Arming Mother Nature

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Winner, 2014 Paul Birdsall Prize for best book in military or strategic history, American Historical Association

Winner, 2016 Watson Davis and Helen Miles Davis Prize for best book for general readers, History of Science Society

Read my op-Ed in the New York Times, drawn from this book’s research.

Read an excerpt in Salon

Praise for Arming Mother Nature: The Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism (Oxford University Press, 2013).

“Literary lovechild of Richard Rhodes’ Making of the Atomic Bomb and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.”

Slate

“Reading Arming Mother Nature… is like stepping into the most terrifying nightmares of Dr. Strangelove.”

–Paolo Mastrolilli in La Stampa

“In Arming Mother Nature, Jacob Hamblin offers a far-reaching and provocative account of just how dependent narratives of global climate change are upon the military support, apocalyptic scenarios, and political ideology that shaped the growth of the modern environmental sciences during the Cold War.”

–Gregg Mitman in Science

“The original doom-mongers were not sounding the alarm; they were riding into battle.”

Fred Pearce in The New Scientist

“Hamblin’s analysis of Cold War-era archives in both Europe and the US is even-handed and extensive, and ultimately chilling.”

Jan McGirk in China Dialogue 

We should look to the past when responding to anthropogenic climate change… Jacob Darwin Hamblin goes further in Arming Mother Nature, arguing that Soviet and US plans to unleash environmental disasters on each other’s blocs have contributed to today’s lack of political will over climate change.”

Cyrus C. M. Mody in Nature

“Jacob Hamblin’s new book is a clearly and calmly told tale of the American effort to conscript nature -from the seafloor to the stratosphere -for potential active duty during the Cold War. Well researched in U.S. and European archives, it finds the roots of modern apocalyptic environmentalism in the hair-raising deeds and often hare-brained schemes of an American scientific-military complex under pressure to find ways to prevail against the USSR. It sheds new light on the old adage that it is a miracle anyone survived the Cold War.”

–J.R. McNeill, Georgetown University

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

Kirkus Reviews

“[Hamblin’s] dark review of recent history offers an unsettling theory of how close we have already come to total destruction.”

Publishers Weekly

Description

When most Americans think of environmentalism, they think of the political left, of vegans dressed in organic-hemp fabric, lofting protest signs. In reality, writes Jacob Darwin Hamblin, the movement–and its dire predictions–owe more to the Pentagon than the counterculture.

In Arming Mother Nature, Hamblin argues that military planning for World War III essentially created “catastrophic environmentalism”: the idea that human activity might cause global natural disasters. This awareness, Hamblin shows, emerged out of dark ambitions, as governments poured funds into environmental science after World War II, searching for ways to harness natural processes–to kill millions of people. Proposals included the use of nuclear weapons to create artificial tsunamis or melt the ice caps to drown coastal cities; setting fire to vast expanses of vegetation; and changing local climates. Oxford botanists advised British generals on how to destroy enemy crops during the war in Malaya; American scientists attempted to alter the weather in Vietnam. This work raised questions that went beyond the goal of weaponizing nature. By the 1980s, the C.I.A. was studying the likely effects of global warming on Soviet harvests. “Perhaps one of the surprises of this book is not how little was known about environmental change, but rather how much,” Hamblin writes. Driven initially by strategic imperatives, Cold War scientists learned to think globally and to grasp humanity’s power to alter the environment. “We know how we can modify the ionosphere,” nuclear physicist Edward Teller proudly stated. “We have already done it.”

Teller never repented. But many of the same individuals and institutions that helped the Pentagon later warned of global warming and other potential disasters. Brilliantly argued and deeply researched, Arming Mother Nature changes our understanding of the history of the Cold War and the birth of modern environmental science.