Decades-Long Clear-Sky Sunlight Dimming and Rebrightening,” February 18, 2021.

It’s a link to the below paper, co-authored by Dr. Martin Wild, who has studied dimming for nearly two decades at the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate science in Zurich.

Martin Wild, Stephen Wacker, Su Yang, Artuur Sanchez-Lorenzo, “Evidence For Clear-Sky Dimming and Brightening in Central Europe,” Geophysical Research Letters, American Geophysical Union, February 1, 2021.

Accessed 10-10-22.


97      “The average person”: Edith Iglauer, “A Reporter At Large: The Ambient Air,” The New Yorker, April 13, 1968.

In her 1964 piece, the same New Yorker writer closed with a regular-person question that nicely mirrors one Nobel scientist Sherwood Rowland would ask decades later in the same magazine.

“What’s the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions,” Dr. Rowland would observe in 1986, “if in the end all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?”

The interviewee below, circa 1964, is a Staten Island organic farmer.


A tall, grizzled man in blue overalls, with piercing eyes, a full mustache, and a pointed beard came out of a barn, and Mrs. Crookall introduced him as Mr. Gericke. When I asked him about the air pollution around his farm, Mr. Gericke pulled at his beard and scowled. “I’m an organic farmer, and I have twelve acres,” he said. “I grow all kinds of vegetables, but when you put out early crops, you might as well kiss them goodbye if they get a good dose of sulphur dioxide. It’s like putting a blowtorch to them. The leafy crops, like chard and spinach, are burned, and plant growth is generally retarded. I first came here in 1902 from Brooklyn, when Staten Island was a garden spot. Now the only things we get here are garbage dumps, hospitals, and air pollution. The pollution affects everything living, but principally people. Do you think you are breathing fresh air right now?”

I drew a deep breath. The air had an ugly, musty smell. I shook my head.

Mr. Gericke pointed to a mist that was creeping around some trees across the road. “Look at that. You aren’t permitted to breathe fresh air. But nobody does anything about it.” He started to walk away. “I’m thoroughly disgusted,” he said. “You might as well take poison and pass out quickly. What do people have to do to get things improved—fall over dead?”


97      the world on the brink of something: For a sense of the specialist mood, there’s the atmospheric expert (UCLA professor and former head of the American Meteorological Society) Dr. Morris Neiburger.


Those who foresee the world ending in a nuclear flash are wrong, according to Dr. Morris Neiburger, a meteorologist. Humanity, he predicts, will smother in smog first.

“All civilization,” Dr. Neiburger said, “will pass away, not from a sudden cataclysm like a nuclear war, but from gradual suffocation in its own wastes.”


The New York Times, “Professor Says World Will Smother in Smog,” August 9, 1965.


97      a long 1968 piece by a Cornell ecology professor: Lamont C. Cole, “Can The World Be Saved?”, The New York Times Magazine, March 31, 1968.

This was an adaptation. Cole had previously delivered the material as a speech at American Association for the Advancement of Science.


97      In 1969, Times columnist Anthony Lewis: Anthony Lewis, “Not With a Bang but a Gasp,” The New York Times, December 15, 1969.


97      “the end of life on the earth”: The American Museum of Natural History mounted an exhibition called “Can Man Survive?” They asked the question from 1969 to 1971.

Robin Andersen, “The ‘Crying Indian,’ Corporations, and Environmentalism: A Half-Century of Struggle Over Environmental Messaging,” in Matthew P. McAllister, Emily West (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to Advertising and Promotional Culture, Routledge 2013.

“Moving down an exit ramp, the exhibition became quieter,” the AMNH archive recalls. “And visitors were confronted with a mirror with the illuminated words, ‘Can Man Survive?’ and a recorded voice repeating, ‘It’s up to you.’”

Claire O’Dowd, “Can Man Survive? (Exhibition): May 16, 1969 to May 16, 1971,” American Museum of Natural History Library, October 3, 2018.
Accessed 10-15-22.


98      A headline in the Washington Post: Thomas O’Toole, “ ‘Progress’ Ruins Earth, Panel Warns,” The Washington Post, March 20, 1968.


98      the Congressional Science Subcommittee: Robert Waters, “Daddario Warns of Scientific Ills,” Harford Courant, March 18, 1968.

“Daddario, chairman of the House Science Subcommittee, disclosed that a strong and gloomy report on the subject will be issued by his subcommittee this week. The Harford Democrat’s comments came in an address delivered Sunday night at the new Center for Science and the Future of Human Affairs . . . ”


98      “stinking”: Time, “The Cities: The Price of Optimism,” August 1, 1969.


98      “What a terrible reflection”: Time, “The Cities: The Price of Optimism,” August 1, 1969.


98      After years of pollution: For example, Newsweek’s dispiriting 1970 cover “The Ravaged Environment.” Encouraging readers to prepare for a “dirtier, smellier, sicklier world.”

Kenneth Auchincloss, “The Ravaged Environment,” Newsweek, January 20, 1970.

For a gallery of the era’s bummer newsmagazine covers, there’s The Daily Beast, Newsweek on Earth Day 1970,” April 22, 2011.

Accessed 10-15-22.


98      the national mood: You’d find it opening any magazine. Here’s The New Yorker, a two-part environment story, from September and October of 1971. (It’s by the biologist Barry Commoner.) Here’s the first sentence.


There is something seriously wrong with the way human beings have occupied their habitat, the earth.


It goes on,


The fault must lie not with nature but with man, for no one has argued, to my knowledge, that the recent advent of pollutants on the earth is the result of some natural change, independent of man. Indeed, the few remaining areas of the world that are relatively untouched by the powerful hand of man are to that degree free of smog, foul water, and deteriorating soil. One explanation this is sometimes offered is that man is a “dirty” animal.


Barry Commoner, “A Reporter At Large: The Closing Circle II,” The New Yorker, October 2, 1971.


98      another ice age: Peter Gwynne, “The Cooling World,” Newsweek, April 28, 1975.

It had a big impact. Years later, Newsweek’s Gwynne explained his mistake. He quoted NASA’s Gavin Schmidt.


“Three independent strands of science at the time got conflated in the articles: analyses of direct temperature data that showed a decline in temperatures particularly over the Northern Hemisphere since the 1940s; a very high level of pollution by sulfate aerosols that cooled the planet; and evidence that the timing of ice ages was caused by wobbles in Earth’s orbit,” explained Gavin Schmidt, deputy chief of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in New York.


Peter Gwynne, “My 1975 ‘Cooling World’ Story Doesn’t Make Today’s Climate Scientists Wrong,” Inside Science, May 21, 2014.

Accessed 10-15-22. 

98      population explosion: Peter Erlich, “The Population Bomb,” Ballantine Books 1968.


98      killer bees: Debbie Hodges, “The Buzz About Africanized Bees Proves Mostly Bad Publicity,” The Christian Science Monitor, October 10, 1996. As cataclysm, a bust: “Killer bees,” writes Hodges, “known for defending their homes by attacking trespassers in swarms, caused quite a buzz in the 1970s and ’80s with the threat of an imminent United States invasion—even spawning the low-budget disaster movies ‘The Swarm’ and ‘The Bees’ in 1978. But Africanized bees have been living in the Southwest since 1990 without major incident.”


98      movie: The James Bond films, in their capacity as accidental yearbooks, tend to preserve the big group attitudes. Villains in the ’60s were pursuing either personal enrichment or national advantage. Stromberg, the villain of the mid-70s, is so fed up with humanity he wants to leave earth in the custody of the fish.

“A new and beautiful world beneath the sea,” Stromberg exclaims in The Spy Who Loved Me. “Today civilisation as we know it is corrupt and decadent. Inevitably, it will destroy itself. I am merely accelerating the process.”

He sounds—of course he would; screenwriters are harvesters—like the scientists in The New York Times.


98      “Nature is what we’re running out of”: John Updike, Rabbit Redux (New York: Knopf, 1971), Chapter One, 12.


99      “It’s time for us to start”: Jennifer 8. Lee, “A Call for Softer, Greener Language,” The New York Times, March 2, 2003.

Frank Luntz, Memorandum to Bush White House, The Environment: A Cleaner, Safer, Healthier America, Luntz Research Companies, 2002.

The Parrot and the Igloo by David Lipsky