cite as: F. Bi. 2008. The
unculer roots of the global greening scare? Intl. J. Inact., 1:75–77
Yes, the title’s a rejoinder to Wes Vernon’s paranoid and ignorant opinion piece, The Marxist roots of the global warming scare — though as I said before, I’ve been curious to know where the ‘environmentalism is crypto-communism‘ meme came from, even before Vernon’s essay came out. With some (really hard) googling around the Internets Tubes, I’ve arrived at an account which, although not quite definitive, is rather interesting.
To begin, a paper by Downey [Dow86] tells us that, when the USSR detonated an atomic bomb in 1949, and “European nations with unreliable politics” started to dabble in nuclear energy, the US Atomic Energy Commission decided it had to step up effort in developing nuclear power. Here’s what the AEC said in 1953, as quoted by Downey:
We believe the attainment of economically competitive nuclear power to be a goal of national importance. […] It would be a major setback to the position of this country in the world to allow its present leadership in nuclear power development to pass out of its hands.
Unfortunately for the nuclearists, there were people who decided they had to pour cold water on the AEC’s efforts — people such as United Auto Workers president Walter Reuther, and activist scientist Barry Commoner [Kre04]:
As radioactive rain fell over New York State and scientists discovered traces of the carcinogen strontium 90 in milk, concern grew over the environmental risks of [nuclear] testing. In 1958 the U.S. ecologist Barry Commoner helped form the St. Louis Committee for Nuclear Information with the hope of alerting the public to the dangers of radioactive contamination.
Of course, the nuclearists thought, if nuclear power development was an issue of national security and prestige, then any effort to question any aspect of such development was to be considered anti-American and eligible for gratuitous sliming. In fact, in 1956, even before Commoner came to the scene, nuclear power proponent and AEC chair Lewis Lichtenstein Strauss did just that [Bal91]:
Strauss played hardball when it came to realizing his political objectives. His files are filled with traces of efforts to smear opponents — particularly where Strauss felt national security was concerned. [… T]he Atomic Energy Commission’s weapons tests […]</span. had raised fears in the minds of many Americans about the health effects of increasing levels of fallout. As the Admiral [Strauss] wrote to his embattled colleague W. F. Libby during the heat of the 1956 presidential campaign, “In view of Governor Stevenson’s citation of Ralph Lapp as his great scientific authority on weapons tests… will you give consideration as to whether or not some scientists might not characterize him [Lapp] for the fraud he is.”
(Balogh tells us that Strauss also thought of sliming Al Gore Sr… heh.)
So did these events ultimately lead to the characterization of environmentalists — who tend to be anti-nuclear — as crypto-communists, and to Davidson’s 1962 letter saying that Rachel Carson has “Communist sympathies” and that H-bombs will solve all problems [Smy97]? Again, the above account is far from conclusive. One problem with it is that, according to every source I’ve seen, large-scale organized environmentalist activism against nuclear power only took off in the mid-1960s and 1970s — some time after Davidson’s bomb-mania. Oh well…
- [Bal91] B. Balogh. 1991. Chain Reaction: Expert Debate and Public Participation in American Commercial Nuclear Power, 1945–1975. Cambridge University Press.
- [Dow86] G. L. Downey. 1986. The American conflict over nuclear power. Cultural Anthropology, 1(4):388–412.
- [Kre04] S. Krech, J. R. McNeill, and C. Merchant. 2004. Nuclear weapons and testing. Encyclopedia of World Environmental History. Routledge.
- [Smy97] R. B. Smythe. 1997. The historical roots of NEPA. In R. Clark and L. W. Canter ed., Environmental Policy and NEPA: Past, Present, and Future, Chapter 1, pp. 3–14.