“Environmental History,
St Louis and Beyond – 2018”


The Regional Environmental History Speaker Series
Sponsored by the St Louis Regional Historical Societies with assistance from the Missouri History Society

Speaker series dates; April 17 – May 24, 2018

St Louis in 1939 shrouded in coal smoke pollution, and then a few years later after a clean up.
St Louis in 1939 shrouded in coal smoke pollution, and then a few years later after a clean up.

Photos above: Civil Courts building in St Louis shrouded in coal smoke, November 28, 1939, Black Tuesday, and then with clear skies.
See the complete 2018 speaker series with dates, times and venues: schedule full size
Photos of the Civil Courts building in St Louis are courtesy of Missouri History Museum, St Louis.

About the speaker series

The St. Louis Regional Historical Societies offers this spring a speaker series titled, “Environmental History, St. Louis and Beyond.” The speaker series is not only for those who are interested in local St. Louis history, but also those who have an interest in the environment, conservation, science, politics, government, recreation, the outdoors, or gardening among others.

Several of the topics presented in the series relate directly to St. Louis area history including a discussion of man-made change… read further

What is your OQ?

That is not the DQ or your IQ, but your OQ. What is your your Optimism Quotient on the environment?

Do you feel pessimistic about environmental problems? Do environmental problems seem unsolvable? Are the choices that we have for solving environmental problems, choices between the bad and the worse? Do you see the choice to have a better environment means having fewer jobs and slower economic growth? The story and photos below of the  great St Louis coal smoke cleanup of the 1940’s may be on the more optimistic side.

A study in contrasts

The contrasting photos below are an example of an environmental cleanup here in St. Louis. For many decades, St. Louis suffered with heavy coal smoke air pollution. The photo on the left shows St. Louis on Black Tuesday, November 28, 1939, when the smoke was so heavy that lights were turned on during the daytime so that people could see and traffic could move. The photo on the right shows St. Louis with clear skies. The cleanup was achieved in well under 10 years. Whether you remember this story well, or vaguely recall it, or if it is totally new to you, you must surely admit that it is a dramatic cleanup to a severe problem.

Benefits versus costs

Were there benefits to this cleanup? Yes, anybody who could see or who could breathe benefited. Were there costs? Yes, and some paid more than others, but basically the costs were paid and the benefits were received.

This story illustrates the solution to an environmental problem that was considered unacceptable by November 28, 1939. At that point, the determination to resolve the problem overcame the hesitation of many years.

St Louis in 1939 shrouded in coal smoke pollution, and then a few years later after a clean up.
St Louis in 1939 shrouded in coal smoke pollution, and then a few years later after a clean up.

A good story and its relevance to us today

The St. Louis coal smoke story shows how a problem was solved in the past. That is all good and well, but we don’t rely on coal for heating anymore and new forms of air pollution are now causing us problems. Some of the topics in this speaker series are continuing problems for us today and the solutions are still to be found.

Understanding how the problems started and how they have evolved overtime may help us in understanding better where solutions might be found. Understanding about past stories of environmental cleanup may give us road maps to how present environmental problems could be solved. Perhaps that is the definition of environmental history, better understanding the past to inform our thoughts about the present and the future.

The invitation

Please come see the presentations in this speaker series. Bring your opinions and your questions and take the chance to interact with the presenters. See if their historical perspectives might help you in your understanding of the problems we all face.