This article examines the fault lines upon which two scientists, Carl Sagan and Edward Teller, debated the nuclear winter hypothesis in the 1980s. It investigates how Sagan and Teller practiced science and understood its social value through their analyses of the nuclear winter idea. Crucially, this article identifies a planetary method to both scientists’ analyses that incorporated both environmental and social components of changes to Earth systems. I describe how Teller promoted “terraformational science,” which utilized a nationalist framework of scientific knowledge production and valued the use of military and corporate power to achieve technological superiority and environmental control. Likewise, I suggest that Sagan advocated for “transplanetary science,” which prioritized a global or civilizational framework of scientific knowledge production and emphasized the social significance of Earth’s environmental and cosmic context. I contend that the disparities between these conceptualizations of science guided Sagan’s advocacy of and and Teller’s criticism against the nuclear winter hypothesis. This approach to the history of the nuclear winter hypothesis emphasizes the ideological motivations for both scientists’ involvement in the debate and foregrounds their publicly facing writings as informative to the conclusions they drew and the solutions they sought in science. Finally, I describe the continuity of Sagan’s and Teller’s work in public policy debates between nuclear winter and global warming, showing how they framed issues, assessed risks, and proposed solutions in nearly identical terms for both planetary crises.
An Icy Feud in Planetary Science: Carl Sagan, Edward Teller, and the Ideological Roots of the Nuclear Winter Debates, 1980–1984
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Andrew J. Ross; An Icy Feud in Planetary Science: Carl Sagan, Edward Teller, and the Ideological Roots of the Nuclear Winter Debates, 1980–1984. Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 1 April 2022; 52 (2): 190–222. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/hsns.2022.52.2.190
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