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

ARMING MOTHER NATURE

THE BIRTH OF CATASTROPHIC ENVIRONMENTALISM

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 7, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-19-974005-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2013

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!

SILENT SPRING

It should come as no surprise that the gifted author of The Sea Around Us and its successors can take another branch of science—that phase of biology indicated by the term ecology—and bring it so sharply into focus that any intelligent layman can understand what she is talking about.

Understand, yes, and shudder, for she has drawn a living portrait of what is happening to this balance nature has decreed in the science of life—and what man is doing (and has done) to destroy it and create a science of death. Death to our birds, to fish, to wild creatures of the woods—and, to a degree as yet undetermined, to man himself. World War II hastened the program by releasing lethal chemicals for destruction of insects that threatened man’s health and comfort, vegetation that needed quick disposal. The war against insects had been under way before, but the methods were relatively harmless to other than the insects under attack; the products non-chemical, sometimes even introduction of other insects, enemies of the ones under attack. But with chemicals—increasingly stronger, more potent, more varied, more dangerous—new chain reactions have set in. And ironically, the insects are winning the war, setting up immunities, and re-emerging, their natural enemies destroyed. The peril does not stop here. Waters, even to the underground water tables, are contaminated; soils are poisoned. The birds consume the poisons in their insect and earthworm diet; the cattle, in their fodder; the fish, in the waters and the food those waters provide. And humans? They drink the milk, eat the vegetables, the fish, the poultry. There is enough evidence to point to the far-reaching effects; but this is only the beginning,—in cancer, in liver disorders, in radiation perils…This is the horrifying story. It needed to be told—and by a scientist with a rare gift of communication and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Already the articles taken from the book for publication in The New Yorker are being widely discussed. Book-of-the-Month distribution in October will spread the message yet more widely.

The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!  

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 1962

ISBN: 061825305X

Page Count: 378

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1962

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