From December 5, 2012, ClearWorld Media is going to recreate the Great Smog of London via Twitter using over 400 prepared tweets. We’ll start tweeting at 7am GMT and will finish sometime during the evening of December 9th. We’re not the first to recreate historical events on the platform but we’re likely the first to do the London Great Smog.
Why the London Great Smog?
A few reasons. This was one of the first really deadly human-created urban pollution events in the world. A combination of a temperature inversion, unseasonably cold weather, crowded living conditions and the poor quality of coal all helped to contribute to this five day ‘perfect storm’ of deadly air.
Most amazing is that Londoners did not comprehend how deadly the air was during these five days until after the event. It was estimated after the event that 3-4000 people had died. Later estimates have put the total number of deceased closer to 12,000 people with over 100,000 people suffering other smog-related ailments.
We thought - “Would it have been different if Londoners were live tweeting the pollution?”. Would people have made the connections between florists running out of flowers and the dreadful air? London surely would have taken steps to protect those who were most vulnerable to the pollution - the sick, the elderly, children - had they realized what was happening. Could the number of deaths have been limited with the social sharing of information?
From our base in Beijing, China, we have also experienced our fair share of poor air quality and have often times thought how this is affecting the general population. There are already government objections to how pollution is reported in the capital. This is not just something which is happening in Beijing. It’s happening in many cities in China and the rest of the region. As economies develop, many people believe that poor air pollution is the price to pay for this development. This was widely thought to be true in London in 1952. But in 1952 the world did not have a plethora of renewable energy options. Today these options do exist yet because of the cheap cost of coal and oil, many developing nations are relying on these sources to fuel their development. By raising awareness of what happened in London in 1952, we hope to make more people aware of the dangers of air pollution.
How are you gathering information for the tweets?
We have not commissioned any great or new study into this event. We’ve read a lot of readily available information that we found via desk research. We’ve listed sources at the bottom of this post in an effort to provide credit to the organizations that originally produced this information. The sources for most of the pictures that are being used can be found on a Pinterest page we created (pinterest.com/historyretweet/greatsmog).
We are reaching out to people and to organizations that may have an interest in the event and asking them to share what they may have about those events in December, 1952. We are also hoping that our tweets get shared and commented on so that we can reach a larger audience. We truly hope that our tweets reach people who may have parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends who actually lived through these events. If they add their comments and recollections using the hashtag #greatsmog, we’ll readily share this information with our audience.
Many of the institutions that played a prominent role in 1952 still exist today - Transport of London, ambulance and police services, hospitals and the media. Surprisingly absent from the historical records are comments from local and national governments. We’ll involve them in our live account and hopefully they can make amends for their silence in 1952. We will also use today’s Twitter handles for the other institutions involved. If the period of December 5-9, 2012 happens to be foggy, we apologize in advance if our live tweeting causes any present day confusion (we don’t expect a War of the Worlds repeat).
Whose voice are you tweeting in?
We are tweeting using the voice of just a person in London. We’ve found some first hand accounts of what went on from different sources and have tried to put them together under one identity. We’ve also taken some information that we know to be true now and tried to include it in those tweets from yesteryear.
We will tweet from the Climate Action Twitter account @climateactio2n because we have a very dedicated following of low carbon enthusiasts who we think will enjoy this historical recreation. We’ll change the organization’s name to Great Smog during this five day period and will be using the hashtag #greatsmog on most of our tweets.
How are you doing the dates?
We will start on December 5th which is the day the smog started. That was a Friday in 1952 but in 2012 it is a Wednesday. One of the noticeable issues in 1952 was that most of the weekend’s sporting activities were cancelled which further impacted the lives of the people of London. Sadly, we’ll lose some of the impact of the weekend hit. 2012 marks the 60th anniversary of this event.
Is your tweeting historically accurate?
We have tried to be as accurate as possible but we have also taken liberties with the voice of our twerp so that some of that person’s thoughts are also shared with the audience. We have also taken some first person anecdotes and assigned them to our twerp either as original tweets or reflected as retweets where possible. We’ve made up tweets where we think we should make them up but just about everything else is based on historical records.
Are you using a tool to manage these tweets?
We use many social media tools in our daily activities, but for this event we can say that there is no better tool than Conversocial. They offer a fantastic tool to schedule tweets in advance and they have made their tool available to ClearWorld Media and Climate Action for more than one year. For this we are very thankful.
What happens after your last day of tweeting the Great Smog?
We’ll return to our regular Climate Action tweets and start the process of analyzing how effective our #greatsmog tweets have been. We will share results on this page.
Who is ClearWorld Media?
We are a small team, based in Beijing, China. We are part of the ClearWorld Energy group and have been involved in clean and green tech for some time. Over the past two years we have focused on creating a low carbon community on social media via two main channels - Climate Action and Upcycling. Climate Action sells carbon offsets to companies in this part of the world and ClearWorld Media works with sustainable organizations to help them with their social media efforts. We have also developed an iOS application called “PicPic”.
We gathered much information from the following sources and are adding new ones as December 5th approaches. Please tweet us at @mediacw if there are other sources which you think should be considered.
Mayor of London Report
Nickel in the Machine
Great Smog Documentary
BBC On This Day
Medical Account BMJ
Edinburgh University Report
Kevin Branum School Paper