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Poisonous Skies

Acid Rain and the Globalization of Pollution

Rachel Emma Rothschild

Poisonous Skies
See the online bibliography for the book.

Rachel Emma Rothschild

336 pages | 14 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2019
Cloth $45.00 ISBN: 9780226634715 Published July 2019
E-book $10.00 to $45.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226634852 Published July 2019
The climate change reckoning looms. As scientists try to discern what the Earth’s changing weather patterns mean for our future, Rachel Rothschild seeks to understand the current scientific and political debates surrounding the environment through the history of another global environmental threat: acid rain.
 
The identification of acid rain in the 1960s changed scientific and popular understanding of fossil fuel pollution’s potential to cause regional—and even global—environmental harms. It showed scientists that the problem of fossil fuel pollution was one that crossed borders—it could travel across vast stretches of the earth’s atmosphere to impact ecosystems around the world. This unprecedented transnational reach prompted governments, for the first time, to confront the need to cooperate on pollution policies, transforming environmental science and diplomacy. Studies of acid rain and other pollutants brought about a reimagining of how to investigate the natural world as a complete entity, and the responses of policy makers, scientists, and the public set the stage for how societies have approached other prominent environmental dangers on a global scale, most notably climate change.
 
Grounded in archival research spanning eight countries and five languages, as well as interviews with leading scientists from both government and industry, Poisonous Skies is the first book to examine the history of acid rain in an international context. By delving deep into our environmental past, Rothschild hopes to inform its future, showing us how much is at stake for the natural world as well as what we risk—and have already risked—by not acting.
Contents
List of Acronyms

Introduction: A Rain of Ashes

1: Creating a Global Pollution Problem
Death-Dealing Fogs
From the Local to the Global
The Discovery of Acid Rain

2: The Science of Acid Rain
Acid Rain and the Development of Environmental Science
Crossing Boundaries: Constructing a Science of Acid Rain
The End of the “Heroic” Era

3: Energy Industry Research and the Politics of Doubt
Divesting from Pollution Control Technology
The Energy Industry Enters the Environmental Science Field
A “Silent Spring” for Acid Rain?

4: Pollution across the Iron Curtain
Overtures to Eastern Europe
Environmental Monitoring and the Limits of Détente
Pollution Modeling without Target Maps

5: Environmental Diplomacy in the Cold War
Economic or Environmental Catastrophe
Scientists as Diplomats
Thwarting a Convention with Teeth

6: An Environmental Crisis Collides with a Conservative Revolution
Ecology and the Question of Environmental Damage
Confronting Coal Industry Influence under Reagan and Thatcher
International Pressure Meets Domestic Politics

7: Acid Rain and the Precautionary Principle
Costs and Benefits of Precaution
A Scientific “Bribe”
Britain Joins the Acid Rain Club

8: A Warning Bell for a Fossil Fuel Future
The Last Holdout
A Pyrrhic Victory for Scientific Expertise
The Environmental Legacy of Acid Rain
Epilogue: The Climate Change Reckoning

Acknowledgments
Notes
Sources
Archival Sources
Oral Histories
Published Sources
Index
Review Quotes
The Revelator
"Sometimes you need to pay attention to history in order to better understand the present. Rothschild looks at the history of acid rain to explore what happened, how countries fought about it, how scientists led the charge against it, and how all of that offers lessons for the modern world of climate change. Essential reading."
Kurk Dorsey, University of New Hampshire
"This is a very impressive book. The research base is remarkable, including the scores of interviews and hard to find documents, the writing is clear throughout, the narrative arc persuasive, with a number of great vignettes. There really is nothing like it. No one else has even approached the acid rain problem seriously."
Daniel J. Kevles, Stanley Woodward Professor Emeritus of History, Yale University
"An ambitious, brilliantly realized account of the struggle to control acid rain. Rothschild deftly analyzes the disputes over the reality and threat of acid rain, revealing the attempts of the coal industries in the United States as well as in Britain to discredit the relevant science. The book advances its arguments with persuasive and authoritative clarity, drawing on extensive published and archival sources in multiple languages as well as interviews with key participants. It is a compelling contribution to scholarship and, as Rothschild outlines in an epilogue, an object lesson for our time, showing how the past encounter with a transnational environmental threat offers approaches for dealing with the current global crisis of atmospheric warming."
J.R. McNeill, Georgetown University
"Part environmental history, part history of science, and part Cold War diplomatic history, this study of the development of the science and politics of acid rain is a model of interdisciplinary international history. Rothschild writes clearly and concisely, anchoring her work in vast research conducted in archives in eight countries and supplemented by interviews with scientists and diplomats involved in her story."
Richard L. Revesz, Lawrence King Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus, New York University School of Law
"A tour-de-force and a must read for anyone who wants to understand how the scientific community first came to articulate the global nature of the environmental threat posed by the burning of fossil fuels. This book will be of great interest to readers from a wide range of disciplines."
For more information, or to order this book, please visit https://www.press.uchicago.edu
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