In the 1970s, US scientists began sounding the alarm about a new kind of environmental problem: manmade chemical products that threatened to permanently damage the atmosphere and the climate. In response, chemical companies ranging from Royal Dutch Shell to Dupont began inventing new strategies for contesting this science and forestalling regulatory intervention. One especially salient strategy concerned a claim about the nature of the environment itself. It claimed that the environment was a fundamentally stable, self-regulating system and, as such, would eventually restore itself in the face of anthropogenic pollutants. This talk examines one iteration of this claim—the Gaia hypothesis, the theory that life controls and maintains the environmental conditions for life to exist—and reconstructs its epistemic life in the world of industry. In so doing, I show how the theories scientists use to produce environmental knowledge have historically been wielded to undermine efforts to link environmental problems with industrial operations.
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