Love Canal Across the Centuries

  In the 1970s, residents of a Niagara Falls neighborhood realized that chemicals from a toxic waste dump had leached into their homes, parks, and neighborhood school. Their cancers, miscarriages, and myriad chronic ailments told the tale, and in 1978 they organized, filed lawsuits, and demanded intervention. The federal government eventually complied, evacuating the residents…

Sustainable Development: the Painful Birth of an Idea

  U.S. President George H. W. Bush captured the malleable meaning of sustainable development when he announced at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro that “to sustain development, we must protect the environment. And to protect the environment, we must sustain development” (261). Sustainable development might call to mind a managerial ethos similar…

Scientists who Collaborate with the Military

  A memorable scene in the 1983 film The Dead Zone provides an ethical justification for actions that harm innocent people. The protagonist presents his friend and psychiatrist with a well-worn hypothetical query: If he could travel back in time to pre-Nazi Germany, would he kill the young Hitler? His friend responds cannily, “I’m a…

Hidden Consequences of Banning DDT

  The sacred success story in environmental literature is that of Rachel Carson, who awakened America to the dangers of indiscriminate pesticide use, and led the charge to ban the sale of DDT and other chlorinated hydrocarbons in the United States. In her best-selling 1962 book Silent Spring, Carson introduced many readers to the concept…

Environmental Battles on the Missile Range

Just west of Alamogordo, New Mexico, the site of the first atomic test in 1945, there is an enormous stretch of land that is off-limits to civilians, known as White Sands Missile Range. Since the Second World War, White Sands has been a notorious military proving ground. Not limited to any one armed service, the…

Plutonium Towns in the Cold War

Note: this is my contribution to an online roundtable on Kate Brown’s book Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (Oxford, 2013). The roundtable was published in H-Environment Roundtable Reviews 4:5 (2014). For the full roundtable, including Kate Brown’s response, click here. Few places encapsulate the concept of the Faustian bargain more…

A Dr. Strangelove for All Seasons

Included here is my review of Audra Wolfe’s fine book Competing with the Soviets, which I read shortly after completing my own Arming Mother Nature.  I mention this because the gloom I felt after writing my book may have fallen over me a bit while reading Competing with the Soviets.  Although others have evaluated the…

Agent Orange and the Burden of Proof

Included here is my review of Edwin Martini’s book on Agent Orange, originally published in Pacific Historical Review 83:1 (2014), 179-180. Agent Orange: History, Science, and the Politics of Uncertainty. By Edwin A. Martini. (Boston, University of Massachusetts Press, 2012. xvi + 302 pp. $24.95 paper) In this provocative book, Edwin A. Martini provides an international history of…

The Rhône and Nuclear Power in the South of France

From the Alpine glaciers of Switzerland to the Mediterranean Sea stretches what was once a glorious, untamed river: the Rhône. Used by humans for trade and irrigation for centuries, it attracted investors in the late nineteenth century as a natural source of hydroelectric power. Today, it is lined with cooling towers and is the pride…

The Long Cold Nuclear Winter

Reviewing a book by one’s own mentor, especially when that mentor has recently passed on, can be a difficult enterprise. And yet Larry Badash’s final book, published the year before his death, is worth the task. For those who knew him, A Nuclear Winter’s Tale appears as an expression of a life’s work in scholarship.…

Plutonium's Rich (albeit recent) History

Plutonium is an exemplary case of fine science writing, combining scientific expertise and smooth narrative, enlivened by a personal touch. A physicist and former staff writer for The New Yorker, Jeremy Bernstein has a deep well of experience from which he can draw, and he has a gift for bringing even the most obscure technical…