89th American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting

Tuesday, 13 January 2009: 11:30 AM
A scientists' environmentalism?: atmospheric science, climate change, and american environmentalism, 1968–1992
Room 223 (Phoenix Convention Center)
Joshua P. Howe, Stanford University, Stanford, CA
Over the past two decades, environmentalism has made a resurgence in American political and intellectual life, due in large part to the galvanizing of local and regional environmental issues around the global problem of climate change. While not everyone concerned about global warming labels themselves “environmentalists,” nearly all environmentalists have come to see global warming as one of their chief concerns. Indeed, the vision that Al Gore put forth of a policy-based environmentalism centered upon global issues in his 1992 Earth in the Balance has in many respects come to pass.

Incorporating climatic and atmospheric change into American environmentalism did not happen on it's own, however. The scale and complexity of the atmosphere has distinguished it from other environmental issues in the 20th and 21st centuries, and atmospheric scientists have been forced to play a prominent role in efforts to protect the atmospheric environment. They have done so with mixed success and much ambivalence. My paper will investigate the role of scientists in efforts to protect the atmospheric environment from the controversy of the American Supersonic Transport in the early 1970s to the Rio Earth Summit of 1992. I will discuss the challenges of incorporating scientific concerns over global-scale climate change into the national and regional structures of American environmental politics during this period, as well as the tensions within the scientific community between scientists' genuine concerns over environmental change and the community-defined ideals of scientific neutrality and “good science.”

I hope that a historical reassessment of scientists' role in protecting the atmospheric environment will productively complicate our understanding of the contemporary issue of global warming, allowing us to better address both the assets and the liabilities of this intellectually and politically heterogeneous community.

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