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Academic & Professional Books  History & Other Humanities  Environmental History

Desert Edens Colonial Climate Engineering in the Age of Anxiety

Series: Histories of Economic Life Volume: 9
By: Philipp Lehmann(Author)
248 pages, 20 b/w illustrations, 9 maps
Desert Edens
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  • Desert Edens ISBN: 9780691168869 Hardback Nov 2022 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 6 days
Price: £34.99
About this book Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

From the 1870s to the mid-twentieth century, European explorers, climatologists, colonial officials, and planners were avidly interested in large-scale projects that might actively alter the climate. Uncovering this history, Desert Edens looks at how arid environments and an increasing anxiety about climate in the colonial world shaped this upsurge in ideas about climate engineering. From notions about the transformation of deserts into forests to Nazi plans to influence the climates of war-torn areas, Philipp Lehmann puts the early climate-change debate in its environmental, intellectual, and political context, and considers the ways this legacy reverberates in the present climate crisis.

Lehmann examines some of the most ambitious climate-engineering projects to emerge in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Confronted with the Sahara in the 1870s, the French developed concepts for a flooding project that would lead to the creation of a man-made Sahara Sea. In the 1920s, German architect Herman Sörgel proposed damming the Mediterranean in order to geoengineer an Afro-European continent called "Alantropa," which would fit the needs of European settlers. And Nazi designs were formulated to counteract the desertification of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Despite ideological and technical differences, these projects all incorporated and developed climate-change theories and vocabulary. They also combined expressions of an extreme environmental pessimism with a powerful technological optimism that continue to shape the contemporary moment.

Focusing on the intellectual roots, intended effects, and impact of early measures to modify the climate, Desert Edens investigates how the technological imagination can be inspired by pressing fears about the environment and civilization.

Customer Reviews


Philipp Lehmann is an assistant professor of history at the University of California, Riverside.

Series: Histories of Economic Life Volume: 9
By: Philipp Lehmann(Author)
248 pages, 20 b/w illustrations, 9 maps
Media reviews

"This impressively conceived and researched study is timely in several senses. Lehmann's insightful historical analysis of European, especially German, responses to the challenges posed by what were perceived as expanding deserts provides illuminating context for current issues surrounding technology, development, and climate change, as well as those surrounding colonialism and decolonization. And it offers a sobering reminder of the hazards of political and intellectual hubris."
– Harriet Ritvo, author of The Dawn of Green: Manchester, Thirlmere, and Modern Environmentalism

"Lehmann explores the wilder shores of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century techno-optimism, following the fevered dreams of French and German engineers, planners, and ideologues who proposed to geoengineer Africa and Asia to make them climatically appealing to European settlers. An incisive and revealing book at the intersection of intellectual, colonial, and environmental history."
– J. R. McNeill, author of Mosquito Empires

"Using an extraordinarily wide array of sources, Desert Edens narrates a fascinating tale that deserves to be told. Containing a tapestry of individuals, institutions, master plans, and future imaginaries, this book will resonate with historians of environmental science and environmental history."
– Vladimir Jankovic, author of Confronting the Climate

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