“If history is any guide, it will be the wealthy with their hands on the levers. Climate imperialism, anyone?” — David Roberts, 2010
In the face of looming catastrophic climate change and the resultant biocrisis (1) the practice of geoengineering (2), the large-scale engineering of the Earth’s biosphere and atmosphere, has gained traction as a solution to this global predicament. Heralded as a technological solution that is scientific and objective, geoengineering efforts hope to leapfrog the slow bureaucracy of international negotiations and bypass the need to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or slow down economic growth. Why not counteract climate change by increasing the Earth’s albedo (3) thereby preventing the rise in global temperatures? Or artificially stimulate explosions of phytoplankton life in the oceans to increase carbon dioxide drawdown? The solutions seem seductively simple and straightforward, presenting a “third way” alongside mitigation and adaptation efforts, or a “Plan B” for planet Earth.
The truth is that geoengineering is unreliable, undemocratic, and dangerous. With a checkered history including the weaponisation of weather modification and full of uncritical technological optimism left over from the 1950s, geoengineering offers a mythical silver bullet as a response to the climate crisis while ignoring the root cause – capitalism and its corresponding “grow or die” imperative that necessitates that economic growth trumps all other considerations. To this end the capitalist system aims to use geoengineering to facilitate – by any means possible – a climate scenario that will allow for business as usual. But this “business as usual” will not be “usual” but unprecedented, characterised by exacerbated geopolitical imbalances, an ever-larger north/south divide, unpredictable climate responses, the danger of weather as a weapon of war, massive infrastructure burdens, and the ever-growing danger that the belief in a “techno-fix” to something as complex and convoluted as the Earth’s climate will threaten human civilisation.
The thesis of this article will be that a reliance on geoengineering to “solve” the climate crisis is not only a false solution, but an attempt to ensure the expansion of capitalist hegemony by extending commodification from “genes to species and to ecosystems” (Sullivan, 2009: 26) to the atmosphere (probablyasocialecologist, 2015) and now to the earth system as a whole (Szerszynski et al., 2013). Such a “solution” is neither desirable or necessary. After a brief look at the basics of capitalism, the most recent science regarding climate change, and how the roots of the climate crisis lie within our economic system, this article will study the basics of geoengineering including definitions, its history, its methods, contemporary examples, relevant legislation, and the predicted impacts. The bulk of this article will then concern the three P’s – predictions, possibilities, and problems of geoengineering. After this, the conclusion will detail the best way forward when confronted with the promises of geoengineering, including the alternative approaches already known to us and how a rational outlook needs to address the non-neutrality of technological solutions, and the required creation of a new economic system to better suit our role (willingly or not) as planetary stewards.
Part Two coming soon
(1) “We can call the real wave of extinctions caused by extreme ecological degradation the “biocrisis” … The biocrisis is the true in the moment of the apocalyptic false.” (Institute for Experimental Freedom, 2009: 9)
(2) Also referred to as “climate engineering” or “climate intervention”.
(3) “Albedo is a non-dimensional, unitless quantity that indicates how well a surface reflects solar energy.” (NSIDC, 2015)
- Institute for Experimental Freedom (2009). Introduction to the Apocalypse. https://www.indybay.org/uploads/2009/12/02/apocalypse_read.pdf Accessed 26 November 2015.
- NSIDC (2015). Thermodynamics: Albedo. https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/seaice/processes/albedo.html Accessed 26 November 2015.
- probablyasocialecologist (2015). The Failures of Atmospheric Commodification. https://fightingthebiocrisis.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/the-failures-of-atmospheric-commodification/ Accessed 26 November 2015.
- Roberts, D. (2010). The Ultimate Sunblock. http://prospect.org/article/ultimate-sunblock-0 Accessed 26 November 2015.
- Szerszynski, B., Kearnes, M., Macnaghten, P., Owen, R., Stilgoe, J. (2013). Why Solar Radiation Management Geoengineering and Democracy Won’t Mix. Environment and Planning A 45 (12), 2809-2816.