This story was originally published by The Atlantic and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
The first time John Ruskin noticed the gray clouds of the “plague-wind” was in 1871, decades into the industrial era. Walking home from work at the University of Oxford one spring day, the renowned English art critic looked skyward, to the “dry black veil which no ray of sunshine” could penetrate, and then back to earth, where the leaves of trees shook “not violently, but enough to show the passing to and fro of a strange, bitter, blighting wind.” Only the wind proved not to be so strange. In the months that followed, he repeatedly witnessed the same weather pattern.
That July, the 52-year-old Ruskin committed his observations to writing. Never in a lifetime of monitoring nature’s movements had he seen such springs and summers. The origins of this mysterious meteorological change demanded scientific investigation, he argued. Where did the plague-wind come from? Was it caused by the smoky belch of heavy industry, or another source? With rigorous scientific experimentation, could the wind be made to consist of something else?
The scientific men... Read more