||[Jul. 14th, 2008 | 08:21 pm]
A fascinating article ala kindelingboy|
For generations, the people of Britain heated their homes and fueled their stoves with coal gas. While plentiful and cheap, coal-derived gas could also be deadly; in its unburned form, it released very high levels of carbon monoxide, and an open valve or a leak in a closed space could induce asphyxiation in a matter of minutes. This extreme toxicity also made it a preferred method of suicide. “Sticking one’s head in the oven” became so common in Britain that by the late 1950s it accounted for some 2,500 suicides a year, almost half the nation’s total.
Those numbers began dropping over the next decade as the British government embarked on a program to phase out coal gas in favor of the much cleaner natural gas. By the early 1970s, the amount of carbon monoxide running through domestic gas lines had been reduced to nearly zero. During those same years, Britain’s national suicide rate dropped by nearly a third, and it has remained close to that reduced level ever since.
I find the empirical study of suicide rather enthralling. I think I've posted about Durkheim's Suicide before; he attempts to sociologically quantify suicide in European nations by establishing a methodology that took such a private, intimate act not at the level of the individual, but on a social scope. It's a seriously interesting historical read -- with delightful century-old translation from French. -- Then again, I'm biased, because my old college Sociology professor was enamoured with Durkheim (because Durkheim's theory supports the idea that prostitution serves a functional utility in society? Maybe!). I was going to post more on this but I'm instead going to go to sleep (sometime in the next five hours)