What makes the Clean Air Act a paradigmatic point, and indeed a very interesting one, however, is not so much the fact that it marks a highlight in the history of environmental legislations, as often noticed by the specialized historiography, but the fact that a “natural” catastrophic event triggered the law. It was certainly the result of a long history of attempts to control chemical emission into the atmosphere and pressure of civil society, yet if the Great Fog of 1952 in London wouldn’t have happened one could doubt that the Act would have passed in the Parliament. The sharply increase in the number of deaths during the event has made clear once and for all how deeply the life of the individuals was affected by the air of the city. That was not a novelty, since nineteenth century “environmental activism” was about anything else if not to the realization that the living-working-force was becoming weaker due to the poor state of the atmosphere. But the exceptional event brought the situation to alarming levels and made apparent the fact that to govern a city and to provide that the health of its inhabitants were being protected was not just a question of controlling human actions, but government would have to deal with the unpredictability of “natural” phenomena such as the occasional variations in the weather that together with the smoky air of London had generated the deadly smog of 1952. The word smog says much about it: a mixture between fog and smoke, it is a nature-culture hybridization. The former, a climatic natural phenomena which is beyond human control, the latter the by-products of civilization. To regulate air and guarantee the right for a good atmosphere would be a question not only of making it cleaner for better health, but ensuring security against threats to life that, although affected by human activities, cannot be humanly controlled.
History seems to always repeat itself at greater scales: “The summer of 2003 in Western Europe was characterised by a serious heat wave and a substantially higher mortality rate. During this heat wave, the concentration of air pollution, in particular ozone, broke records and frequently reached levels exceeding the EU alarm levels. It has now been calculated that this ozone-related summer air pollution contributed considerably to the observed mortality rate”. That is the statement that opens another report produced by the AirNet project, a pool of scientific research institutions that is part of the European Union’s Clean Air for Europe Programme. Similarly to the event in London 1952, a link between an unpredictable natural phenomena, the chemistry of Air, and the life of the population is designed, but now scaled up to the European territory. After considering how the bad quality of Air in the continent causes serious damage to the health of Europeans, the report is illustrated by a map that shows the loss in statistical life expectancy attributed to the emission levels of particular type of pollution in the year 2000. According to the map, someone who is living in London, for example, would be expected to die eight months before someone who is living in Stockholm, who is expected to die four months before one would live if “unlimited access to clean air” was provided. Another map follows, similar to the first, now showing a future scenario which describes in comparison to the first the percentage of life that could be “saved” if pollution was brought down bellow certain guidelines. The pixelized image of the maps gives them a low resolution aspect that makes us doubt of their accuracy, specially because we might want to do so, considering that if one is in London and starts to analyse them carefully, one would realise that, according to an absurd number given by Frank Kelly, “the figures indicate that everyone in London each year is loosing 7 to 8 months of their life span” (!).
Maps showing loss in statistical life expectancy attributed to one particular pollutant (particulate matters) for emission monitored in the year 2000 and the future scenarios for the year 2020 showing possible reductions if the current climate policy is followed. (source: AirNet, Air-pollution and the Risks to Human Health, 2004 report)
There is indeed a degree of fiction in those images. In ordinary situations, individuals are exposed to multiple types of particles and gases which levels of concentration vary in relation to various factors: the places they are, indoors/outdoors concentration differences, how they move around the city, changes in temperatures, wind directions etc., therefore it becomes rather difficult to isolate and establish a direct connect between one particular chemical and its real effects upon people’s health. In exceptional cases such as the London fogs in 1952, when the event was literally visible in the air, the link is dramatically felt yet not discretely identifiable. But it becomes possible to link a sharply rise in the levels of concentrations recorded by sensitive air monitoring stations and then calculated those numbers against a pick in a curve of mortality rates extracted from the data stored in hospital hard-drives. During the Heat Wave of 2003, the weekly-based reports generated by the Office for National Statistics calculated an overall 16% “excess in numbers of deaths” across England. Inside London this number reached 42%. Those data were later on analysed against the unusual concentration levels of particulate matter and ozone monitored by the Meteorological Office for the same period. The serious variations in the climate could then be made “sensible” by the oscillations in the life of the population: “the weekly deaths reporting system provided a useful indication of the impact of the hot weather in England”.
Since a study carried out in six North American cities in the early 80s, a statistical link between numbers of morbidity-mortality and the concentration levels of certain particles and gases was “discovered” and later transcribed into a mathematical exposure-response equation that allows to quantify the changes in the chemistry of air as numbers of “years of life gain” or “years of life lost”. The relations that become visible during exceptional waves were transcribed in a model that allows analysing and preventing the potential effects of particular elements in the atmosphere by taking life as a sort of thermometer. Behind this scientific fact fabricated using the entire ecology of cities as a kind of laboratory, there is involved a whole rationality which is designed to incorporate the indeterminacy of natural events and try to measure its impacts. That sophisticated technique demands an extensive technological infrastructure of sensors and fast computer processors to model the patterns of air flows, it relies on the expertise of toxicologists to determine which gases are particularly harmful, it counts on specialists in the sciences of risk assessment to delimit certain thresholds for atmospheric concentrations, and finally, it credits to environmental consultancy companies the task of computing those effects in terms of loss and gains to the economy.
Because air pollution, as we saw, is an object which ontological status is rather problematic, being a result of the interactions between natural elements and human activities, to clean the atmosphere and return it to its “natural” state is virtually impossible, and in fact, an economical-civilizational disaster. Considering that pollution can not be completely eliminated or fully controllable, it is necessary a technique that enables it to be precisely monitored and regulated. So government will have to work not so much to guarantee “the right for unlimited access to clean air”, but rather to guarantee safety limits for its levels of “dirtiness”. It will have to be able to prevent that the negative impacts of bad air won’t exceed certain expectations, and it will have to try to reduce the risks of costly and deadly natural accidents. The AirNet maps are not the image of a real situation in the territory, but the image of a specific technology that allows to project a probability on a geographic scale by utilizing the body of the population as a very sensible device to monitor the oscillations in the atmosphere. They are indeed fictional, but a fiction that tries to anticipate the future: forecasting is a climatological science that is being incorporated into the realm of politics.
Moreover, however fictional, they show a real fact: how “life” has become a common word in the environmentally friend discourse of government. A life that is not the one of a particular individual, but the overall life of a population that can only be accessed as computer-processed information. From the beginning of the 90s, several projects on continental air quality have been part of EU government’s environmental agenda. Infrastructure and a truly scientific “task force” was stimulated to generate those types of information and to develop a specific knowledge about how to relate them.
 Often we see the history of human kind being told by the linear succession of its achievements, but its is never enough to emphasize how much it deserves to the history of accidents, of failures, of natural and technological catastrophes, and exceptional situations that forcefully foster moments of inventiveness.
 AirNet, Air-pollution and the Risks to Human Health, 2004.
 See the archived interview with Frank Kelly, (London) an environmental chamber.
 See the interview with Frank Kelly, when he explains the difference between the experiments realized in controlled chambers and the experiments realized in the city.
 Johnson H, Kovats S, McGregor G, Stedman J, Gibbs M, Walton H. The impact of the 2003 heat wave on daily mortality in England and Wales and the use of rapid weekly mortality estimates. Eurosurveillance, Volume 10, Issue 7, 01 July 2005
 The famous study is called “Harvard Six Cities Study”. See the interview with Ben Croxford, Comfort, a state of mind.
 Just to name few: LRTAP (long-range transboundary air pollution), EuroAirnet (1996-2000), Air4EU (2004-2006), Expolis (1996-2000), Atmospheres (2000-2005) and the recent CAFE Programme. For sociologist Andrew Barry, the union of Europe is more as a technological system than a political fact in the traditional means of the term. EU is technological zone as a space of governance, for which Air is just a medium of integration. See the interview with A. Barry in this volume.