Remembering Ron Rainger, 1949-2016

At our graduate student conference in May 2016, I broke the rules of etiquette by checking my email on my phone, and instantly regretted it. It was news of Ron Rainger’s passing. Knowing that his illness had gotten worse, and that he did not have long to live, I expected the news. But it was still painful to…

Does Crisis in Ukraine Shatter the Nuclear Order?

Ukraine’s inability to stop Russia from seizing Crimea may sound the death knell for the global nuclear order. For years I have written about the environmental dimensions of nuclear power and nuclear weapons programs, and more recently I have been exploring the connection between environmental crisis rhetoric and the proliferation of nuclear communities all over…

Don’t Ever Whisper: The Marshall Islands Story

I was delighted to have Giff Johnson come to my class yesterday.  It was bizarrely good timing.  A fellow professor contacted me to ask if there was anything I was teaching that might be relevant to the radioactive fallout that afflicted the Marshall Islanders beginning in the 1950s.  It turned out that Giff Johnson, husband…

Mark Finlay, 1960-2013

Today I learned through the scholarly grapevine, specifically from my colleague Audra Wolfe, that historian Mark Finlay was killed last week in a car accident.  My heart goes out to his family.  Details can be found here and here. I’m sure Mark was missed this weekend in Portland, Maine, at the annual meeting of the Society…

Putting the Earth on a Ration Card

Is there such a thing as “world heritage” when it comes to food?  We are outraged when an intolerant regime destroys artifacts, buildings, or other objects of cultural significance in their own countries, and we take steps to encourage them to realize their global importance.  After all, these are the common heritage of humankind.  But…

Environmental Legacy of the Limited Test Ban Treaty

We know that the treaty signed fifty years ago was an important arms control document.  Was it an environmental document too? On the face of it, the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963 seems like two giant leaps forward, for world peace and for diminishing the contamination of the earth.  But the closer we look…

The strange military origins of environmentalism

The words “environmentalism” and “military” are not typically found in the same sentence. Yet ideas about our vulnerability to environmental change are directly linked to military plans for a third world war. Scientists planned to fight an unconventional war using the potential threats of the natural environment, calling it “environmental warfare”. Envisioning major threats to…

Who Would Do Such a Thing?

As American politicians discuss “red lines” about Middle East governments using weapons of mass destruction, it is easy to forget that Western nations like the US and UK initially pioneered in the development and use of them.  I wrote a brief essay called “Beyond Narcissism and Evil,” for Oxford University Press’s blog, discussing our tendency…

How the Cold War Created Environmental Science

Who knew live interviews could be fun? I had a fantastic time today in Portland talking with David Miller, the host of the radio program Think Out Loud.  It was a live interview recorded at the studio of Oregon Public Broadcasting.  It was great to have a real, in-person conversation rather than a phone call,…

Why We’ll Never Understand Fukushima’s Impact

Same report, different headlines. The World Health Organization’s first major assessment of the impacts of the Fukushima nuclear disaster is unlikely to resolve anyone’s concerns.  That’s because media coverage will happily reinforce whatever you expected to learn.  Like all radiation reports since the first ones were created in the mid-1950s, the details are immensely vulnerable…

The Grim Logic of Biological Weapons

Biological weapons are not weapons of mass destruction.  They are weapons of widespread death. The recent bombing of a Syrian research facility by Israel has brought into our view once again the future of the Middle East as a place of continuing political, religious and ethnic conflict, and a place where the worst manifestations of…

Can’t Historians Predict the Future?

Nostradamus could have been a policy wonk. My favorite not-so-witty quip during my public talks is “historians are always asked to predict the future.”  It usually gets a chuckle.  I say it as a cop-out when someone asks me about anything controversial: the future of nuclear power, the future face of warfare, or whether Iran…

Will 2013 be the Year of Environmental Security?

Happy new year, folks.  The Mayans were wrong, and I hope you haven’t cashed in the retirement fund.  We’re still here.  And yet the rhetoric of doom is alive and well, as the lead up to the entirely-avoidable “fiscal cliff” in the United States testifies.  It seems like we always enjoy flirting with disaster.  And…

Buying the Mirage: Are We All Implicated in Newtown?

I find myself trying to explain American gun culture a lot when I am with historians from other countries.  These days, with Twitter, Facebook, and this blog, I don’t have to travel at all to interact with colleagues from abroad.  They are often appalled that we have lenient gun laws, and – as when I…

It’s Relativity Time!

It’s that time of year again.  The week when I attempt to explain Einstein’s special theory of relativity.  It’s one of those days when, if I don’t get the correct proportion of caffeine into my system, the synapses fail and I find myself staring into my own powerpoint presentation and speaking in tongues.  If you’ve…

Our Friend the Atom Goes to Mexico

As Arming Mother Nature goes to press, I’m deeply involved in my next project.  This one’s on the promotion of nuclear technology in the developing world.  The tentative title is Nuclear Outposts.  I will soon be in Mexico City presenting at a colloquium at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) with a few other scholars working…

The Last Republican Tree-Hugger

Although it was covered in the New York Times, the passing of Russell Train last Monday (Sep 17, 2012) went without much notice in the media. It’s easy to imagine why: the man has no natural allies in the present political landscape.  For Republicans, he was just another nutty environmentalist who believed that regulations and…

Shooting Sprees, Ender’s Game, and the U.S. Military

I’m not sure if it is fascinating or horrifying—perhaps both—to discover that life is like a video game.  At least since the Columbine shootings, the Virginia Tech shootings, and certainly into the more recent Aurora shooting, pundits have lamented the fact that young men are inspired by video games to enact cruelty on a shocking…

Are Real-Time Strategy Games ‘Environmental’?

“Nice Guys End Up With Madagascar.” This was the phrase on the back of the box for one of the most addictive strategy games of the late 1980s, Lords of Conquest, by Electronic Arts.  I played this as a teenager and, looking back from this era of virtual-world games, I’m a little surprised at how…

Wikileaks and Information Control

As a historian of science and technology, I am fascinated by Wikileaks.  But I’m also guilty of benefiting from it as a scholar, because I’ve used the cables for research in my work, much in the same way that I’ve used the Pentagon Papers for research.  As a scholar, it’s impossible to resist punching keywords…

Arms of Precision and Weapons of Mass Destruction

I am currently researching the spread of nuclear technology in the developing world, which means I have to confront the politics of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  Although I support the NPT, as a historian it is hard to analyze it without some kind of nod to the “haves” and “have nots” aspect of it.  As…

Nuclear Proliferation Begins with Peace

I’m at the end of my second full day in the United Kingdom’s National Archives, and I fell asleep three times at my research desk… still suffering a bit from the jet lag.  But it is not (I swear!) from lack of interest in the files I am reading.  It’s true that I get a…

Let's Get Realpolitik about the Global Environment

As we head into the London summer Olympics of 2012, we can pause to reflect upon  what happened four years ago in Beijing, as one of the world’s largest-scale polluters cleaned up its capital for the moment when all eyes were upon it.  It seems like we will see countless flashbacks of that memorable opening…

Finding Perspective on Nuclear Concerns

This was the cover story in my local paper, part of the flurry of media attention about my work after the Fukushima disaster.  I had very mixed emotions about gaining such local notoriety (something any scholar enjoys, especially when kids see their dad on the front page of the paper!), when the real hardship and…

Impact of Radiation on Ocean Water may be Seen in Long Term

Recently I was interviewed by a reporter for the China-focused newspaper The Epoch Times to discuss the Fukushima incident.  Here is the article, with a link to the whole thing (free to read): — Since the first explosion occurred at the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on March 12, steam and smoke carrying radioactive…

What will our Energy Legacy Be?

I recently wrote an opinion piece for The Oregonian, in response to the nuclear crisis in Fukushima, Japan.  Here is the start of it (with a link to the rest of it, which you can read for free).  Comments appreciated! The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan is a potent reminder of how vulnerable…