Learning from History, London's 1952 the Great Smog.

Londres bajo la niebla. Creador: Oli Scarff | Imagen propiedad de: Getty Images
Londres under the fog. Creator: Oli Scarff | Image Property: Getty Images

During my school years I always had issues in remembering dates and important events, mostly because I didn't found it useful to remember them. I don't know if you've been there, but I don't care when Issac Newton was born. Or in my country Benito Juarez, I only knew because it is a Holliday.

And almost all History classes in primary, secondary and high school go the same way. You are ask to remember names, events, triggers, consequences and places. But, that doesn't have a thing to do with me! Or my community!.

Then I remember a quote that says: "Those who don't understand their past are condemned to re live it". But, what sense it has to know the future if you don't know the decisions that created it?

Because almost everything that happend are biased by the storytellers, as history is being written by the winners, so, the, if it only brings one perspective, then what sense does it have?

"Those who don't understand their past are condemned to re live it"

In the beginning of 2021, my wife brought to my attention a tv show from Netflix, The Crown, and we set our selfs to devour it. Since the beginning it relates the ficcional events of Britain since the 1940's. And like a textbook it brings to the table Dates, Names, Actions and Reactions, but, as being a multimedia, it also brings feelings, making it easier to empathize or react and understand to what could be happening. This turns the show into a full mental model.

As it is a mental Model, chapter 4 from season 1 called "Act of god" inspired me an idea, how can we learn the consequences of the decisions made?, and how can we use them to learn a bit about history?

Now, before I go further, as you not have my whole perspective, as you dont fully know me. Ahora, me estoy adelantando un poco, ya que no necesariamente tienes toda mi perspectiva, aun no me conoces completamente. I stared to imagine that situation in a virtual world, a simulation, where we could see if what we think are better decisions really are.

And with that I gave rise to two months of torment. First, because during the days of the great smog there was a serial killer who stole the attention of the newspapers. Second, because I have never been to London and I have not been interested in their history (as I have already mentioned I do not find value in it). And third, because 70 years ago there were no computers, no databases, or social networks, so the information was very limited.

During those 8 weeks I gave myself the task of creating a simulator using System Dynamics, I sought to incorporate most of the components that I saw in that mental model that the series supposes and add things that we already know today that were unknown at that time. I know that so far what I say might not make much sense, let me describe it a little more.

The great haze was an event that lasted 5 days. When a cold front entered, everyone in London lit their chimneys, until there everything was normal, only that a thermal shock occurred, which caused a phenomenon called Anti Cyclone, or thermal inversion. This is when a high pressure system is positioned above the earth's surface rather than in the air. It is practically putting a lid on the surface, in this case, putting a lid on all of London, so there was no wind for 5 days, and it was full of mist. But, do you remember the Coal and the families lighting their fireplaces to mitigate the cold?

Imagine that for 5 days all the smog you generate goes nowhere. The reality is that smog is not absorbed, but dissipates, it has to go somewhere, but if you cover the city with an invisible lid, then you simply start to accumulate it, it becomes visible.

A full day into the anti-cyclone, the airports and trains closed. By day 2 the healthcare system had collapsed, there were 150,000 Londoners requiring medical attention, and public transport was in chaos. Within 3 days there was no more gauze to make face masks, and some of the necessary medical supplies had also been exhausted. By the end of the event on December 9, 1952, 4,000 people had died, and 6 months later, deaths from respiratory problems caused by this event were still being recorded, the final count was 12,000.

In the show (The Crown, Chapter 4, episode 1) they show a government thinking only of economic interests, a phrase they mention is "the smoke makes people believe that we have progress" so they were not going to close the factories. It is a government far from his people, until an event makes them close to them, but that is not important now. It also shows the British Crown as inoperative and dependent on its prime minister, of course it is understandable, after all it was only the second time that an event like this occurred that was recorded, all they could do was wait. Or not?

In the end, an exhaustive investigation was conducted suggesting that the problem was caused by having sold the high-quality coal in the post-war period to pay off his war debts. The remaining coal was of low quality, which had a high sulfur content, and being of lower density required burning more coal to generate the same amount of heat. This in turn produced more smog, creating a causal cycle. If you add to this that the smoke had nowhere to go, it caused the largest gas chamber in the world.

Do you remember that I told you that I did not like history during my years of study. Well imagine that you take that energy and an event like that and transform it into a tool to understand the intended and unintended consequences of your decision making!

With the magic of Technology, I leave this simulator in your hands, it is a small but powerful artifact that will allow you to make decisions and allow you to realize if what you think may be a better policy than those taken by Sir Winston Churchill almost 70 years ago . This form of simulation has applications to the environment, to business, and to practically anything that develops over time.

Follow me, I will continue to tell you how I have found the stories I want to tell and how I have learned from my past with my sight into the future.

Share it with someone else and leave your comments, doubts and scenarios that do not appear in the simulator, I will gladly see how to make them come true.


PS. Before you go, since 1952, this event has happened other times, although the killer was not the coal, at other times it was the smog of the cars. This simulator explained in a very simple way says the following: there is something that causes a disease, and a second element that magnifies it, you unite them and you have a catastrophic event. I think it is similar to what we live with COVID-19 and potentially there could be other cases in which prioritizing the economy, conditions human life.

PS2. This simulator will be presented tomorrow at the International System Dynamics Conference 2021, I will leave you a small video with the explanation with the material that will be exhibited there.