ARMING MOTHER NATURE by Jacob Darwin Hamblin


The Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism
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Hamblin (History/Oregon State Univ.; Poison in the Well: Radioactive Waste in the Oceans at the Dawn of the Nuclear Age, 2009, etc.) explores how ideas about human intervention altering the environment have changed over time.

Current preoccupations with fossil-fuel emissions, carbon release and global warming are quite recent. Within the last 50-60 years, scientists and military planners have been working to master large-scale environmental effects, like changing the heat balance between the sun and the Earth or modifying the just-discovered Van Allen radiation belts. “Numerous ideas for creating catastrophic events through natural processes were presented, especially using hydrogen bombs as triggers,” writes the author. Proponents of such military interventions, like theoretical physicist Edward Teller, downplayed dangers to the global ecosystem, on the grounds that the energies deployed by humans were not large enough in scale to effect balances in the long run. Others, like Nobel Laureate Frederick Soddy, worried that decaying radioactive elements from H-bomb tests would ionize the atmosphere and affect global weather. Hamblin shows how successive U.S. presidents have expressed concerns about lack of knowledge and have sponsored treaties, as Richard Nixon did, regarding the banning of environmental modifications. John F. Kennedy, writes the author, “was diplomatically astute enough to see that the rest of the world did not see the earth as America's scientific playground.” Following the careers of scientists and their associations enables the author to document how the collaboration between scientists and the military continued to shape environmental thoughts and environmental sciences after the Cold War, even while the effects of nuclear weaponry were pushed aside.

A well-written and -documented challenge of some of the assumptions on both sides in the debate about global warming.

Pub Date: May 7th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-19-974005-5
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2013


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