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The Global Environmental Moment: Sovereignty and American Science on Spaceship Earth, 1945-1974


This dissertation argues that the still-existent political contours of international engagement on global environmental issues were forged in the late 1960s and early 1970s, in what I call the global environmental moment, during planning for and in the actions taken surrounding the first intergovernmental conference on the world environment: the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE), held in Stockholm Sweden in June 1972. Throughout the prior years of planning for the UNCHE, relatively less developed nations of the global South, led by Brazil, demanded that all environmental efforts must support--not limit--endeavors toward economic development, and along with other members of the Unite Nations, refused to relinquish their national sovereignty for the sake of global environmental protection. Ultimately, the UNCHE produced a Declaration, an Action Plan, and a new United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to coordinate environmental planning within the UN; yet these outward successes institutionalized non-binding, disjointed, and underfunded efforts that split the global North and South over the means for attaining global environmental protection. With the UN conference refusing to alter the status quo of geopolitical organization and impotent against stemming the environmental impact of economic development, large numbers of non-governmental organizations, politically active scientists, and environmental advocates of all stripes also descended on Stockholm to voice their own opinions on the causes and solutions to ongoing environmental degradation. Yet, the alternative conferences in Stockholm where these outliers met also fractured in political conflicts between advocates for the global South and those promoting environmental remedies popular in the global North. Collectively, the collapse of the global environmental moment amid these political and ideological differences created the historical ruts in which debate on global environmental issues have continued to tread ever since.

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