Katharine Kerr shares some history she first wrote about for her Patreon page.
So, Some People We Could Name, but won’t because they’re depressing, want to roll back the environmental protections that are now USA law. Let me tell you why this is a bad idea.
I was born in 1944 in Cleveland, Ohio, which at that time was a prosperous industrial city. It had a great school system, splendid public libraries, and other civilized amenities. It was also filthy. The Cuyahoga River runs through the middle of town. Steel mills and other big manufacturers lined the river. They dumped their chemical effluvia right into the water, which was a dirty brown soup with an odd glistening layer on top. The river drained into Lake Erie, which was pretty much dead for many miles out from shore.
The steel mills also belched out anything they damn well wanted to belch through enormous towers. At night, you could see these noxious gases burning as if the towers were torches in the hands of giants. Other manufacturing plants did the same, but the mills were the worst, except maybe for the Diamond Match company. It used tons of sulfur for its matches, and enormous heaps of the stuff came upriver on barges. They unloaded it right onto the ground and left it there at times for days. If it rained, the river got a mouthful of that.
The air. Ye gods, the air. On sunny days in summer, you didn’t notice it much if you were a kid, but in winter, when the snow fell, it turned gray. Quickly. At all times of the year the outside windowsills were thick and black with the smuts. My grandmother used to wash her curtains every week in summer, when the windows were open for the air.
Beyond the dirt level, every winter a lot of people, especially kids and elders, got very ill with bronchitis and pneumonia. Some died from it.
Eventually, as you may have known, the river had had enough. It caught fire. Yes, the river. The soup on top, laced with sulfur and the gods only know what else, went up in huge, towering flames. Pouring water on it would do no good, especially not that water, so it burned for a good long while. It destroyed a bridge and some industrial property. It also provided the impulse to clean up the air and the environment by helping pass the Clean Water Act of 1969.
Long before then my family had moved to California, to a small town on the coast where the air was breathable. However, we also visited the Los Angeles basin regularly, the city of LA and surrounding areas like Disneyland. I considered going to UCLA for college, back in 1962, but again, I couldn’t breathe. This air was brown, not black, and some days were clear, but mostly your eyes stung, your sweat was kind of sticky, and you caught every cold germ that came along. If you swam in a chlorinated pool, and most people did, your eyes turned vampire red when you got out.
LA’s really nice, now, since the clean up.
But a lot of short-sighted people want to go back to the old days. Trust me, you won’t like it if they win. As Tom Lerher once sang:
If you go to American city
You will find it very pretty
Of two things you must beware
Don’t drink the water and don’t breathe the air.