The Globalization of Catastrophe: Nuclear Weapons Testing and the Politics of Climate Change, 1945-1988

Mcbrien, Justin, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Balogh, Brian, AS-History, University of Virginia

The Globalization of Catastrophe: Nuclear Weapons Testing and the Politics of Climate Change, 1945-1988, investigates the first anthropogenic global climate crisis in the 1950s. Before concerns about global warming and the ozone layer appeared on the public radar, majorities in many countries across the globe believed that atmospheric nuclear weapons testing was triggering extreme weather and altering the global climate system—what was referred to as “atom weather.” The atom weather controversy adds a new chapter left out of the expert dominated history of global climate politics. It was ordinary people, not just scientific experts, who drove the conversation concerning the possibility that human beings had begun to catastrophically alter the global atmosphere. Fears of atom weather sparked one of the initial crises concerning public perceptions of scientific authority in the U.S. during Cold War era. Protestors such as American Farmers and Alaska Natives produced citizen science research that called into question scientific premises of the atmosphere’s resilience to human activity, challenged government scientists’ right to toy with the atmosphere without accountability, and demanded economic redress for the impacts of extreme weather events. The atom weather controversy revealed how the U.S. military-industrial complex was a global ecology-making process as much as an economic and political system. The consequences of the deep-time planetary transformations it wrought united the local and global around the shared problem of the future of the atmospheric commons.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Climate, Nuclear
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