Author John Green once said, “We can never know better until knowing better is useless.” What he meant by this is that humans are incredibly short-sighted in what consequences their actions may have. Humans can accomplish a great deal in short periods of time, sometimes without realizing the change is happening. Although changes to the environment are expected as nations grow and societies evolve, more often than not these changes prove detrimental to our quality of life in the long run. Humans have shaped their environment over time for the worse through insufficient water sanitation, rapid industrialization, and air pollution.
England, being an island nation, has always heavily relied upon its access to the ocean for subsistence fishing, international trade, and naval activity. However, many of England’s most important centers of culture and trade, such as the cities of London and Oxford, are landlocked, and thus had to develop a reliance upon the Thames River. As the British Empire expanded across the globe, the level of activity and traffic on the Thames also increased. An unfortunate byproduct, then, was the subsequent pollution left behind by this high level of human activity in the 19th century. This climax of pollution was brought about by local residents, slaughter houses, and factories alike being legally allowed to dump raw sewage and human waste into the river for seven years, in a period now known as The Great Stink. In 1855, Doctor Michael Faraday published a letter to British newspaper The Times detailing the current unacceptable state of the river.
“The whole of the river was an opaque pale brown fluid...The smell was very bad, and common to the whole of the water; it was the same as that which now comes up from the gully-holes in the streets; the whole river was for the time a real sewer” (Faraday).
Faraday argued that the level of sewage and lack of proper water sanitation was unsafe to all those in contact with the polluted Thames River and would be irresponsible to continue to let fester. His grim prediction hit home with the government to take action, as four serious cholera outbreaks occurred between 1832-1865. The death toll reached the tens of thousands, including the death of Prince Albert. The overflowing sewage had contaminated the water supply and tributaries, turning them into a breeding ground for various bacteria lethal to both the surrounding wildlife and and any human who drank from or bathed in the general water supply. The British government passed a sanction in 1959, calling for the immediate construction of a new plan for water sanitation. This plan lead to the construction of a new London sewer system, and reservoirs and pumping stations along the entirety of the river as a means of better filtration and sewage treatment. Although these measures ended the cholera epidemic and gave way to a new level of modern infrastructure in England, the damage had been done. Hundreds of thousands of innocent lives...