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SurroundingsA History of Environments and Environmentalisms$

Etienne S. Benson

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226706153

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226706320.001.0001

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The Biosphere as Battlefield: Strategic Materials and Systems Theories in a World at War

The Biosphere as Battlefield: Strategic Materials and Systems Theories in a World at War

(p.106) Chapter 4 The Biosphere as Battlefield: Strategic Materials and Systems Theories in a World at War

Etienne S. Benson

University of Chicago Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter describes the adoption of the concept of environment by scientists involved in the management of strategic resources from World War I to the early years of the Cold War. It argues that the disruption of national economies and international trade by World War I inspired scientists in Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Norway, the United States, and elsewhere to develop methods of quantifying, tracking, and exploiting natural resources as components of interconnected systems. After the war, these methods were adapted to the study of nature more broadly. In the field of biogeochemistry, for example, they were used to study the biosphere, a concept developed by Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadskii in the 1920s on the basis of his wartime studies of Russia’s natural resources. In ecology, they were used to study ecosystems, a concept introduced by Arthur Tansley in the 1930s and subsequently popularized by G. Evelyn Hutchinson and his students. In both fields, these methods materialized environments as the conditions relevant to the development and survival of complex systems. The chapter concludes by examining changes in thinking about systems and environments that were associated with the development of nuclear weapons and nuclear power in the early Cold War period.

Keywords:   biosphere, ecosystem, ecology, World War I, World War II, Cold War, natural resources, strategic materials, Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadskii (Vernadsky), G. Evelyn Hutchinson

Tungsten is a hard, dense metal with an extraordinarily high melting point—distinctive properties that by the beginning of the twentieth century had brought it into demand for the manufacture of high-speed machine tools, including those used to produce arms and ammunition. However, the very same properties also made it so technically challenging both to purify and to alloy with other metals that the international market for processed tungsten and tungsten alloys was dominated in the early decades of the twentieth century by a single industrially and scientifically advanced nation, Germany. The consequences of this dependence became apparent with the outbreak of World War I in the summer of 1914, when Germany’s enemies suddenly found themselves cut off from a critical strategic resource.1 While the United Kingdom and the United States were able to expand their own production of refined tungsten, other nations lacked the necessary expertise and industrial facilities to do so. Russia, for example, despite having abundant deposits of tungsten ore within its borders, entirely lacked the capacity to refine the metal, forcing its manufacturers to seek out foreign sources. By the end of the war, they were importing about 3,500 tons of ferrotungsten alloy from Britain annually.2 With prices rising to stratospheric heights even as global production doubled to meet the demands of the war, this was a strategy that proved both expensive and unreliable.3

Tungsten was only one of many materials that became scarce or expensive in Russia as a result of the war, with resulting disruptions to its economy and to its ability to defend itself against its enemies. In 1915, the Russian Academy of Sciences responded to this crisis by establishing a Commission for the (p.107)

The Biosphere as Battlefield: Strategic Materials and Systems Theories in a World at War

Figure 8. A chart showing the increase in the world’s production of refined tungsten concentrates during World War I (1914–1919).

(Reprintedd from figure 4 in Josiah Edward Spurr, “Steel-Making Minerals,” Foreign Affairs 4, no. 4 [1926]: 601–12, on 610, with permission from the Council on Foreign Affairs, conveyed through Copyright Clearance Center.)

Study of the Natural Productive Forces of Russia, which aimed to identify domestic sources of strategic materials and to develop the methods and expertise to exploit them.4 Usually known by its Russian acronym KEPS, the commission was the brainchild of the mineralogist Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadskii, who saw his country’s inability to exploit its own resources as a symptom of a deeper malady that would continue to afflict it even after the war and that could be cured only through the development of Russian science.5 As he wrote in 1915, “One of the consequences—and also one of the causes—of Russia’s economic dependence on Germany is the extraordinary insufficiency of our knowledge about the natural productive forces with which Nature and History has granted Russia.”6 KEPS sought to make up for that insufficiency through research, including numerous expeditions in search of deposits of tungsten, tin, aluminum, and other minerals essential to the war effort.7

While Russia was more dependent on foreign imports than many of the other nations involved in World War I—a dependency that was particularly (p.108) striking in light of its vast territory and abundant natural resources—it was not alone in facing critical shortages of what were then coming to be known as “strategic materials.”8 In many other nations, politicians, industrialists, military leaders, scientists, and engineers helped create expert commissions like KEPS in the hope of reducing their own dependence on foreign imports.9 Diverse in scope and institutional form, these commissions had a common concern with the material basis of national survival under the conditions of global warfare. For the scientists who participated in them, they provided an unprecedented opportunity to survey the resources of their nations and of the globe as a whole in relation to industrial needs, as well as to develop new ways of organizing manufacturing and trade. Such wartime work was a transformative experience for many of these scientists, setting their research on a new trajectory over the course of the following decades.

Few of the scientists involved spoke of their nations’ economies and the resources on which they depended in terms of “organisms” or “environments.” Nonetheless, the data they gathered and the models they developed during World War I provided a foundation for new ways of understanding the concept of environment in the postwar years. In particular, scientists involved with or influenced by these wartime commissions increasingly adopted mathematical and quantitative techniques for modeling “systems”—that is, collections of living and nonliving components bound together through flows of energy and materials. Like organisms, they argued, systems were organized assemblages of diverse parts that could only be understood in relation to the conditions that surrounded them. The value of Russia’s tungsten ore deposits, for example, could not be assessed in isolation; it depended both on the nation’s industrial capacity to extract and purify them and on the price and availability of tungsten on the international market. More broadly, rather than seeing resources in terms of absolute quantities, fixed uses, and intrinsic values, scientists came to see them as sources of matter or energy whose value, significance, and abundance were determined by the demands and capacities of industrial systems and by the vagaries of geopolitics and international trade.

Wartime efforts to inventory such industrially important resources and to maximize the efficiency and productivity of national economies also shaped the ways scientists understood the environments of living beings. In the decades following World War I, ecologists, demographers, and geochemists applied techniques and concepts developed to manage strategic materials during the war to the study of exchanges of matter and energy between organisms and their environments. In the 1920s, for example, Vernadskii and his students developed new methods for measuring biogeochemical processes on local, (p.109) regional, and global scales. These processes, Vernadskii argued, collectively constituted Earth’s “biosphere,” whose structure and function depended upon its relation to the planet’s “cosmic milieu.” In the following years, a number of other scientists, including the US ecologist G. Evelyn Hutchinson and his students, extended these ideas and methods to study flows of energy and matter that linked living beings and nonliving matter into what were then beginning to be called “ecosystems.” After World War II, ecologists working in the shadow of the atomic bomb adopted similar concepts and methods to reveal how human activities were transforming the planet. In these ways, the ecological and conceptual legacy of two global wars stretched into the second half of the twentieth century, reshaping how scientists understood the relationship between life and its surroundings.


In the half-century before World War I, the world’s economies had been linked together through an expanding global infrastructure of transportation, communications, and finance, which made it possible for manufacturers in one country to take for granted the regular delivery of essential materials and products from other countries. This thickening web of trade was ripped apart by the outbreak of World War I, which erected new barriers ranging from legal embargoes to naval blockades. At the same time, the conduct of the war was heightening demand for a wide range of industrially produced goods, from food to bullets. Particularly on the western front, where the war was fought and won largely through attrition rather than through tactical or strategic brilliance, the main challenge for the combatant nations was producing and delivering men and materiel to the front lines at rates sufficient to make up for unavoidable losses.10 As became apparent soon after the war began, the nation most likely to emerge victorious under these conditions was not the one with the most advanced weaponry or the most skilled generals, but the one capable of maintaining and increasing the production of industrial goods despite wartime disruptions and demands.

Perhaps the most basic of these industrial goods was food, the production and distribution of which became a central concern of all the combatant nations. Over the course of the war, each nation faced the challenge of delivering food to thousands or even millions of soldiers while continuing to provide for civilians at home. The challenge was heightened by the fact that soldiers on active duty on the front lines generally consumed more food than they had as civilians, even as the ability to produce that food was being compromised by (p.110) the conscription of large numbers of farmers, the transformation of productive farmland into battlefields, and the disruption of the usual systems of food distribution. Making matters worse, droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events in 1916 and 1917 led to lower-than-usual harvests in many parts of the world.11 Even in the United States—a late entrant to a war fought on other nations’ territories—a food crisis emerged as it became clear that its European allies “must have more food than we can raise, and we must send them more than we can readily spare,” in the words of a government pamphlet published in 1917.12 Accordingly, the US federal government implemented new measures to expand the amount of land being farmed, encourage the adoption of mechanized farming equipment, increase the use of chemical fertilizers, facilitate food conservation, and promote community and home gardening.13 By 1919, these measures had resulted in, among other things, an estimated 240 million acres of cereal grains being planted—an increase of 33 million acres over the prewar period that yielded 625 million additional bushels of grain.14 Even so, food shortages continued to afflict combatant nations.

In agriculture as in other domains, the war did more than disrupt trade. Through the intentional and unintentional destruction of farms, forests, mines, and factories, it also directly obstructed the extraction and processing of resources. In some cases, apparent declines in production were illusory, reflecting merely the fact that one nation’s forces had occupied sites of extraction, processing, and manufacturing belonging to an enemy and redirected their products to their own war needs. In other cases, however, actual rates of extraction or production slowed or stopped entirely, whether because the necessary labor could not be mustered, ongoing combat made operations impossible, or occupying forces had stripped mines and factories of valuable equipment or destroyed them before they could be reclaimed by the enemy. In northeastern France, for example, the production of coal, steel, lead ore, and iron ore dropped dramatically during the war, even allowing for the appropriation of French mines and factories by German forces. As early as late 1914, the Germans had begun removing steam engines, electric dynamos, railcars, locomotives, stamping presses, and other mining equipment from the border departments of Nord and Pas-de-Calais.15 Later, as the end of the war approached and defeat seemed inevitable, they also began destroying mines, factories, and infrastructure to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Allies. One observer estimated that a total of 124 coal mines, 500 miles of mine tracks, and more than 16,000 miners’ houses had been destroyed in the Nord and Pas-de-Calais coal fields alone.16 Meanwhile, trench warfare was (p.111) transforming vast swaths of northeastern France into wasteland, with entire forests “blown into splinters by shellfire.”17

Even when the extraction and processing of natural resources was not directly disrupted by combat, trade embargoes and naval blockades could lead to critical shortages, as was the case with timber in the United Kingdom. Like food, wood was quickly recognized to be one of the war’s most important strategic materials. At home it was essential for propping up the tunnels of coal mines, making crates for munitions, and innumerable other civilian and military purposes, while on the front it was used to build barracks, trenches, fencing, railroad tracks, and telegraph poles.18 In principle the United Kingdom had access to sufficient timber for wartime needs throughout its vast empire and through trade with Russia, Sweden, Norway, the United States, and Canada, all of which had abundant forests and productive timber industries located at safe distances from the war’s main battlefields. In practice, however, Britain faced a severe timber shortage in 1916 as a result of German submarine warfare, limited shipping capacity, and rising demand. In response, it began harvesting its domestic forests at an unprecedented rate.19 As early as 1916, the British forester Edward Percy Stebbing noted that the country had already begun “sacrificing considerable areas of young woods and felling old ones of any value, since we must supply the urgent needs of the country.”20 By April 1917, about 100,000 acres in the British Isles had been clear-cut, and the rate of cutting continued to accelerate over the remainder of the war.21 According to one estimate, about 450,000 acres, or half of the country’s productive forested land, had been laid bare by the time peace was declared in November 1918.22

When foreign sources of a particular strategic material were unavailable and there were no domestic sources waiting in reserve to be exploited, nations with the necessary industrial capacity and expertise sometimes turned to natural or synthetic substitutes. In Germany, for example, scientists and industrialists had been warning of the risks of dependence on imported nitrates even before the outbreak of World War I, but the war provided the motivation and resources to develop a domestic substitute on an industrial scale. After the country lost access to Chilean nitrates that it used to manufacture both fertilizers and explosives, it began building factories to “fix” atmospheric nitrogen using a process developed by the chemists Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch.23 In 1915, a pilot plant near Ludwigshafen began producing nitrates for the manufacture of explosives; by the spring of 1917, a second plant capable of fixing 130,000 tons of nitrogen per year was operating near Halle.24 By the end of (p.112) the war, the amount of nitrogen fixed using the Haber–Bosch process was equal to the total amount used in Germany before the war.25 Fixing nitrogen required an enormous amount of energy, but with some of Europe’s richest coal mines lying within Germany’s borders, that was a resource not in short supply.26

Once the war was over, some of these new forms of resource extraction and domestic production expanded even further. The amount of nitrogen fixed using the Haber–Bosch process, for example, climbed in the decades after the war, transforming not only the international trade in nitrates but also the practice of agriculture and the operation of the global nitrogen cycle.27 In other cases, wartime booms proved ephemeral. Many of the US farmers who had expanded onto marginal lands and taken out loans to invest in farming machinery went bankrupt in the early 1920s when the high prices and easy credit they had enjoyed during the war years evaporated.28 In the United Kingdom, meanwhile, the restoration of the international timber trade provided a respite for domestic forests. In any case, whether wartime initiatives faltered or flourished with the return of peace, they had lasting effects. British foresters, for example, launched an aggressive domestic program of afforestation to supply the nation’s future needs while also seeking to expand and rationalize the exploitation of timber resources throughout the empire.29

By approaching World War I in terms of its effects on the production and circulation of strategic resources rather than in terms of military strategy or the soldier’s experience of warfare—that is, by focusing on what the director of the US Geological Survey described at the war’s end as the “strategy of minerals”—we can see how the war reshaped the world that scientists sought to describe, provided new opportunities and motivations for them to study that world, and focused their attention on certain of its aspects rather than others.30 In particular, the enormous demands of the war for raw materials and finished goods, coupled with its disruptions to systems of production and trade, called scientists’ attention to the need for techniques to quantitatively assess the amount of resources available and to track their movements and transformations from one part of the economic system to another. We can see, in other words, how the aim of sustaining economies that were globalized, industrialized, and at war with each other drove scientists to embrace a very specific set of tools for understanding the relationship between a nation’s economic and military survival and the external conditions it faced—tools that would, in the postwar period, be applied to a much broader range of questions.

(p.113) Taking Stock

The establishment of wartime resource commissions such as KEPS was driven by the conviction that industrial production under the conditions of modern warfare required centralized government coordination and, moreover, that such coordination, dependent as it was on a detailed understanding of complex scientific and technical processes, could not succeed without the advice of experts. In practice, these commissions were often underfunded and largely ignored by politicians and industrialists. They nonetheless proved transformative for the scientists who participated in them. Motivated by their new roles as wartime advisors to governments, these scientists pursued new kinds of research and developed new kinds of models to understand “resources” as diverse as mineral deposits, arable farmland, and human populations. Under the urgent conditions of war, scientists, engineers, and economists not only sought to measure various resources and to map their distributions across Earth’s surface, but also to determine their accessibility and value in relation to changing levels of supply and demand, the availability of substitutes, new methods of extraction and processing, and economic and geopolitical constraints.31 After the war’s end, they continued to develop techniques and theories they had embraced during the war and to expand their scope of application. Central to this war-inspired research was an approach to evaluating resources that assumed the value and uses of any given resource could be assessed only in relation to the total “system” of which it was a part, as well to as the environment in which that system operated.

Concerns about resources and their availability predated World War I; after all, resource shortages could and did arise for many reasons besides war, and the process of industrialization and the expansion of international trade over the course of the previous century had forced scientists, engineers, and experts in political economy to grapple with the possibility and consequences of such shortages. As early as the 1860s, the English political economist William Stanley Jevons had called attention to the intricate webs of international trade that kept the British industrial economy humming, as well as its profound dependence on one particular resource, coal.32 Nonetheless, the war intensified and expanded such concerns, in many cases transforming speculative possibilities into harsh realities. In the case of nitrogen, for example, growing concern over Germany’s dependence on imports during the decade or so preceding the war had led scientists to develop experimental techniques for producing ammonia and nitrate from atmospheric nitrogen. It was only after the outbreak of war, (p.114) however, that German politicians agreed to invest the enormous resources needed to make it a practical alternative to Chilean sources.

The shift in the assessment of resources toward an increasingly systems-oriented view can be seen in the work of KEPS, which sought to determine whether or not Russia possessed deposits of industrially important minerals as well as what forms of expertise and industrial capacity would be needed to make those deposits useful. In the case of aluminum, for example, Russia did not face quite the same crisis as it did in regard to tungsten, since the international market for the former was dominated by two of its allies, France and the United States. Nonetheless, aluminum prices rose dramatically as a result of the war, more than tripling by 1916.33 Recognizing the threat that Russia’s dependence on imported aluminum posed to its industrial capacity and military strength, KEPS made the search for exploitable deposits of aluminum-bearing ore one of its early areas of emphasis. In the spring of 1915, Vernadskii and Alexander Fersman, a former student of Vernadskii’s who served as secretary of KEPS, wrote to the Ministry of Trade and Industry to propose establishing a new aluminum industry on the basis of recently discovered Russian bauxite deposits.34 Although the proposal stagnated during the war, it sparked an interest in domestic sources of aluminum that eventually led Fersman to identify deposits in Russia’s far northwest in the 1920s that became the basis of an important industry.35 More broadly, the pressures of war helped convinced not only the czarist government that fell in 1917 but also the Bolshevik government that succeeded it that the advice of scientists was essential to economic and military survival.36

Wartime shortages led even officially neutral nations such as Norway to scour their landscapes for materials that, with the help of new industrial processes, would allow critical industries to continue. Resources that might have seemed insufficiently valuable to exploit under ordinary conditions—such as difficult-to-access mineral deposits, low-quality stands of timber, and marginally productive cropland—became the targets of intensive investigation. In Norway these efforts were led by the mineralogist Victor Moritz Goldschmidt, who was appointed chairman of the State Raw Materials Commission and director of the Raw Materials Laboratory in 1917. As Goldschmidt wrote in a survey of Norwegian and foreign research in 1918, the outbreak of war had made the importance of “industrial independence” obvious. Such independence, he argued, could be established only through research on as-yet unutilized minerals as well as the new refining and manufacturing processes that would allow them to substitute for foreign imports.37 The aim of the Raw Materials Commission and Laboratory was thus to identify domestic sources (p.115) of aluminum, phosphorus, potassium, titanium, and other elements essential to Norwegian manufacturing and agriculture.38 Such work continued into the postwar years, when Goldschmidt identified olivine—a magnesium-rich mineral found in abundance on Norway’s western coast—as a useful refractory material for foundries. Eventually, the work of the Raw Materials Laboratory helped Norway establish a world-leading olivine industry on the basis of this once-neglected mineral.39

Simply identifying and characterizing such resources was not enough to prove their value, as Goldschmidt had discovered in his initial, failed attempt to establish olivine as an economically viable domestic source of magnesium.40 It was also important to assess them in relation to other potential resources and the broader economic system. For this purpose, scientists relied increasingly on quantitative measures of efficiency and productivity. In the United Kingdom, for example, domestic forests had long been assessed and managed to achieve a mix of aesthetic, recreational, and economic goals, including the maintenance of aristocratic hunting grounds, the production of pleasing landscapes, the protection of watersheds, and the harvesting of wood and other forest products for household or community needs. The decision to make up for disruptions to the international timber trade by harvesting domestic forests tipped the balance decisively toward quantitative measures of timber yield.41 With roots stretching back to eighteenth-century Germany, the quantitative assessment of timber resources for the purposes of maximizing yield over the long term was not, in itself, novel.42 What was novel was the deployment of such techniques to manage resources in relation to industrial needs on a national or even global scale. The role of the war in this shift was often made quite explicit. In 1916, Stebbing, the British forester, argued that the war had made it “a duty—a national duty—to see that every acre of land in this country is made to bring in the best return possible in the interests of the community as a whole.”43

Partly because they were such powerful tools of abstraction, the reach of quantitative methods for assessing the value of resources in relation to available technologies and markets proved to be virtually unlimited. Even human populations could be treated as raw materials whose value depended on their relation to the needs and capacities of a given industrial system. Because the value of a human worker in such a system depended on specific skills and characteristics, simply counting the number of men or women of working age in a given population was not enough. Instead, experts devised increasingly refined techniques for characterizing the capacities of individuals and segments of the population and for determining the most effective strategies for (p.116) what began to be described during the war as the “mobilization of human resources.”44 Rather than establishing a universal standard of quality, experts sought to determine precisely which members of the population were best suited to each of the specialized tasks demanded by industrial production and industrialized warfare, which were constantly changing as new technologies and tactics were devised. In the United States, for example, the army administered intelligence tests to more than 1.75 million recruits during the war to determine their fitness for particular ranks and duties, and it continued to assess them after recruitment through the Committee on Classification of Personnel.45 Once soldiers had returned from the front, they continued to be treated as “human resources” that could be depleted through neglect or conserved through vocational training and rehabilitation programs.46

In the years following World War I, the apparent success of the centralized coordination of industrial production under the guidance of scientific and technical experts inspired technocratic movements on both the left and the right. To adherents of these movements, the complexity of modern societies and their dependence on international flows of materials and industrial goods meant that national survival depended on granting power directly to engineers, scientists, and other experts—or, if that proved politically impossible, on integrating scientific and technical expertise into the inner workings of the state. The form taken by these technocratic movements varied widely, however, in relation to each nation’s domestic political systems. In the Soviet Union, the Communist government promoted technological megaprojects as a means to the rational exploitation of nature in the service of the proletariat (a project into which KEPS was integrated over the course of the 1920s).47 In Weimar Germany and in the early years of the Nazi regime, meanwhile, revolutionary conservatives argued that the nation’s defeat had resulted from its failure to mount a “total mobilization” of its industrial and human resources, which they intended to avoid repeating in any “total war” to come.48 Technocratic planning of the use of resources also featured prominently in interwar visions of world government, in the developmental policies of European colonial administrations in Africa, and in the rise of the regional planning movement in the United States.49

By examining the development of a new science of resources during World War I and its uptake by various postwar technocratic movements, we can see how a set of beliefs forged in the crucible of war—particularly the belief that the flow of energy and materials was essential to national survival and that only experts could be trusted to measure and manage it properly—became pervasive in peacetime as well, giving the war a legacy that stretched far beyond (p.117) the years of active combat. While many of the experts involved in wartime resource commissions lamented the paltry level of funding they received and the failure of their governments to follow their advice, the very fact that scientific expertise had been institutionalized in this way represented a major shift with repercussions for decades to come. KEPS, for example, failed to make a difference in the outcome of Russia’s involvement in the war, but it laid the foundations for integrating scientific advice on industrial matters into the functioning of the Russian state, even as the nation’s political structures were turned upside down. For individual scientists, regardless of whether they accomplished much of scientific value during the war itself, the experience of participating in such efforts also had significant and long-lasting consequences: it concentrated their attention on new problems, introduced them to new techniques, and sparked interdisciplinary conversations that continued and intensified in the following years.

Tracking Flows

In the years following World War I, scientists who had been involved in wartime efforts to identify and exploit strategic materials turned their attention to the processes that determined when and where such resources were “produced” and “consumed” by nature itself. In order to do so, they developed new techniques for tracking specific elements as they traveled through Earth’s crust, oceans, and atmosphere and for mathematically modeling the chemical and biological processes they participated in, including the reproduction and metabolism of living beings. These techniques built on the interdisciplinary work of expert commissions established during the war to assess stocks of strategic materials, while also extending those techniques to account for change over time and to include materials and processes that, even if not directly relevant to industrial production, could nonetheless be analyzed in similar ways. As the enmities of the war faded, relationships among like-minded scientists from different nations were reestablished, with the result that innovations in the United States, Norway, Italy, and the Soviet Union were quickly adopted by scientists in other countries. By the 1930s, scientists in all these countries, working in disciplines as disparate as geochemistry, ecology, and demography, were developing sophisticated quantitative models of flows of energy and materials between living beings and their surroundings.

The trajectory of Vernadskii’s research during and after the war offers a clear example of how scientists intimately involved with wartime research on strategic materials such as tungsten, aluminum, and tin could adapt the techniques (p.118) they had developed during the war to the study of nature as a whole, including living beings. After Russia withdrew from World War I in 1917 and a civil war broke out that eventually led to the establishment of the Soviet Union, Vernadskii fled to Ukraine, where he shifted his focus from inventorying Russia’s strategic materials to understanding the circulation of matter and energy throughout the globe, expanding a longstanding interest in the chemical and biological processes in soils to the planetary scale.50 He focused much of his attention on measuring and comparing the elemental composition of various species—a project that he hoped would generate insights into both biology and geology.51 This new line of research was interrupted by the chaotic conditions prevailing at the end of World War I and its immediate aftermath, which first pushed Vernadskii from Ukraine to Crimea, then briefly back to Saint Petersburg, and subsequently to Paris.52 Only in 1926 did he finally return permanently to Russia. For the next decade and a half, he focused his efforts on studying the cycling of materials in the biosphere at the Biogeochemical Laboratory that he ran with the assistance of his former student Alexander Pavlovich Vinogradov.53

A similar turn from strategic materials to nature as a whole can be seen in Goldschmidt’s work in Norway. After the war, he broadened the focus of the Raw Materials Laboratory from strategic materials to the task of determining “the general laws and principles which underlie the frequency and distribution of the various elements in nature,” which he described as “the basic problem of geochemistry.”54 Doing so required linking the properties of atoms to the history of the planet. For this purpose, the newly available technique of x-ray spectroscopy was critical, giving Goldschmidt a means of precisely characterizing the elemental composition of minerals, including trace elements that would have been difficult if not impossible to detect using conventional chemical methods.55 With this data in hand, Goldschmidt was able to reconstruct what he called the “metabolism of the Earth”—that is, the chemical and geological transformations that had produced the observable distribution of minerals, including the dynamic cycling of nitrogen and other elements between land, atmosphere, and oceans.56 By the early 1930s, encouraged by a long-running correspondence with Vernadskii, he had expanded his work to include the role of living beings in reshaping the geochemistry of the planet.57

Even those who were not directly involved in wartime resource commissions sometimes shifted the focus of their research in response to the war’s resource crises and the concerns about national survival they evoked. It was Germany’s mobilization of its resources for war, for example, that first inspired the German Estonian biologist Jakob von Uexküll to expand his theory (p.119) of the Umwelt—the “surrounding world” of perception and action of an individual organism—to entire nation-states. A German patriot, Uexküll spent the war years rallying the residents of the area surrounding his wife’s estate in Pomerania to the war effort, while also publishing essays on the mobilization of the nation’s resources.58 Uexküll’s prewar work on the Umwelt had focused entirely on individual organisms and their distinctive perceptual worlds, but his wartime essays expanded the theory to address the relationships between peoples (Völker), states, and the resources they required to survive.59 In particular, he argued that each Volk was a natural, organic whole for which the state served as an artificial means of organizing and mobilizing the flows of resources it required.60 In the years following the war, Uexküll’s view of Volk and state as organized entities surrounded by an environment of resources increasingly shaped both his conservative politics and his scientific research.61

The growing interest in exchanges of matter and energy between living beings and their surroundings also spurred new research on rates of metabolism and growth in individuals and populations. In the 1920s, for example, Vernadskii began to emphasize the importance of what he called the “velocity” or “speed” of life in biogeochemical processes—that is, the rate at which living organisms incorporated elements from their surroundings into their bodies or transformed them before excreting them as waste.62 While Vernadskii’s work was mostly theoretical, other researchers working around the same time—all directly or indirectly influenced by the war’s resource crises—developed quantitative techniques for empirically estimating life’s velocity. In Italy, for example, the mathematician Vito Volterra developed a model of predator-prey relationships that was inspired by observations of the effect of wartime disruptions to fishing on the relative numbers of various species in the Mediterranean.63 A similar model was proposed in the United States by Alfred Lotka, who drew on mathematics, physics, and chemistry to develop an approach to the study of life that he called “physical biology.”64 Like Volterra, Lotka had an indirect connection to the war: in the early 1920s, he worked in the laboratory of the demographer Raymond Pearl at Johns Hopkins University, who had become interested in modeling population growth as a result of his wartime work with the US Food Administration.65 Back in the Soviet Union, the biologist Georgy Gause wove these strands of research together to develop laboratory models of competing populations—a project that he justified in Vernadskiian terms as “one of the ways of extending our knowledge of the distribution of the organic matter in the biosphere.”66

Scientists also used the techniques for measuring stocks and tracking flows that they had developed during and after World War I to study how living (p.120) and nonliving entities became bound together into organized systems through flows of matter and energy. The Russian zoologist Vladimir Vladimirovich Stanchinskii, for example, was inspired by Vernadskii’s work to develop new instruments and methods for measuring flows of materials and energy through ecological communities.67 Beginning in 1927, Stanchinskii carried out most of his research in Askania-Nova, a nature reserve on the Ukrainian steppe. His aim was to track the fate of energy captured directly from the sun by plants as it dissipated back into the environment or was appropriated by insects and other organisms within a given ecological community. To do so, Stanchinskii and his students developed a variety of new quantitative techniques and instruments, including deceptively simple traps that made it possible to determine the number, type, and weight of insects and other small animals within a given area.68 The data thus collected served as the basis of mathematical models that explained why energy flowed through the system at certain rates, and why the organization of a particular ecological community—its variety of species, their relative abundance, and their relationships to one another—persisted in recognizable patterns over time.69

The idea of studying life by measuring the flows of energy and materials that linked living beings to their surroundings was also pursued in the United States by the Yale University ecologist G. Evelyn Hutchinson and his students. Trained in limnology (the study of lakes) and influenced by his father’s work in mineralogy, Hutchinson learned about Vernadskii’s work from several expatriate Russians at Yale, including Vernadskii’s son, the historian George Vernadsky.70 In the 1930s, Hutchinson launched a series of biogeochemical studies of what he called “the chemical factors of the environment that operate on living organisms,” which included variations in the presence of elements across plant species, as well as the circulation of chemicals between organisms and their surroundings.71 He also introduced a series of students and collaborators to the biogeochemical techniques and theories of Vernadskii and Goldschmidt. In the late 1930s and early ’40s, for example, he encouraged Raymond Lindeman to use biogeochemical methods to study the transfer of energy and materials between living organisms and the nonliving components of their surroundings at Lindeman’s research site, a senescent lake in Minnesota. In an influential paper published in 1942, Lindeman showed how precise measurements of changes in the lake’s biomass and species composition could be used to reveal the flows of materials and energy between “producers” that captured energy from the sun and “consumers” that obtained energy from producers or other consumers, as well as between both producers and consumers and their surroundings.72 Taken together, Lindeman argued, these relationships (p.121)

The Biosphere as Battlefield: Strategic Materials and Systems Theories in a World at War

Figure 9. A schematic representation of the role of trees in concentrating chemical elements in the upper layers of the soil, as depicted by Victor Moritz Goldschmidt in 1937.

(Reprintedd from figure 3 in V. M. Goldschmidt, “The Principles of Distribution of Chemical Elements in Minerals and Rocks,” Journal of the Chemical Society [1937]: 655–73, on 670, with permission from the Royal Society of Chemistry, conveyed through Copyright Clearance Center.)

constituted a single unit, the “ecosystem,” whose functioning was the proper subject of ecology.73

By following the legacies of the resource crises of World War I into the interwar period and beyond, we can see how economic, military, and political concerns continued to affect the practice of science even after the conditions that gave rise to institutions such as KEPS in Russia or the Raw Materials Laboratory in Norway had passed. Vernadskii and Goldschmidt, for example, remained interested in identifying exploitable mineral deposits within their respective countries even as their focus broadened in the postwar years to encompass highly general models of biogeochemical processes and of the evolution of Earth and its life-forms. More fundamentally, they continued to use the same quantitative techniques for tracking and quantifying biogeochemical flows of energy and materials. Even Hutchinson and his students, who had not been involved in the wartime resource commissions and whose work did not have similarly obvious links to industrial concerns, claimed that their new (p.122) science of ecosystems would make it possible to manage the planet’s living resources more effectively, including minimizing the adverse effects of nuclear technologies developed during and after World War II on agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and human health. In these ways, we can see how the particular form of the concept of environment that was pursued through biogeochemistry and ecosystem ecology from the 1920s to the 1950s continued to bear the mark of its wartime origins.

Systems in Environments

Scientists involved in addressing the resource shortages of World War I rarely described the phenomena they were studying in terms of “environments,” even though both the concept and the word itself were by then well established. Nonetheless, the data that had been collected and the techniques that had been developed to study industrial economies and strategic materials helped transform scientists’ understanding of the environment following the war. In particular, by making it clear that a nation’s ability to produce goods essential to its survival depended on flows of matter and energy under particular social and economic conditions, these data and techniques served as the foundation for a new way of understanding how living beings related to their surroundings. Scientists working in a range of disciplines began to argue that living beings were best understood as components of “systems,” which were characterized by enduring patterns of relationships among diverse parts, each of which contributed to the survival of the whole under a particular set of external conditions. Unlike a “community,” they argued, a system could not be understood by focusing solely on the relationships among the diverse living beings within it, as the majority of ecologists had hitherto sought to do. Rather, it required scientists to broaden their view to include both living beings and their nonliving surroundings, as well as the self-reinforcing circuits of matter and energy that bound them together. These ecological systems, or “ecosystems,” became the focus of a new approach to ecology that was developed between the 1920s and ’50s.74

The postwar interest in systems reflected a major shift in the theoretical framework of ecology, which had emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as a field focused explicitly on the relationship between organisms (or communities of organisms) and their environments.75 At the foundation of this field was the recognition that there were stable relationships of interdependence among organisms that lived under given sets of external conditions, and that these relationships were both complex enough and regular (p.123) enough to serve as the object of a scientific discipline. In 1877, for example, in the context of a study of oyster farming on Germany’s Baltic coast, the biologist Karl Möbius described the various species necessary for oysters to thrive as a “living community” (or “biocoenosis”).76 The living community, he argued, consisted of an enduring, organized relationship among species existing under certain “external living relations” and “conditioning factors” in a given place.77 By the beginning of the twentieth century, the living community as Möbius defined it had become the central object of research in the emerging discipline of ecology.78 In the United States, for example, the plant ecologist Frederic Clements developed a theory of ecological succession that explained changes in plant communities in terms of shifting relationships among species in response to climate and other physical conditions. Central to Clements’s theory was the notion that each living community could be considered as a unified whole—perhaps, he wrote, even itself a “complex organism, which possesses functions and structures, and passes through a cycle of development similar to that of the plant.”79

Ecologists who embraced the concept of “system” were as interested as community ecologists had been in explaining the persistence of particular assemblages of plants and animals, but their characterization of those assemblages in terms of flows of energy and materials challenged Clements’s conviction that the “living community” as a “complex organism” should be the focus of ecological research. Vernadskii, for example, questioned the primacy of both organisms and communities in ecological theory, instead arguing that “living matter” was the more fundamental unit of analysis.80 As he defined it, “living matter” did not consist of special organic particles that gave living beings their unique properties (as Buffon had theorized in the mid-eighteenth century) but of ordinary matter that had been incorporated into the bodies of living beings, where its chemical transformations were catalyzed in ways unique to life (a view that Vernadskii based partly on Cuvier’s image of life as a whirlpool or vortex of particles).81 Stanchinskii, Hutchinson, and others were directly inspired by this view of life on Earth. Rather than carrying out studies of the mutual interdependence of living beings in a particular place, they concluded, they ought to be conducting quantitative, biogeochemical studies of flows of matter and energy between living beings and their nonliving surroundings.

Because such flows had the potential to extend far beyond any local assemblage of plants, animals, and other organisms, the biogeochemical approach to ecology also raised questions about the proper scale of ecological analysis. For Vernadskii, the most important scale was undoubtedly the planet as a whole. If (p.124) all living beings taken together could be considered in terms of “living matter,” he argued, then even such basic organismic functions as nutrition and respiration needed to be seen “not solely as phenomena of the organism, but also as phenomena of the terrestrial globe.”82 It was through this idea of planetaryscale metabolism that Vernadskii arrived at the idea of the “biosphere,” which framed his research from the early 1920s onward. Borrowing the term from the Swiss geologist Eduard Suess, who had used it to denote the thin layer of living beings at the surface of Earth, Vernadskii redefined the term to mean the entire expanse of Earth that had been reshaped by the activity of living matter, considered as a single, highly complex chemically reactive mass.83 This dynamic set of exchanges of energy and matter was neither arbitrary nor random, Vernadskii argued, but rather constituted a dynamic global system that was functionally organized in relation to the “cosmic milieu” that surrounded it, particularly the energy transmitted from the sun to Earth in the form of electromagnetic radiation.84

While Hutchinson and other ecologists in the United States took inspiration from Vernadskii’s idea of the biosphere, the concept had only limited utility for those working on a smaller scale than that of the planet as a whole. However helpful it might be for understanding the history and future of the planet, it was difficult to apply to the ecology of a lake or to an assemblage of plants in a particular place. For work on these smaller scales, ecologists adopted another concept popularized by the British ecologist Arthur Tansley in 1935: the “ecosystem.”85 For Tansley, the ecosystem was an alternative to the concept of community as it had been defined by Clements and his supporters. That concept was a misleading one, Tansley believed, in that it implied a certain amount of similarity and solidarity among all its “members” that he did not believe applied to the diverse kinds of plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria and the often antagonistic relationships among them that made up ecological assemblages.86 The ecosystem concept, by contrast, made no assumptions about the character of the entities that constituted it. Moreover, while an ecosystem was a coherent entity organized in relation to external conditions—just like a community or an individual organism—it was not limited to living beings alone. Instead, systems consisted of relationships among both living beings and nonliving entities, such as bodies of water or sediment deposits. Even if “biomes” consisting solely of the living components of an ecosystem could be singled out for analysis, that analysis would succeed only to the extent that it accounted for the system as a whole. As Tansley argued, “Various ‘biomes,’ the whole webs of life adjusted to particular complexes of environmental factors, are real ‘wholes,’ often highly integrated wholes”—but rather than being (p.125) complete unto themselves, those wholes were “the living nuclei of systems in the sense of the physicist.”87

Tansley himself did little to further develop the ecosystem concept, but it proved well suited to the kind of biogeochemical studies that Hutchinson, Lindeman, and others were beginning to pursue in the 1930s and ’40s. In Lindeman’s 1942 paper, for example, the idea of the ecosystem as a set of exchanges of energy and matter between organisms and nonliving entities was central. The continuous cycling of nutrients between living and nonliving entities in the lake he studied made the conventional distinction between a living community and its nonliving environment that had been postulated by Clements and other ecologists seem “arbitrary and unnatural,” he wrote.”88 Instead, it was best to approach living beings and nonliving entities as aspects of a single “ecosystem”—that is, a “system composed of physical-chemical-biological processes active within a space-time unit of any magnitude.”89 After Lindeman’s untimely death in 1942, Hutchinson and his students continued to argue for replacing the concept of community in ecology with the concept of system.90 In the late 1940s, in particular, they joined forces with an interdisciplinary group of scientists developing a new approach called “cybernetics,” which sought to understand the emergence of goal-directed behavior through mechanisms of self-regulation and self-reproduction.91 At a cybernetics conference on the theme of “circular causal systems” in 1946, Hutchinson presented a paper that laid out the case for considering “systems” to be the fundamental unit of ecology, applicable both to groups of organisms and to the environments that they faced.92 Since any system that was incapable of adapting to changes in its environment would be quickly replaced by a more stable system (or systems), Hutchinson argued, all the systems observable in nature were by necessity self-regulating and self-correcting. The purpose of ecology was to determine the mechanisms that made them so.93

If “system” was to replace “community” as the core concept of ecology, the definition of the word environment would necessarily have to shift along with it. It could no longer be defined as the physical conditions that shaped the life of an organism or living community, since both the system and its environment consisted of living and nonliving components. Rather, the environment was reconceptualized as the set of external conditions that influenced the functional organization of the system, whatever it might be. Both the muddy sediment at the bottom of a lake and the local atmospheric conditions that determined how quickly water evaporated from the lake’s surface were nonliving, for example, but the former was an integral part of the ecosystem while the latter was part of that system’s environment. Whether or not something could be considered (p.126) to be part of the system depended both on the character of its relationship with other components and on the spatial and temporal scales of analysis. As those scales shifted, so did the boundaries of the ecosystem. At the scale of the biosphere itself, Earth’s climate was part of the system, which in turn was surrounded by a cosmic milieu consisting of solar radiation, meteorite strikes, and the gravitational pull of the sun and the moon.

By focusing scientists’ attention on the quantitative measurement of flows of energy and matter among living and nonliving entities, the concept of “system” also offered new ways of thinking about the politics of ecology and resource management. In particular, it suggested that ecological “systems” could and should be reengineered by experts in ways that “communities” could not and should not be. Vernadskii, for example, saw the recognition of the biosphere as a functionally integrated planetary system as the first step in building a progressive, liberal future for humanity as a whole—one in which the very kinds of war that had given rise to the concept of the biosphere idea would be rendered obsolete.94 Over time, he suggested, humanity’s self-awareness had grown to the point that it was now converging into a single global planetary consciousness, a noösphere. “The noösphere is a new geological phenomenon on our planet,” he wrote, in which humanity “becomes a large-scale geological force” for the first time.95 By refining billions of tons of pure aluminum and iron, for example, human ingenuity and industry had already begun to enrich Earth with new “biogenic ‘cultural’ minerals.”96 With such world-shaping powers in its grasp, Vernadskii concluded, humanity’s challenge was now to figure out how to work collectively toward “the reconstruction of the biosphere in the interests of freely thinking humanity as a single totality.”97 Ecosystem ecologists were more modest in their ambitions, but they too embraced a kind of technocratic optimism that was ultimately rooted in the idea of the ecosystem as an assemblage of interdependent living and nonliving components that could be improved through engineering.98

For scientists who did not share Vernadskii’s liberal internationalism or the technocratic enthusiasm of Hutchinson and Odum, quite different lessons could be drawn from the resource crises of World War I and the scientific and technological innovations of the interwar period. Uexküll is a case in point. Amid the political turmoil of interwar Germany, he offered a model of the “biology of the state” that contrasted starkly with the visions of planetary consciousness and technocratic management associated with the concepts of biosphere and ecosystem during the same period.99 Rather than seeing scientists as working within a democratic context for the benefit of humanity as a whole, he saw the ideal nation-state as an organism structured by rigid social (p.127) hierarchies, centered on the personal Umwelt of a monarchical leader, and defended against internal and external “parasites.”100 Rooted in the same wartime concerns that had motivated other scientists to search for resources necessary for victory, Uexküll offered an illiberal version of the concept of environment according to which the status of the nation as a functionally integrated, organic whole could be used to justify a ruthless war against internal and external enemies. While Uexküll did not wholeheartedly support the National Socialist government that took power in 1933, at least some Nazi Party members saw his scaled-up theory of the Umwelt as a useful framework for justifying both genocide and territorial expansion.101

The adoption of the concept of system by ecologists from the 1930s onward did not entail an abandonment of the concept of environment but rather its reconfiguration in a new semantic context. Systems were by definition not all-encompassing; they were, on the contrary, well-defined and internally organized collections of entities that were bound together in some recognizable and persistent way through exchanges of matter and energy. In this sense they were much like organisms (albeit not necessarily living), and like organisms their internal structure could be understood only in relation to the external conditions they faced. By shifting focus from organisms and communities to ecosystems, ecologists therefore did not lose their interest in or need for the concept of environment; rather, they began to think of environments in terms of quantifiable flows of energy and matter that provided the conditions for the persistence of “systems” consisting of both living and nonliving components. Behind even the radically different politics of a liberal internationalist like Vernadskii and a conservative nationalist like Uexküll, we can therefore see a set of shared assumptions and techniques rooted in the challenge of wartime resource management.

The Irradiated Environment

With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, concerns about resource shortages reemerged as an issue of central concern for national governments. Just as in the previous world war, both combatant and neutral nations organized expert committees or reinvigorated those that had been established a quarter-century earlier, such as KEPS in the Soviet Union or the National Research Council in the United States. Scientists once again set themselves the tasks of calculating how much of each resource was needed, how much was available, and whether substitutes could be devised, and of urging national governments to invest in scientific and technological expertise. Again, just as in the aftermath (p.128) of World War I, these activities persisted into the postwar years, inspiring new efforts to measure flows of energy and materials in relation to industrial needs. Moreover, a new generation of scientists repeated the same trajectory—from wartime resource crises to postwar attempts to rethink humanity’s relationship to its environment—that had led Vernadskii to develop the concept of the biosphere in the 1920s. The US ornithologist William Vogt, for example, spent the war years studying the nitrogen-and phosphate-rich guano deposits of Peru and coordinating scientific cooperation between the United States and Latin America; after the war, he drew on these experiences to become a leading voice in the emerging environmental movement, warning about an impending global resource crisis and advocating for population control.102

Even certain aspects of the development of the atomic bomb showed significant continuity with earlier attempts to identify strategic materials and develop new ways of exploiting them. Early in the war, physicists’ realization that the enormous amounts of energy released by atomic fission might be harnessed to make new kinds of weapons led to an international race to locate and control sources of uranium ore and to develop new processes for separating the highly fissile isotope uranium-235 from the more plentiful uranium-238. In the Soviet Union, Vernadskii and Fersman helped convince the Soviet Academy of Sciences that the exploitation of atomic energy could be the key both to military victory and to the country’s postwar prosperity.103 The Uranium Commission founded as a result ultimately contributed little to the war effort, but it helped lay the foundations for the postwar Soviet nuclear program.104 In the United States, meanwhile, the Manhattan Project succeeded in producing the atomic bombs used to devastate the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Just as crucial to the success of the Manhattan Project as the designs of the bombs themselves was access to uranium, a new kind of strategic material that the United States initially procured from mines in Canada, the Belgian Congo, and the Colorado Plateau. The uranium thus acquired was subsequently processed at massive new industrial facilities that dwarfed those built by Germany to fix nitrogen during World War I. They included the Clinton Engineer Works at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where uranium-235 was separated from uranium-238, and the Hanford Engineer Works in Washington State, where uranium-238 was transformed into plutonium-239 by bombarding it with neutrons in the world’s first large-scale nuclear reactor.105

Some things did change significantly in the shift to radioactive materials as the fuel for new kinds of armament and a new means of producing energy. Unlike the refining of tungsten, aluminum, and other elements already present in Earth’s crust, the transformation of uranium into plutonium—first accomplished (p.129) in 1940 in a cyclotron at the University of California, Berkeley—actually created new atoms of an element that was so vanishingly rare that it had previously escaped the attention of physicists and mineralogists.106 In this way, it went beyond even Vernadskii’s vision of new “cultural” minerals produced through human industry but made out of existing atoms to include creating elements and isotopes that had never been observed in nature. In terms of their absolute mass, these new elements remained insignificant in comparison to other industrial materials. The United States, for example, produced less than 112 metric tons of plutonium in the half-century after 1944—a tiny fraction of the billions of tons of steel produced during the same period.107 Nonetheless, because of their high levels of radioactivity, these elements and their decay products had a significance that went beyond their mass.

As these radioactive elements were released into individual ecosystems and the biosphere as a whole from the 1940s onward (sometimes intentionally for research purposes, sometimes as byproducts of nuclear weapons testing and the nuclear power industry), they provided new ways of tracking biogeochemical cycles and new reasons to worry about the consequences of humanity’s domination of the planet. From the 1940s onward, for example, ecosystem ecologists in the United States began using radioactive isotopes to map and measure the quantities and rates of flow of materials through local and global biogeochemical systems with unprecedented precision. Unsurprisingly, Hutchinson was one of the earliest adopters of the technique, using radioactive tracers to study the movement of materials through lake ecosystems almost as soon as small quantities became available for scientific research in the early 1940s.108 After the war, US scientists’ access to radioactive isotopes and radiation sources expanded dramatically with the help of the Atomic Energy Commission and the Atoms for Peace program, the latter of which sought to give a peaceful face to the United States’ ongoing nuclear weapons and nuclear energy programs.109 The result was a tool for studying biogeochemical processes at a level of precision that earlier researchers could only have dreamed of.

Radioactive materials were not simply tracers of existing biogeochemical cycles, however; they were also interventions into those cycles in their own right. By the mid-1950s, scientists recognized that even in the absence of actual nuclear war, the biosphere was being transformed by the introduction of radioactive isotopes that had previously been entirely absent or present only in minuscule amounts, and that these transformations might bode ill for the future of human health. The appearance of radioactive strontium in milk as a result of atmospheric nuclear tests conducted in the 1940s and ’50s (p.130) proved particularly alarming. While some scientists remained sanguine about the capacity of humanity to manage these unruly new resources, others became increasingly concerned. Among them was Alexander Pavlovich Vinogradov, who had taken over the Biogeochemical Laboratory after Vernadskii’s death. In the late 1950s, even as both the US and Soviet governments continued to suppress information about domestic nuclear accidents and radioactive contamination, Vinogradov joined other scientists in warning of the health risks of radioactive fallout. As early as 1954, for example, he was among the signatories of an unpublished report to the Soviet government warning of the effects of fallout from atmospheric nuclear weapons testing.110 More publicly, as a participant in the Pugwash movement of scientists opposed to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, Vinogradov warned in 1959 that “atomic explosions are being conducted under the earth, in the stratosphere, in the troposphere, and in the ionosphere … without any attempt on the part of statesmen to understand the final results of such actions on their part.”111 In Vinogradov’s warnings about the toxic effects of fallout, the optimism of his mentor Vernadskii was turned on its head. Rather than heralding the emergence of the noösphere as a new stage in the evolution of humanity and of Earth, the proliferation of “cultural” minerals indicated the slow poisoning of the biosphere as a whole.

The combination of the use of radioisotopes to map and quantify biogeochemical processes, the theories of feedback and control associated with cybernetics, and concerns about the potential ecological aftereffects of nuclear war proved central to the rise of one of Hutchinson’s students, H. T. Odum, to a position of leadership in ecology in the United States in the decades following World War II.112 After completing a dissertation in the late 1940s on what he called the “world strontium cycle” that followed closely in the footsteps of Vernadskii, Vinogradov, and Hutchinson, Odum made his scientific reputation by using radioisotopes to study exchanges of energy and matter between organisms and their surroundings.113 In a study of the effects of atomic bomb testing on the Pacific atoll of Enewetak conducted with his brother Eugene in 1954, for example, he found that the animal parts of the coral reef absorbed much more radiation than their algal symbionts, which provided an important clue to the circulation of nutrients throughout the system.114 Separately, Eugene Odum also conducted numerous studies of the Savannah River nuclear site in South Carolina, where plutonium and tritium were produced for the US nuclear weapons program. He and his collaborators used radioactive strontium, phosphorus, and other radioisotopes “as ‘tags’ in population studies, as aids in measuring energy flow rates in nature, and as a means of determining the movement of elements in biogeochemical cycles.”115 Over the following (p.131) decades, the Odum brothers’ biogeochemical and systems-theoretic vision of ecology profoundly shaped the field’s development in the United States.

Modeling even the simplest ecosystems using such methods quickly outstripped the capacity of ecologists to calculate them by hand. To meet this challenge, ecologists turned to digital computers, whose development had been largely funded by the US military during and after World War II and which first became available to academic researchers in the late 1950s.116 Although ecologists began experimenting with the use of computers as soon as they became available, the key turning point in their adoption came in 1962 with the launching of the International Biological Program (IBP), which aimed to promote and coordinate research on “the biological basis of productivity and human welfare.” The US contribution to the IBP was mainly devoted to a program called Analysis of Ecosystems, which was directed by a former student of Hutchinson’s named Frederick Smith.117 With the aim of producing large-scale computerized simulations of the world’s biomes, researchers involved in the program measured biomass and nutrient flow and built computer simulations of the feedback loops that governed the relationships among components within each ecosystem. The links between these efforts and earlier concerns with wartime resource crises were rarely made explicit, but the legacies of those efforts were clear in both the methods of the Analysis of Ecosystems program and the language used to described it. When Smith sought to justify the large US investment in the IBP, for example, he called it a contribution to understanding and managing humanity’s impact on the “biosphere.”118

In the adoption of biogeochemical methods and the language of the “biosphere” in ecosystem ecology, we can see both the continuation of projects and themes dating back to the period immediately following World War I and their transformation under new conditions. If the production of transuranic elements such as plutonium confirmed Vernadskii’s vision of an unfolding noösphere in which human consciousness was critical to the energetic and material functioning of Earth, it also challenged his faith that the maelstrom of globalized, industrialized warfare could serve as a step on the path toward a community of free-thinking, self-reflective human beings. On the contrary, both the threat of nuclear war and the spread of radioactive wastes suggested that a human-dominated Earth might be closer to a sphere of death than a sphere of life—what some scholars have called a “thanatosphere,” that is, rather than a biosphere.119 In the hands of ecosystem ecologists after World War II, biogeochemistry became less optimistic, albeit no less ambitious. Recast in the technocratic language of “systems,” it offered a set of conceptual and (p.132) material tools for reengineering everything from individual ecosystems to the biosphere as a whole. We can thus see how certain techniques and theoretical claims could, when adapted to a new context, retain their utility even as their broader significance was transformed.

In 1943, with the outcome of World War II still unclear, Vernadskii wrote an essay situating the origins of his interest in the biosphere in his experience of the previous world war. Published in English translation at Hutchinson’s request in the American Scientist just a few weeks after Vernadskii’s death in January 1945, the essay explained that it was “in the atmosphere” of World War I that he had “approached a conception of nature, at that time forgotten and thus new for myself and for others, a geochemical and biogeochemical conception embracing both inert and living nature from the same point of view.”120 In other words, Verandskii wrote, it was as a result of the resource crises of the first global industrialized war, which had focused his attention on the global circulation of the “strategic materials” that kept industrial economies running and armies well supplied, that he had come to recognize the importance of Earth’s “biosphere”—that is, a planetary entity composed of living and nonliving components organized into self-reproducing systems and fueled by energy from the sun.

Vernadskii’s shift in focus as a result of the war was an experience shared by a multigenerational group of scientists who participated in wartime efforts to maintain industrial production and military capacity despite the disruptions and deprivations of the war, or who were later influenced by those who had. It included people directly involved in the search for strategic materials such as Victor Goldschmidt, whose work on Norway’s Raw Materials Commission laid the foundations for his postwar studies of global geochemical cycles, as well as people like Alfred Lotka or Vito Volterra whose wartime work had been only marginally concerned with resources but who later came into productive contact with others who had been directly concerned with wartime supplies of food and other strategic materials. The war also indirectly influenced scientists such as Hutchinson, Lindeman, and Odum, who had been too young when the war broke out to be involved in such expert commissions and other war-related efforts themselves. Through their experiences, we can see how war both transformed the material and social environment and provided opportunities for scientists to conceptualize that environment in new ways.

In particular, by attending to the techniques for quantifying and modeling (p.133) the stocks and flows of matter and energy that rose to prominence during and after World War I, we can see how the adoption of a new set of techniques lent plausibility to a new way of imagining environments and the entities that they surrounded in terms of “systems” that included living and nonliving components. As Vernadskii suggested, these methods approached both “inert and living nature” in similar ways—in particular, they reduced entities to their chemical and energetic composition, quantified their magnitudes and rates of change, and determined their functional role in a larger system or systems of which they were components. Sophisticated methods such as x-ray spectroscopy allowed Goldschmidt, Hutchinson, Odum, and others to quantitatively determine the chemical composition of living and nonliving bodies. Even simple techniques for counting and measuring living beings—such as those used by Stanchinskii in Askania-Nova and Lindeman in his trophic-dynamic study in Minnesota—proved remarkably generative when linked to mathematical models of the flow of energy and materials. This was particularly the case when those models could be implemented in digital computers, as they were in the decades following World War II.

One of the things that made these methods distinctive was precisely the fact that they could be applied in similar ways to both living and nonliving entities. The concepts of “biosphere” and “ecosystem” that were developed between the 1920s and the 1940s drew on the data produced by these techniques to suggest a new model of nature centered not on “organisms” or “living communities” but instead on “systems.” Like an organism or a communitiy, a system was an assemblage of diverse parts that were functionally integrated and organized in relation to the conditions that surrounded them. Unlike an organism or a community, however, a system did not consist solely of living beings. Since the theorists of ecosystems assumed from the outset that those systems included nonliving components—some of them possibly human-made or at least human-influenced—they were also more open to altering or replacing those components than most community ecologists had been. Where community ecologists had seen human activities as “disturbances” of natural processes of ecological succession, ecosystem ecologists saw changes in the feedback loops of self-organizing systems. Reflecting its roots in wartime resource management, the systems view thus opened the door to technocratic and managerial approaches to solving ecological problems.

Even after the end of World War II, concerns about national security continued to shape the sciences of biogeochemistry and ecosystem ecology. Indeed, the Cold War heightened the interest of scientists and governments in methods that could be used to predict and control the flow of resources and (p.134) energy through natural and artificial systems. Using radioactive tracers and computerized models, ecologists showed how complex systems of living and nonliving components were organized through feedback loops that allowed them to maintain their structure under particular external conditions. The awareness that humanity had introduced radically new and potentially harmful substances into the biosphere also raised new concerns, however, about the potential for humanity to damage or even destroy its own environment. These concerns contributed to the emergence of a self-conscious “environmental movement” in the 1960s and ’70s, when consumers in the United States and elsewhere began to realize that the safety and healthiness of the products they purchased could not be disentangled from the quality of the environments in which they were produced. The next chapter turns to these consumers and to the activists who laid the foundation for a new kind of popular “environmentalism.”


(1.) Ronald H. Limbaugh, Tungsten in Peace and War, 1918–1946 (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2010), 18–42.

(2.) “Wolfram Ore and Tungsten,” Journal of the Royal Society of Arts 66, no. 3436 (1918): 702–3, on 702. See also Kendall E. Bailes, Science and Russian Culture in an Age of Revolutions: V. I. Vernadsky and His Scientific School, 18631945 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), 138–39.

(3.) Alfred G. White, “Economic Aspects of the World Mineral Situation,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 83 (1919): 70–85, on 76.

(4.) W. I. Vernadsky, “The Biosphere and the Noösphere,” American Scientist 33, no. 1 (1945): 1–12, on 5; Bailes, Science and Russian Culture, 138–40; Alexei Kojevnikov, “The Great War, the Russian Civil War, and the Invention of Big Science,” Science in Context 15, no. 2 (2002): 239–75, on 251–54; Jonathan D. Oldfield and Denis J. B. Shaw, “V. I. Vernadskii and the Development of Biogeochemical Understandings of the Biosphere, c.1880s–1968,” British Journal for the History of Science 46, no. 2 (2013): 287–310; Alexei B. Kozhevnikov, Stalin’s Great Science: The Times and Adventures of Soviet Physicists (London: Imperial College Press, 2004), 17–22.

(5.) Bailes, Science and Russian Culture, 138. Because the transliteration of Cyrillic names has varied across languages and changed over time, Vernadskii is often spelled Vernadsky, and Vladimir is sometimes spelled Wladimir.

(6.) Vladimir I. Vernadskii, “Ob izuchenii yestestvennykh proizvoditel’nykh sil Rossii” [On the study of the natural productive forces of Russia], Ocherki i rechi [Essays and speeches], vol. 1 (1922), 1–25, quote on 5. Quoted and translated in Kojevnikov, “Great War, Russian Civil War, and Big Science,” 252.

(7.) Heinz Kautzleben and Axel Müller, “Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky (1863–1945)—from Mineral to Noosphere,” Journal of Geochemical Exploration 147 (2014): 4–10, on 7.

(8.) Richard P. Tucker, Insatiable Appetite: The United States and the Ecological Degradation (p.244) of the Tropical World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 248. See also Richard P. Tucker, Tait Keller, J. R. McNeill, and Martin Schmid, eds., Environmental Histories of the First World War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018).

(9.) For the United States, see Edson S. Bastin, “War-Time Mineral Activities in Washington,” Economic Geology 13 (1918): 524–37; “The Joint Information Board on Minerals and Derivatives,” Science 47, no. 1216 (1918): 385–86; and Whitman Cross, “Geology in the World War and After,” Bulletin of the Geological Society of America 30 (1919): 165–88. See also Walter E. Pittman, “American Geologists at War: World War I,” Reviews in Engineering Geology, vol. 13: Military Geology in War and Peace, ed. James R. Underwood and Peter L. Guth (Boulder, CO: Geological Society of America, 1998), 41–47.

(10.) Hew Strachan, “From Cabinet War to Total War: The Perspective of Military Doctrine, 1861–1918,” in Great War, Total War: Combat and Mobilization on the Western Front, 1914–1918, ed. Roger Chickering and Stig Förster (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 19–34.

(11.) Gregory T. Cushman, Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World: A Global Ecological History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 156.

(12.) United States Food Administration, Ten Lessons in Food Conservation (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1917), 3.

(13.) An Act to Provide Further for the National Security and Defense by Encouraging the Production, Conserving the Supply, and Controlling the Distribution of Food Products and Fuel, Public Law 41, U.S. Statutes at Large 40 (1917): 276–87; United States Food Commission, “Food for All—a Fundamental War Problem,” Scientific American 118, no. 14 (1918): 310–11; William Clinton Mullendore, History of the United States Food Administration, 1917–1919 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1941). See also Timothy Johnson, “Nitrogen Nation: The Legacy of World War I and the Politics of Chemical Agriculture in the United States, 1916–1933,” Agricultural History 90, no. 2 (2016): 209–29.

(14.) D. F. Houston, “Report of the Secretary of Agriculture,” in Annual Reports of the Department of Agriculture for the Year Ended June 30, 1919 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1920), 3–46, on 4; see also tables on 6–7.

(15.) “German Destruction in Northern France,” Iron Age 104, no. 2 (July 10, 1919): 85–90.

(16.) George A. L. Dumont, “Devastation of the French Coal Mines,” Military Engineer 15, no. 84 (1923): 487–94, on 489.

(17.) William H. Scheifley, “The Depleted Forests of France,” North American Review 212, no. 778 (1920): 378–86, quote on 379.

(18.) Final Report of the Forestry Sub-committee of the Reconstruction Committee (London: H. M. Stationery Office, 1918), 23–34.

(19.) F. D. Acland, “The Prospects of Starting State Forestry,” Contemporary Review 115 (1919): 386–95, on 387–88.

(20.) Edward Percy Stebbing, British Forestry: Its Present Position and Outlook after the War (London: John Murray, 1916), 29.

(22.) A. Joshua West, “Forests and National Security: British and American Forestry Policy in the Wake of World War I,” Environmental History 8, no. 2 (2003): 270–93, on 275. Forests (p.245) in France were similarly devastated; see Chris Pearson, Mobilizing Nature: The Environmental History of War and Militarization in Modern France (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016), 92; and Jean-Yves Puyo, “Les Conséquences de la Première Guerre Mondiale pour les Forêts et les Forestiers Français,” Revue Forestière Française 56 (2004): 573–84.

(23.) Vaclav Smil, Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food Production (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004).

(25.) Thomas Parke Hughes, “Technological Momentum in History: Hydrogenation in Germany, 1898–1933,” Past & Present, no. 44 (1969): 106–32, on 110.

(26.) William Notz, “The World’s Coal Situation during the War: I,” Journal of Political Economy 26, no. 6 (1918): 567–611, on 568.

(27.) Hugh S. Gorman, The Story of N: A Social History of the Nitrogen Cycle and the Challenge of Sustainability (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2013), 84–97.

(28.) Deborah K. Fitzgerald, Every Farm a Factory: The Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 17–20.

(29.) First Annual Report of the Forestry Commissioners, Year Ending September 30th, 1920 (London: H. M. Stationery Office, 1921), 11–15; E. P. Stebbing, “The Forestry Commission: The First Twenty-Five Years,” Nature 155, no. 3933 (March 17, 1945): 317–18.

(30.) George Otis Smith, ed., The Strategy of Minerals: A Study of the Mineral Factor in the World Position of America in War and in Peace (New York: D. Appleton, 1919). See also Tucker et al., Environmental Histories of the First World War.

(31.) Andrea Westermann, “Geology and World Politics: Mineral Resource Appraisals as Tools of Geopolitical Calculation, 1919–1939,” Historical Social Research/Historische Sozialforschung 40, no. 2 (2015): 151–73, on 159.

(32.) W. Stanley Jevons, The Coal Question: An Enquiry Concerning the Progress of the Nation, and the Probable Exhaustion of Our Coal-Mines (London: Macmillan, 1865), 305–27. See also Fredrik Albritton Jonsson, Enlightenment’s Frontier: The Scottish Highlands and the Origins of Environmentalism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013), 186.

(33.) Alfred G. White, “Economic Aspects of the World Mineral Situation,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 83 (1919): 70–85, on 78; Joseph E. Pogue, “Mineral Resources in War and Their Bearing on Preparedness,” Scientific Monthly 5, no. 2 (1917): 120–34, on 127.

(35.) Andy Bruno, “A Eurasian Mineralogy: Aleksandr Fersman’s Conception of the Natural World,” Isis 107, no. 3 (2016): 518–39, on 523–34.

(36.) Kendall E. Bailes, Technology and Society under Lenin and Stalin: Origins of the Soviet Technical Intelligentsia, 19171941 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978), 41–43.

(37.) V. M. Goldschmidt, “Teknisk-videnskabelig forskningsarbeide i utlandet og i Norge,” Samtiden 29 (1918): 619–29, on 622.

(38.) Brian Mason, Victor Moritz Goldschmidt: Father of Modern Geochemistry, Special Publication Number 4 (San Antonio, TX: Geochemical Society, 1992), 23–24.

(39.) V. M. Goldschmidt, “Olivine and Forsterite Refractories in Europe,” Industrial and Engineering Chemistry 30, no. 1 (1938): 32–34. See also Mason, Victor Moritz Goldschmidt, 25–26.

(p.246) (40.) Mason, Victor Moritz Goldschmidt, 25. Despite Goldschmidt’s efforts, extracting magnesium from olivine remained more expensive than extracting it from seawater.

(42.) Henry E. Lowood, “The Calculating Forester: Quantification, Cameral Science, and the Emergence of Scientific Forestry Management in Germany,” in The Quantifying Spirit in the 18th Century, ed. Tore Frängsmyr, J. L. Heilbron, and Robin E. Rider (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 315–42.

(43.) Edward Percy Stebbing, “Forestry and the War,” Journal of the Royal Society of Arts 64, no. 3304 (March 17, 1916): 350–60, quote on 359.

(44.) Miles Menander Dawson, “The Dynamics of Mobilization of Human Resources,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 78 (1918): 7–15.

(45.) Robert M. Yerkes, Psychological Examining in the United States Army (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1921); E. K. Strong, “Work of the Committee on Classification of Personnel in the Army,” Journal of Applied Psychology 2, no. 2 (1918): 130–39. See also Daniel J. Kevles, “Testing the Army’s Intelligence: Psychologists and the Military in World War I,” Journal of American History 55 (1968): 565–81; and John Carson, The Measure of Merit: Talents, Intelligence, and Inequality in the French and American Republics, 1750–1940 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), 197–219.

(46.) Lotus D. Coffman, “The Rehabilitation of Disabled Soldiers,” Journal of Education 89, no. 12 (1919): 327–29, on 328. See also Beth Linker, War’s Waste: Rehabilitation in World War I America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 153–54.

(47.) Vernadsky, “The Biosphere and the Noösphere,” 5. See also Paul Josephson and Thomas Zeller, “The Transformation of Nature under Hitler and Stalin,” in Science and Ideology: A Comparative History, ed. Mark Walker (New York: Routledge, 2003), 124–55.

(48.) Ernst Jünger, “Die totale Mobilmachung,” in Krieg und Krieger, ed. Ernst Jünger (Berlin: Junker und Dünnhaupt Verlag, 1930), 9–30, reprinted in Sämtliche Werke, Band 8: Essays I: Betrachtungen der Zeit (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1980), 119–42. See also Roger Chickering, “Sore Loser: Ludendorff’s Total War,” in The Shadows of Total War: Europe, East Asia, and the United States, 1919–1939, ed. Roger Chickering and Stig Forster (Washington, DC: German Historical Institute and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 151–66.

(49.) Mark Mazower, Governing the World: The History of an Idea, 1815 to the Present (New York: Penguin, 2012), 94–115; Helen Tilley, Africa as a Living Laboratory: Empire, Development, and the Problem of Scientific Knowledge, 1870–1950 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 115–68; Paul Sutter, Driven Wild: How the Fight against Automobiles Launched the Modern Wilderness Movement (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009), 161–62.

(50.) On the Russian tradition of soil science that served as an important influence on and context for Vernadskii’s work, see Lloyd Ackert, Sergei Vinogradskii and the Cycle of Life: From the Thermodynamics of Life to Ecological Microbiology, 1850–1950 (Dordrecht: Springer, 2013); and Jonathan D. Oldfield and Denis J. B. Shaw, The Development of Russian Environmental Thought: Scientific and Geographical Perspectives on the Natural Environment (New York: Routledge, 2016), 48–77.

(p.247) (52.) David Holloway, Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939–1956 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994), 31–33; Bailes, Science and Russian Culture, 169.

(53.) On Vinogradov’s relationship to Vernadskii, see Bailes, Science and Russian Culture, 163, 170; Boris Belitzky, “Soviet Environmentalist,” New Scientist, January 2, 1975, 15–17; and Georgy S. Levit, “Looking at Russian Ecology through the Biosphere Theory,” in Ecology Revisited: Reflecting on Concepts, Advancing Science, ed. Astrid Schwarz and Kurt Jax (Dordrecht: Springer, 2011), 333–47, on 341.

(54.) Goldschmidt quoted in C. E. Tilley, “Victor Moritz Goldschmidt: 1888–1947,” Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society 6, no. 17 (1948): 51–66, on 55. See also Helge Kragh, “From Geochemistry to Cosmochemistry: The Origin of a Scientific Discipline, 1915–1955,” in Chemical Sciences in the 20th Century: Bridging Boundaries, ed. Carsten Reinhardt (New York: Wiley-VCH, 2001), 160–90.

(55.) Assar Hadding, “Mineralienanalyse nach röntgenspektroskopischer Methode,” Zeitschift für anorganische und allgemeine Chemie 122 (1922): 195–200. See also Mason, Victor Moritz Goldschmidt, 28.

(56.) Victor Moritz Goldschmidt, “Der Stoffwechsel der Erde,” Zeitschrift für Elektrochemie und angewandte physikalische Chemie 28, no. 19/20 (1922): 411–21; V. M. Goldschmidt, “The Principles of Distribution of Chemical Elements in Minerals and Rocks,” Journal of the Chemical Society [no volume or issue number] (1937): 655–73. See also Mason, Victor Moritz Goldschmidt, 44, 60–61

(58.) Anne Harrington, Reenchanted Science: Holism in German Culture from Wilhelm II to Hitler (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 54–62.

(59.) Jakob von Uexküll, Umwelt und Innenwelt der Tiere (Berlin: Julius Springer, 1909). See also Wolf Feuerhahn, “Du milieu à l’Umwelt: Enjeux d’un changement terminologique,” Revue Philosophique de la France et de l’Étranger 199, no. 4 (2009): 419–38.

(60.) Jakob von Uexküll, “Der Organismus als Staat und der Staat als Organismus,” in Der Leuchter: Weltanschauung und Lebensgestaltung, ed. Alexander von Gliechen-Russwurm (Darmstadt: Otto Reichl Verlag, 1919), 79–110.

(61.) Jakob von Uexküll, Staatsbiologie (Anatomie-Phsiologie-Pathologie des Staates) (Berlin: Gebrüder Paetel, 1920); Jakob von Uexküll, Theoretical Biology, trans. D. L. Mackinnon (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1926), 338–50. See also Harrington, Reenchanted Science, 54–55.

(62.) On the “speed” or “velocity” of life, see Vernadsky, Biosphere, 65–66.

(63.) Vito Volterra, “Fluctuations in the Abundance of a Species Considered Mathematically,” Nature 118, no. 2973 (October 16, 1926): 558–60. See also Sharon E. Kingsland, Modeling Nature: Episodes in the History of Population Ecology, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 106–7.

(64.) Alfred J. Lotka, Elements of Physical Biology (Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1925). See also Ariane Tanner, Die Mathematisierung des Lebens: Alfred James Lotka und der energetische Holismus im 20. Jahrhundert (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2017).

(65.) Raymond Pearl, The Nation’s Food: A Statistical Study of a Physiological and Social Problem (Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1920); Raymond Pearl, The Biology of Population Growth (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1925). See also Kingsland, Modeling Nature, 29, 60–64; (p.248) Alison Bashford, Global Population: History, Geopolitics, and Life on Earth (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), 197; and Tanner, Die Mathematisierung des Lebens, 84, 183.

(66.) G. F. Gause, “Ecology of Populations,” Quarterly Review of Biology 7, no. 1 (1932): 27–46, quote on 44–45.

(67.) Douglas R. Weiner, Models of Nature: Ecology, Conservation, and Cultural Revolution in Soviet Russia (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 78–82.

(70.) G. Evelyn Hutchinson, The Kindly Fruits of the Earth: Recollections of an Embryo Ecologist (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979), 233; Joel B. Hagen, An Entangled Bank: The Origins of Ecosystem Ecology (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992), 64–65. The spelling of George Vernadsky’s last name matches the conventions for transliterating Russian names that were common at the time of his immigration to the United States.

(71.) G. Evelyn Hutchinson, “The Biogeochemistry of Aluminum and of Certain Related Elements,” Quarterly Review of Biology 18, no. 1 (1943): 1–29, quote on 1.

(72.) Raymond L. Lindeman, “The Trophic-Dynamic Aspect of Ecology,” Ecology 23, no. 4 (1942): 399–417. See also Robert E. Cook, “Raymond Lindeman and the Trophic-Dynamic Concept in Ecology,” Science 198, no. 4312 (1977): 22–26.

(74.) Hagen, Entangled Bank: Origins of Ecosystem Ecology; Frank B. Golley, A History of the Ecosystem Concept in Ecology: More Than the Sum of the Parts (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993); David C. Coleman, Big Ecology: The Emergence of Ecosystem Science (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010).

(75.) Donald Worster, Nature’s Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas, 2nd ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 191–204.

(76.) Karl Möbius, “Eine Austernbank ist eine Biocönose oder Lebensgemeinde,” in Die Auster und die Austernwirthschaft (Berlin: Wiegandt, Hempel & Parey, 1877), 72–87, on 76. See also Lynn K. Nyhart, Modern Nature: The Rise of the Biological Perspective in Germany (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 152–53.

(79.) Frederic Edward Clements, Research Methods in Ecology (Lincoln, NE: University Publishing, 1905), 199.

(80.) W. Vernadsky, La Géochimie (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1924), 52–61. See also Bailes, Science and Russian Culture, 186.

(83.) See Eduard Suess, Der Antlitz der Erde, vol. 3, part 2 (Vienna: F. Tempsky, 1909), 739–40. See also Jacques Grinevald, “Sketch for a History of the Idea of the Biosphere,” in Gaia, the Thesis, the Mechanisms and the Implications, ed. Peter Bunyard and Edward Goldsmith (Camelford, Cornwall: Wadebridge Ecological Center, 1988), 1–34.

(84.) Vernadsky, La Biosphère (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1929), 1–5.

(85.) A. G. Tansley, “The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts and Terms,” Ecology 16, (p.249) no. 3 (1935): 284–307. See also Peder Anker, Imperial Ecology: Environmental Order in the British Empire, 1895–1945 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001) 118–56.

(86.) Tansley, “Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts and Terms,” 296. See also Angela N. H. Creager, Life Atomic: A History of Radioisotopes in Science and Medicine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 351–53, 356–67.

(90.) Nancy G. Slack, G. Evelyn Hutchinson and the Invention of Modern Ecology (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010), 173–74.

(91.) See Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics (New York: J. Wiley, 1948). See also Ronald R. Kline, The Cybernetics Moment: Or Why We Call Our Age the Information Age (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015).

(92.) G. Evelyn Hutchinson, “Circular Causal Systems in Ecology,” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 50 (1948): 221–46. See also Hagen, Entangled Bank: Origins of Ecosystem Ecology, 68–74; Creager, Life Atomic, 360; and N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Post-human: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 50–83.

(95.) Vernadsky, 9; italics in the original have been removed. See also Clive Hamilton and Jacques Grinevald, “Was the Anthropocene Anticipated?,” Anthropocene Review 2, no. 1 (2015): 59–72, esp. 65–66.

(97.) Vernadsky, 9; italics in the original have been removed.

(98.) Peter J. Taylor, “Technocratic Optimism, H. T. Odum, and the Partial Transformation of Ecological Metaphor after World War II,” Journal of the History of Biology 21, no. 2 (1988): 213–44.

(101.) Harrington, Reenchanted Science, 68–69; Florian Mildenberger and Bernd Herrmann, “Nachwort,” in Umwelt und Innenwelt der Tiere, by Jakob Johann von Uexküll, ed. Florian Mildenberger and Bernd Herrmann (Berlin: Springer, 2014), 261–330.

(102.) See William Vogt, Road to Survival (New York: W. Sloane Associates, 1948). See also Cushman, Guano and the Pacific World, 243–81; and Thomas Robertson, “Total War and the Total Environment: Fairfield Osborn, William Vogt, and the Birth of Global Ecology,” Environmental History 17, no. 2 (2012): 336–64.

(104.) Holloway, Stalin and the Bomb, 100–115; Kendall E. Bailes, “Soviet Science in the Stalin Period: The Case of V. I. Vernadskii and His Scientific School, 1928–1945,” Slavic Review 45, no. 1 (1986): 20–37, on 28–32.

(105.) J. K. Gustafson, “Uranium Resources,” Scientific Monthly 69, no. 2 (1949): 115–20, on (p.250) 119; Richard G. Hewlett and Oscar E. Anderson Jr., The New World, 1939–1946: A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, vol. 1 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1962). See also Jonathan E. Helmreich, Gathering Rare Ores: The Diplomacy of Uranium Acquisition, 1943–1954 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986).

(106.) Glenn T. Seaborg, “Plutonium and Other Transuranium Elements,” Chemical and Engineering News 25, no. 6 (1947): 358–97, on 359–60.

(107.) United States Department of Energy, Plutonium: The First 50 Years (Washington, DC: US Department of Energy, 1996), 3.

(109.) Creager, Life Atomic, 137–41; Jacob Hamblin, “Exorcising Ghosts in the Age of Automation: United Nations Experts and Atoms for Peace,” Technology and Culture 47, no. 4 (2006): 734–56; John Krige, “Atoms for Peace, Scientific Internationalism, and Scientific Intelligence,” in Global Power Knowledge: Science and Technology in International Affairs, vol. 21 of Osiris, ed. John Krige and Kai-Henrik Barth (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 161–81.

(110.) Matthew Evangelista, Unarmed Forces: The Transnational Movement to End the Cold War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), 51–52; Holloway, Stalin and the Bomb, 337–39; Toshihiro Higuchi, “Epistemic Frictions: Radioactive Fallout, Health Risk Assessments, and the Eisenhower Administration’s Nuclear-Test Ban Policy, 1954–1958,” International Relations of the Asia-Pacific 18, no. 1 (2018): 99–124, on 115.

(111.) A. P. Vinogradov, “Prospects for the Pugwash Movement,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 15, no. 9 (1959): 376–78, quote on 377.

(112.) Taylor, “Technocratic Optimism, Odum, and Ecological Metaphor.”

(113.) Odum’s dissertation was titled “The Biogeochemistry of Strontium: With Discussion on the Ecological Integration of Elements”; some of its findings were published in H. T. Odum, “Stability of the World Strontium Cycle,” Science 114, no. 2964 (1951): 407–11. See also Karin E. Limburg, “The Biogeochemistry of Strontium: A Review of H. T. Odum’s Contributions,” Ecological Modelling 178 (2004): 31–33.

(114.) Howard T. Odum and Eugene P. Odum, “Trophic Structure and Productivity of a Windward Coral Reef Community on Eniwetok Atoll,” Ecological Monographs 25, no. 3 (1955): 291–320, on 301. See also Laura J. Martin, “Proving Grounds: Ecological Fieldwork in the Pacific and the Materialization of Ecosystems,” Environmental History 23, no. 3 (2018): 567–92. The spelling of the atoll’s name has changed from Eniwetok to Enewetak in the years since the Odums’ study.

(115.) E. P. Odum, R. P. Martin, and B. C. Loughman, “Scanning Systems for the Rapid Determination of Radioactivity in Ecological Materials,” Ecology 43, no. 1 (1962): 171–73, quote on 171. See also Creager, Life Atomic, 386–88; and Chunglin Kwa, “Radiation Ecology, Systems Ecology and the Management of the Environment,” in Science and Nature: Essays in the History of the Environmental Sciences, ed. Michael Shortland, BSHS Monographs 8 (British Society for the History of Science, 1993), 213–49.

(116.) Paul N. Edwards, The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996), 43–74; Kristine C. Harper, Weather by the Numbers: The Genesis of Modern Meteorology (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), 96–104.

(p.251) (117.) G. Ledyard Stebbins, “International Biological Program,” Science 137, no. 3532 (1962): 768–70.

(118.) Frederick E. Smith, “The International Biological Program and the Science of Ecology,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 60, no. 1 (1968): 5–11, on 6.

(119.) Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History, and Us, trans. David Fernbach (New York: Verso, 2015), 122–47.