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Détente from the Air

Monitoring Air Pollution during the Cold War

During the period of détente in the 1970s, a Norwegian proposal to construct an air pollution monitoring network for the European continent resulted in the first concrete collaboration between the communist and capitalist blocs after the 1975 Helsinki Accords. Known as the “European-wide monitoring programme” or EMEP, the network earned considerable praise from diplomats for facilitating cooperation across the Iron Curtain. Yet as this article argues, EMEP was strongly influenced by the politics of détente and the constraints of the Cold War even as it helped to decrease tensions. Concerns about national security and sharing data with the enemy shaped both the construction of the monitoring network and the modeling of pollution transport. The article, published in Technology and Culture, proposes that environmental monitoring systems like EMEP reveal the ways in which observational technologies can affect conceptions of the natural world and the role of science in public policy.