An Environmental History of Fear

This blog has been dormant much too long, and I can only plead being drawn in too many directions and none of them in enough depth to generate substantive writing (or time for communicating here) to warrant sharing. Which isn’t entirely true, but will serve as vague justification.

I have been thinking about and drafting a new project, which is slight departure from the mercury project. It proposes to examine the toxic century (the period since 1945) and the global proliferation of chemical pollutants. I will try to expand and articulate its scope and intent in subsequent posts, but wanted to share a brief abstract for one section, which tries to identify chemical uncertainty as a pivotal feature of an environmental history of fear. A brief abstract below for some of these early musings.

We live in a toxic century. While we cannot see it, each of us is a walking, breathing artifact of humanity’s toxic trespasses into nature. Sociological findings suggest that persistent organic pollutants scare human beings in new and special ways. This has more to do with what we do not know about their danger than what we do know, and those unknowns strike at the epicentre of how fear is individually and culturally manifested. The method through which persistent organic pollutants assault human and environmental health, the manner in which they proliferated after World War II, and the unanticipated consequences of their spread are key characteristics of this new landscape of fear. Persistent organic pollutants contaminate rather than merely damage; their pollution penetrates human tissue indirectly rather than attacking the surface in a more straightforward manner; and the threat from exposure is not acute, but rather slow, chronic, and enduring. That we lack a full understanding of the hazards they pose and have little control over environmental mobility distinguishes chemical toxins in the litany of environmental hazards. As a result, a rising culture of fear associated with new toxins is an explicit and unmistakable feature of the post-World War II world.

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