Thesis ID: CBB001567628

Changing Climates: Deserts, Desiccation, and the Rise of Climate Engineering 1870--1950 (2014)


Lehmann, Philipp Nicolas (Author)

Blackbourn, David
Johnson, Alison F.
Harvard University
Rothschild, Emma G.
Ritvo, Harriet
Johnson, Alison F.
Rothschild, Emma G.
Ritvo, Harriet

Publication Date: 2014
Edition Details: Advisor: Blackbourn, David; Committee Members: Rothschild, Emma G., Ritvo, Harriet, Johnson, Alison F.
Physical Details: 453 pp.
Language: English

This dissertation examines the impact of the nineteenth-century discussions about climate change and desiccation on large engineering projects in desert regions between 1870 and 1950. It demonstrates that the debate over the variability of global climatic conditions was a product of both internal academic and transnational political developments, and that the perceived threat of advancing desert conditions found a popular and technocratic expression in climate engineering designs. Against the background of new theories about the earth's geological history, the development of academic geography, the travels of Sahara explorers, and imperialism in North Africa, European geographers and geologists initiated an enduring discussion on the origin of desert environments and the question of large-scale climatic changes in the recent past and present. Using a wide array of evidence ranging from cave paintings found in the interior Sahara and classical travel accounts to modern meteorological data, scientists debated whether North Africa, the entire continent, or even the whole world were undergoing desiccation. While the lack of a widely-accepted causal mechanism behind large climatic changes meant that the academic debate remained unresolved by the beginning of the twentieth century, images of progressing desert conditions had already left the confines of academia, heightening public anxiety over the possibility of future climatic catastrophes on a global scale. From the early stages of the nineteenth-century debate on climate change, fears of desiccation inspired scientists and engineers to come up with solutions to detrimental climatic shifts, whether these were viewed as man-made or natural. The resulting climate engineering projects were an expression of environmental pessimism paired with a powerful technological optimism. This was apparent in French and British schemes in the late nineteenth century that aimed to flood large parts of the Sahara and effect wide-ranging climatic changes; in the plan of a German architect to engineer a geographically and climatically transformed new Euro-African continent in the 1920s; and eventually in Nazi designs to Germanize and green the "desertified" areas of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.


Description Cited in Dissertation Abstracts International-A 76/03(E), Sep 2015. Proquest Document ID: 1625429079.

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Authors & Contributors
Markham, William T.
Parson, Gill
Kieken, Hubert
Schmoll, Friedemann
Ackert, Lloyd T., Jr.
Koppen, C. S. A. van
Environment and History
Environmental History
Revue d'Histoire des Sciences
Journal of the History of Biology
Northern History
Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies
Edward Elgar
Berghahn Books
Rutgers University Press
Otago University Press
Ohio University Press
Cambridge University Press
Environmental sciences
Environmental protection
Environmental pollution
Winogradsky, Serge
Marsh, George Perkins
Leopold, Aldo Starker
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
20th century
20th century, late
21st century
18th century
United States
Great Britain
North Africa

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