CSS Colloquium: Robert Naylor, University of Manchester
Atmospheres: Atmosphere-Supply Systems in the Post-War UK
Info about event
Using industry archives, this paper examines the use of atmospheric information within the post-war UK electricity, gas, and water industries for the purpose demand and supply management. In doing so, I uncover a form of atmospheric study that existed outside the bounds of meteorological institutions—atmosphere-supply studies—that drew upon the atmosphere as a valuable resource in order to allow these crucial supply systems to function effectively. Across the industries in question, I identify three distinctive strands to this form of study, all closely intertwined with changes in economic policy. Firstly, the atmosphere became a diagnostic tool, where atmospheric information was used to identify and isolate trends is supply and demand that would potentially lead to system inefficiencies or failures. Secondly, the atmosphere became an optimisation tool, where atmospheric information was used to synchronise supply and demand, leading to the reduction of redundancies and their associated costs. Finally the atmosphere became a planning tool, where atmospheric information was used to normalise long-term demand forecasts that informed the development of these supply systems. I show how workers within these industries metamorphized atmospheric information that they received from the Meteorological Office or collected themselves, reconstructing the weather as an entity that corresponded with changes in consumption in a simple, often linear, fashion. I also show how industry planners constructed climate as a static probability distribution in order to determine acceptable levels of failure. In doing so, I contribute to a larger shift in literature that deconstructs the divide between the atmosphere and societies, and question the view held by some within the World Meteorological Organization and the meteorological applications industry that greater quantities of higher quality atmospheric information will emancipate the greater part of the population from the effects of climate change.
Bio: Robert is a lecturer at Manchester's Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine. His research mainly concerns the intersection between climate and economy in a post war-context, looking both at how climate became an integral part of demand and supply forecasting, as well as how the economic environment of the 1970s affected nascent climate narratives.
Coffee, tea, cakes and fruit will be served before the colloquium @ 2 pm.