John Major: “Society needs to condemn a little more and understand a little less.”
We all know where deregulation and a lack of cooperation take us. It allows us to put carbon into the air and gives our planet multiple sclerosis. That’s a deadly miasma which will be terminal for most of us. Coming to you soon.
Britain 1858 is the uncontested superpower power in the world. Russia with its Emperor, large land mass and serfs remains a feudal society, but is still a superpower in the Great Game as the Crimean War shows. German city states are still to be reunited under Bismarck’s tutelage, but it has no empire. France is a rival, but Britain with its financial muscle, really does rule the waves. Queen Victoria is on the throne. India is the jewel in the crown, an indentured nation, whose goods and services they exported home to Britain.
Britain is also the workshop of the world. London’s population has risen from around one million to three million in 1858. The most populous city in the world. Britain is a prosperous nation. But the average life expectancy was nineteen in areas like Soho and the Bowery in London. In other words, some people were prosperous, or gilded, as Mark Twain labelled them, but as Charles Dickens showed the great unwashed died in vast numbers.
Part of the reason was sewerage. For example, the mortality rate for children under five in Iraq before and after recent twenty-century wars wasn’t even fifty-fifty because of a lack of chlorine treatment and fresh drinking water. Throw in dead dogs, the run-off from factories and tanneries that dumped their waste into the tributaries of the Thames, add human sewerage and stir. Drink it down. Whisper it, poor people, didn’t have access to tap water. Only the middle-classes had that. It too was contaminated. We should all drink more water is advice from the Nanny state. Try drinking shit, literally.
Cholera and typhoid. Unnatural born killers.
The summer of 1858 broke all records (until now). Sunshine for three months. Population density increases. Water density decreases. Shit storm.
Many of us have had shitty jobs. One of the worst jobs, even in Nazi concentration camps, was cleaning out the human cesspit. Initially, this job was done by the poorest workers. The night-soil men would empty the cesspits of the London population outside their homes. They would put the filth it into a cart and sell their product to farmers. (A good source of nitrogen).
But with a swelling population, pish and shit were dumped directly into stanks that ran into the River Thames. The intense heat and lack of natural rain water meant underground London watercourses became filled with sewerage and methane gas. It poisoned drinking water (as millions of tons of cow shit and toxic farmland sludge does today, especially in deregulated American farmlands). We can’t imagine the stink as the Thames dried up and had a lid of sewerage on top cooking in the sun. The best the programme could do was some corny acting in Victorian garb and hankies held to the nose, and an enclosed polytunnel with a shitty swamp inside. Shit no longer flowed but took a cyclical journey, backed up into the rivers feeding it. Even Queen Victoria was affected.
The newly built Houses of Parliament overlooked the Thames. Something had to be done. It meant raising taxes. It meant investing in public works. All the things the Tories hate. But they didn’t then. It meant cleaner air. Benjamin Disraeli was on the right track. Rich people’s lives were in danger. I’m sure there’s a lesson there for us poorer folk. The great stink of 2023 is when and how we leave global warming untreated. Treat those that campaign against fossil fuels as terrorists, with more deadly results than all wars combined. But this is not a costume drama. The average age of life expectancy is soon to be zero for us all as a third of nuclear-armed Pakistan’s land mass is covered in sewerage and India tries to steal its shared rivers and streams.