Coal ban in the United Kingdom

by Milan on March 19, 2010

in Air pollution

When would you guess policy-makers within the United Kingdom first considered banning coal for environmental reasons?

Barbare Freese opens her informative book – Coal: A Human History – by describing noblemen visiting London in 1306 and being appalled by the degradation of local air quality by coal burning by blacksmiths and artisans. In response, Edward I banned the use of the fuel, ordering that first offenders be punished with “great fines and ransoms” while second offenders were to have their furnaces smashed.

Obviously, coal was a niche fuel at the time. Now, the world is using more than ever before, mostly for electricity generation. That being said, if is interesting and perhaps a bit heartening to know that the harm done to human beings by coal has been recognized for more than 700 years, as has the possibility of states restricting its usage.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

L March 21, 2010 at 12:01 am

Strange – to me it’s the exact opposite of heartening…that the harm posed by coal was recognized so early on and yet…what happened, happened anyway. It just seems so characteristic of the most terrifying aspects of the “situation” that is being alive on earth.

That said, where would we be if coal really had been banned in 1300s England? I certainly wouldn’t be around to find out…

L March 21, 2010 at 12:02 am

Banned to any lasting effect, that is.

Milan March 22, 2010 at 9:33 am

Edward I recognized correctly that coal has serious downsides. That was not, however, enough to overcome its eventual usefulness for firing steam engines and iron foundries. Now, we have other sources of energy we can tap, and far more reason to be concerned about coal.

As for an alternative history without coal, I have thought about that a bit.

. May 19, 2010 at 10:15 am

“The potentially deadly nature of urban smoke had been demonstrated… during London’s historic “Black Fog” of December 5-9, 1952. A temperature inversion trapped the [coal] smoke near the ground… Many of the 4,000 or so people killed in this episode never made it to the hospital but died in the streets; fifty bodies were removed from one small city park. In 1956, after nearly seven hundred years of complaints about coal smoke in London, Parliament finally banned the burning of soft coal in the central city, and the air immediately improved.”

Freese, Barbara. Coal: A Human History. (p. 168 hardcover)

Milan May 24, 2010 at 5:21 pm

My full review of Freese’s book is here: Coal: A Human History.

. May 20, 2017 at 2:25 pm

For the first time in 130 years, Britain’s electricity network generated power over a full day without having to use coal. The linchpin of the Industrial Revolution, coal now fuels only around 10% of Britain’s electricity generation as coal-fired power stations are gradually phased out.

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