Monday, June 2, 2014

AHA Conference Review: Sunday January 5, 2014, 8:30-10:30

Back to the AHA conference. I was up early on Sunday and ready to hit two panels before heading for home. The first panel I attended was entitled, "Clashing Claims to Expertise in Environmental and Energy Controversies: Peak Oil, Acid Rain, and Climatology, 1930-2010." I really enjoyed this panel. All the papers were well done and memorable.

In "Redrawing the Boundaries of Flood Control: Climatology, the New Deal, and the Debate over the Government's Role in Land Use Planning" James Henry Bergman discussed how the deepening understanding of weather patterns, particularly on the creation of moisture, during the 1930s affected government policy. By the end of the decade the notion that rain followed the plow had been replaced with a more nuanced understanding of moisture as the product of weather fronts. This new knowledge validated federal efforts at soil conservation and watershed protection.

In "How Long Can We Keep That Up? Peak Oil as Contested Object in Competing Narratives of Growth, Abundance, and Scarcity" Connemara Doran chronicled M. King Hubbert's (I think I have that name correct) formulation of peak oil theory in 1956, and his subsequent modifications of his theory in the 1960s and 1970s. All I knew about peak oil theory prior to Doran's paper was that some conspiracy theorists have argued that a massive drop in oil availability sometime this century will lead to a catastrophic collapse of civilization with the death of tens of millions. Hubbert, however, was much more optimistic. He predicted  a softer landing. As oil reserves became depleted, he argued, new sources of energy would emerge, and lessen the demand on petroleum.

In "Scientific Uncertainties as Political Escape Routes: Negotiating the 1979 United Nations' Convention on Transboundary Air Pollution," Rachel Rothschild discusses the thorny diplomacy surrounding the European acid rain mitigation agreement. Following a familiar pattern, the nations producing the sulfur dioxide that created the acid rain feared the economic toll that strong regulations would have on their industries, while those that suffered the most from  ill effects of dead lakes and streams were powerless to mitigate the ill effects of the airborne poisons. In this case, the UK played the role of the former and Scandinavian nations were cast in the role of the latter. Positions changed only in 1979 when the United States put significant pressure on the UK, France, and West Germany to come to the table. Nevertheless, the subsequent agreement contained no binding reduction targets. If nothing else, the experience of a regional transnational effort at pollution control highlights the enormous obstacles that obstruct a global agreement on carbon emissions.

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