ABSTRACT

When it comes to the large-scale environmental transformations that are associated with the Anthropocene it is, perhaps, unfair to single out individuals when apportioning responsibility for such changes. While it is evident that certain nations have disproportionately contributed to many of the environmental challenges we face today (see Sandberg and Sandberg, 2010), the idea that the actions of individuals can affect significant forms of ecological change appears farfetched. In relation to the atmosphere and the air that we breathe, however, one man has made an unusually significant contribution to its transformation. Thomas Midgley was an American scientist who worked at the interface of engineering and chemistry. Midgley was a highly respected and successful scientist in his day. He held over a hundred patents and helped to solve a series of problems that had baffled mechanical engineers for years. Despite these successes, in his Something New Under the Sun, John McNeill (2000: 111) claims that Midgley ‘[h]ad more impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in Earth’s history’.