Via New Scientist
In Arming Mother Nature, Jacob Darwin Hamblin argues that environmentalism is rooted in cold war plans to abuse nature for military ends
I have often wondered why NATO holds environment conferences. Now I know the answer. Back in the 1960s, the Western military alliance coined the term “environmental warfare” and for years actively considered how to wage such wars. More than that, argues Jacob Darwin Hamblin in this startling account, much of modern environmental thinking originated with the scientists and military strategists during the dark days of the cold war.
And you thought the first environmentalists were muesli-eating, sandal-wearing hippies? Far from it, Hamblin says. Before them was a generation of scary Dr Strangelove types, “scientists, military leaders and politicians who believed they would have to manipulate and exploit nature” in a war against the Soviet Union. The original doom-mongers were not sounding the alarm; they were riding into battle.
During the Korean war, US advisers considered spraying waste from plutonium reprocessing across Korea to create a “dehumanised death belt”. In their view, a third world war could involve using H-bombs to trigger earthquakes; millions of tonnes of soot to melt the Arctic ice cap; and spraying yellow fever across Soviet cities.
Hamblin’s case is that the links between such military fantasies and environmental thinking are far closer than we might imagine: without the cold war, we might not now be gripped by fear of environmental catastrophe.
Seminal environmental texts are often stuffed with military metaphors and Pentagon-funded research, notes Hamblin. Paul Ehrlich chose the title The Population Bomb for his 1968 bestseller, airing concerns about overpopulation that were fodder for national security scenarios years before. Research into chemical and biological warfare underpinned many claims in Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring.
Earlier Charles Elton, the British ecologist who alerted the world to the perils of alien species, began his 1958 book, The Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants, with the observation that “it is not just nuclear bombs and wars that threaten us… this book is about ecological explosions”.
Hamblin’s stories of individuals on the front line are equally telling. MIT’s Jay Forrester modelled defence systems for the US military before constructing the model behind the doomsday analysis in the Club of Rome’s 1972 book, The Limits to Growth. The Congressman who proposed the radioactive “death belt” in Korea was Albert Gore, father of former vice-president and climate-change campaigner Al Gore.