Science, geopolitics, and the global Cold War

Are you interested in the history of US nuclear testing in the Pacific? How about the Antarctic territorial dispute that once escalated into gunfire? The secret story of uranium prospecting in North Africa during the 1950s? Or the Cold War origins of the Global Environmental Monitoring Project? This coming Friday — July 26 — I’ll be part of the symposium Planet Earth, the Environment, and the Cold War, at the International Congress of History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Manchester. These and many other topics will be covered in what promises to be a fascinating day. Here’s a link to the program.

My partner in organizing the symposium, Simone Turchetti, is principal investigator for the European Research Council project The Earth Under Surveillance: Climate Change, Geophysics, and the Cold War Legacy. Over the past few years Simone and the team have looked at how the geosciences developed in Europe and beyond, as aids to statecraft (through surveillance or intelligence-gathering) but also as forums for regional and eventually global cooperation. Studying the earth and its systems, the basis of the modern environmental sciences, could also be a means of shoring up strategic resource supplies and even detecting enemy military capability. The symposium will showcase some of the work we’ve done in the past few years while bringing in scholars with expertise from Eastern Europe, the Pacific, and yes — even the Antarctic.

We’re fortunate to have Jake Hamblin as commentator for the symposium. (If you haven’t got a copy of his excellent new book Arming Mother Nature: The Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism you can rectify that here.) Along with John Krige, Ron Doel, and many others, Jake has done pioneering work on the political dimensions of United States military support for science after 1945, including on the international stage. You might also have seen his recent op-ed in the New York Times.

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