The Age of Smoke: Environmental Policy in Germany and the United States, 1880-1970

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In 1880, coal was the primary energy source for everything from home heating to industry. Regions where coal was readily available, such as the Ruhr Valley in Germany and western Pennsylvania in the United States, witnessed exponential growth-yet also suffered the greatest damage from coal pollution.

These conditions prompted civic activism in the form of “anti-smoke” campaigns to attack the unsightly physical manifestations of coal burning. This early period witnessed significant cooperation between industrialists, government, and citizens to combat the smoke problem. It was not until the 1960s, when attention shifted from dust and grime to hazardous invisible gases, that cooperation dissipated, and protests took an antagonistic turn.

The Age of Smoke presents an original, comparative history of environmental policy and protest in the United States and Germany. Dividing this history into distinct eras (1880 to World War I, interwar, post-World War II to 1970), Frank Uekoetter compares and contrasts the influence of political, class, and social structures, scientific communities, engineers, industrial lobbies, and environmental groups in each nation. He concludes with a discussion of the environmental revolution, arguing that there were indeed two environmental revolutions in both countries: one societal, where changing values gave urgency to air pollution control, the other institutional, where changes in policies tried to catch up with shifting sentiments.

Focusing on a critical period in environmental history, The Age of Smoke provides a valuable study of policy development in two modern industrial nations, and the rise of civic activism to combat air pollution. As Uekoetter's work reveals, the cooperative approaches developed in an earlier era offer valuable lessons and perhaps the best hope for future progress.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This book is a major achievement. It has much to offer environmental historians, and also those working on the functions of government in Germany and the United States. Uekoetter has mastered masses of archival material, without losing sight of his main arguments. He uses concepts drawn from sociology and political science to enhance our understanding of environmental policies.”

“This book is based on an immense amount of source and literature research and is well written. In sum, Uekoetter's book fills a big void in environmental history.”

“Offer[s] unique insights . . . Environmentalists as well as those with interests in German and U.S. history will gain much from this work.”

“Elegantly written. The myth Uekoetter most effectively debunks is the belief that successful pollutant control only began with the modern environmental movement. He is one of several contemporary environmental historians looking seriously at Progressive-Era efforts at conservation, preservation, and protoenvironmentalism to make the link between earlier efforts and present day ones.”
German Studies Review

“Perhaps most notable is Uekoetter’s eloquent historical critique of the instinctive tendency among some environmentalists to view industry as an implacable foe rather than potential collaborator in the reduction of air pollution. Industrialists and engineers often acted as valued partners in smoke-abatement efforts; the account he presents is therefore not one that pits ecological concerns firmly against economic interests. If there is a lesson to be learned from the ‘age of smoke,’ it is, according to Uekoetter, the importance of compromise and cooperation achieving real environmental improvements.”
Central European History

“An ambitious work . . . uniquely expansive. The expanse [leads] directly to his interesting conclusions. After decades of writing municipal and regional histories, it is time for environmental historians to broaden their scope, and to think about the age of environmentalism in the way that Uekoetter approaches ‘The Age of Smoke.’”
Business History Review

“Ambitious, clearly written, and thoroughly documented . . . a worthy addition to any environmental historian’s bookshelf.”
Environmental History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822943648
  • Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2009
  • Series: Pittsburgh Hist Urban Environ
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Pages: 350
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Frank Uekoetter is a Dilthey Fellow with the Research Institute of the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany, where his research focuses on the history of agricultural knowledge. Formerly, he was a researcher with Bielefeld University's Department of History.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vi

Acknowledgments vii

1 The Age of Smoke 1

2 Modern Times, Modern Problems: Controlling Smoke, 1880-1914 20

3 Pollutants and Politics: Air Pollution Control between the Wars 67

4 Beyond the Pall of Smoke 113

5 Going Local, Going National: The Postwar Divergence of Environmental Policy 149

6 Forerunners and Pioneers 87

7 Environmental Revolutions and Evolutions 208

8 Conclusion: Was the Environmental Revolution Necessary? 260

List of Abbreviations 269

Notes 273

Index 341

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