I haven’t posted for a couple of months, due to research and writing up. I look at this year, 2012, and the big anniversary in environmental history is the fiftieth anniversary of Silent Spring. I even delivered a paper at a conference celebrating this anniversary.
Yet within British environmental history, and especially in the development of the post-war environmental movement in Britain, 2012 offers other anniversaries. It will be sixty years in December since the great London smog hit that city in 1952 which lead to approximately 12,000 dying, and the subsequent Clean Air Act, reducing air pollution across the country.
Forty years ago, The Ecologist magazine published ‘A Blueprint for Survival’ which explored ideas of decentralisation, small and de-industralised societies, using tribal societies as a model. The work was influential and was signed by over 30 leading scientists, although it did receive sharp criticism in Nature which stated that professionals should not tie themselves to works which created public fear.
In their own ways, both the smog and Blueprint were influential onthe development of environmentalism in Britain. The former can be described as the first post-war environmental disaster, and led to legislation which reduced air pollution in certain areas. The latter’s authors were invited inearly 1974 to assist the first environmental party in Britain, PEOPLE, to draft a joint manifesto between the party and the authors of Blueprint. Whilst only seven candidates were fielded at the February 1974 general election, mainly in the West Midlands area (PEOPLE began in the city of Coventry), and for many years was unsuccessful at the ballot box, PEOPLE did offer a new kind of politics to the British public. In 1975, PEOPLE changed its name to the Ecology Party, becoming the Green Party in 1985.
Whilst Silent Spring is critical when considering the emerging post-war environmental movement, the smog of ’52 and the battle against air pollution after the war in various cities across Britain, reflects a developing environmental movement, especially when smoke and smog was seen not just as being a danger to public health but also to the natural environment. And whilst Blueprint was influenced by Carson’s work, appearing when it did at the beginning of the 1970s, it arguably had more impact in Britain with is appearance coming on the back of the Department of the Environment, created in 1970.