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TEUS: History of scientific studies of Earth and Environment, Cold War, climate change - Nestor Herran

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Marie Pinhas-Diena, in charge of scientific communications l tel: +33 (0)1 44 27 22 89 l email: marie.pinhas@upmc.fr

TEUS: Climate change, geophysics and the Cold War - Néstor Herran

The Earth under supervision: the Cold War legacy 

The TEUS project, completed in 2014, explored the history of scientific studies of Earth and Environment, examining in particular how the Cold War shaped funding and research trajectories of European institutions dedicated to geophysical research. The most original contribution from the Cold War was the emphasis on the interaction (and co-creation) for Geosciences and intelligence programs—analyzed through case studies in the history of oceanography, seismology, oil exploration and strategic resources, as well as radiological monitoring.



Néstor Herran, Project manager at UPMC. (rights reserved)


The research team studied these cases from a variety of sources, including archived materials in the United States, Europe, Russia, and interviews with scientists. From a methodological point of view, the approach was the transnational. Thus, national trends were projected on the broader geopolitical framework defined by the Cold War, which has provided a historical understanding of contemporary debates about climate change and the ecological crisis.


Expected results and some major discoveries

The TEUS project identified the military origins of important research areas and produced reflections on its complex meaning and consequences. The Cold War was the context in which global problems related to the survival of humanity (like nuclear war) were formulated and these problems were deemed manageable if we had the appropriate monitoring methodologies. Risk management strategies in the planning of defense were designed in the geoscience and nuclear domains. The understanding of the environment as a central element of military operations (communications, surveillance, air and naval exercises) stimulated the creation of research programs to understand the changes in the environment and the establishment of monitoring networks to obtain geophysical knowledge across the globe. In particular, the studies produced in TEUS show that from the late 1960s, there has been a major reconfiguration of these networks to study climate and environmental change. We thus find that the ideas implicit in these programs (such as the idea of "manageability") had a continuity—those who propose measures of adaptability and repair as opposed to those who defend the policy measures.


Managerial approaches to global environmental change are clearly the result of this tradition of research policy that has its origins in the Cold War and are thus not solely the result of the work of industrial lobbies. The existence of this tradition has played an important role in the formulation of contemporary policy approaches in the fight against global warming and was responsible, at least in part, for resistance to take stronger action on climate change during the last two decades. One can speculate whether the generational change, with the depart of managers from the Cold War and the arrival of managers of global affairs, may cause a change in attitude on climate change and open the possibility of more radical and sustainable measures.


TEUS was a five-year research program (2009-2014) funded by the European Research Council (ERC, ref 241009.) in collaboration with three European laboratories: the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (University Manchester), the Science and Technology Research Institute (University of Strasbourg), and the Història Estudis Centre's Ciencies (CEHIC, Autonomous University of Barcelona), as well as the OSU Ecce Terra (UPMC).


Observatoire des Sciences de l'Univers Ecce Terra (UPMC/CNRS/IRD/MNHN/ENS/IRSTEA)Nouvelle fenêtre


Simone Turchetti, Principal investigator of the project. (rights reserved)


Sebastian Grevsmühl, post-doc on the project. (rights reserved)


Site Internet du projet TEUSNouvelle fenêtre