Climate Imperial: Geoengineering and Capitalist Hegemony (Part Eight)

kleindayof_0

Techno-problems    

Despite the promises of technological fixes and the power of the burgeoning technocracy, geoengineering cannot solve all problems associated with the climate crisis. For example, the fast and cheap SRM method of geoengineering will do nothing to stop the crisis of ocean acidification. As SRM does nothing to stop GHG emissions “permanent chemical changes” to the ocean’s composition will be allowed to occur (Edney and Symons, 2014: 313). Indeed the addition of sulphate particles in the atmosphere will only contribute to acidification and increased occurrences of acid rain (Ming et al., 2014: 826). To slow down and prevent ocean acidification “immediate and ambitious action to reduce CO2 emissions is the most reliable strategy” (Mathesius et al., 2015: 1110), although it is a sad truth that implementing CDR geoengineering to boost these efforts would not prevent the “substantial legacy in the marine environment” left by human activity (1107).

Additionally the use of SRM geoengineering would affect solar power systems on the ground. The use of “cloud and aerosol modifications” would have an adverse effect on light diffusion thereby reducing the effectiveness of photovoltaic systems, as well as affecting crop productivity (Cho, 2012; Preston, 2013: 31). In fact some geoengineering techniques, including CDR, would require so large a scale to be effective that they would generate “their own environmental effects” by dint of existing (Ibid). And as mentioned earlier, the need for future generations to “stick with the program” of geoengineering for centuries (Burns, 2011) will produce massive burdens on already weakened infrastructure (e.g. Lehmann, 2014; CCC, 2014; Harvey, 2014), or else risk a massive rapid increase in temperature (Jackson and Salzman (2010) use the “analogy of a dim cloud passing, exposing the Earth to full sunlight” (72)).

Forced Hand

For the purposes of objectivity it has to be admitted that there are “benign” forms of geoengineering available – although viewing geoengineering as simply “the largest restoration project of them all” is too naive (Preston, 2012: 195). For example, CDR techniques that do not compete for land and mimic natural processes may be acceptable as well as inexpensive (Smith et al., 2015: 7). The research of Becker et al (2013) found that the large scale cultivation of Jatropha curcas (a semi-evergreen plant common in tropical regions) in hot and dry coastal areas around the world “could capture 17–25 t of carbon dioxide per hectare per year from the atmosphere” (237), making use of only marginal land in the process. Compared to more expensive or “technical” geoengineering projects, appropriate afforestation “is the most efficient and environmentally safe approach for climate change mitigation” as “vegetation has played a key role in the global carbon cycle for millions of years” (EGU, 2013).

However, we are faced with the very real danger that issues of “locked-in” warming due to the inertia of the climate system will render these discussions moot, in that to stave off climate apocalypse we would have no choice but to deploy geoengineering technologies.

The unavoidable changes in the climate set to happen are sometimes known as our (1) climate change “commitment” (Stover, 2015). As “the impacts of past human activities will be felt far into the future” the atmospheric levels of GHGs will take several centuries to slowly fall to pre-industrial concentrations. As the IPCC forebodingly warned, “a large fraction of climate change is largely irreversible on human time scales” (Collins et al., 2013: 1033). Oceanic warming and corresponding sea level rise is now “unstoppable” (Goldenberg, 2015) and the threat of additional GHG emissions released from warming permafrost will make “climate change happen faster than we would expect on the basis of projected emissions” (Schuur et al., 2015: 171). The World Bank recently warned that

“There is growing evidence that warming close to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels is locked-in to the Earth’s atmospheric system due to past and predicted emissions of greenhouse gases, and climate change impacts such as extreme heat events may now be unavoidable.” (2014: xiii)

The inadequacy of climate negotiations, manipulated as they are by nationalist and capitalist interests, are responsible for these future impacts. The COP 15 proposals in Copenhagen, 2009, for example, though never adopted, would have still “resulted in a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere compared to today by the end of the century” (Leinen, 2011: 1) with a corresponding global temperature increase of several degrees Celsius (Rahmstorf, 2008; Lindsey, 2014; Connor, 2015).

These are not hopeful portents. As a scientist working on the SPICE (Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering) project in the UK said:

“Full scale deployment of climate engineering technologies will be the clearest indication that we have failed in our role as planetary stewards, but there is a point at which not deploying some technologies would be unethical.” (University of Leeds, 2014)

On a similar note Jackson and Salzman (2010) admit that

“our climate is already changing, and we need to explore at least some kinds of carbon-removal technologies, because energy efficiency and renewables cannot take CO2 out of the air once it’s there.” (76)

Have we reached a point where we have no choice but to pursue geoengineering options? If so, how would we want them shaped, controlled, and implemented?

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven

Part Nine coming soon


(1) Of course, “our” climate change commitment should by no means imply that the responsibility of climate change rests equally on the shoulders of every member of the human race. To quote Bookchin (2005):

“One can no longer speak of “humanity” the way one can speak of species of carnivores or herbivores – that is, as groups of fairly uniform biological beings whose individuals are essentially alike. To use such ecumenical words as humanity, we, people, and the like in a purely biologistic sense when we discuss social affairs is grossly misleading. Although human beings are certainly mammals no less than bears, wolves, or coyotes, to ignore the hierarchical and class divisions that second nature has produced in their midst is to create the illusion of a commonality that humanity has by no means achieved. This ecumenical view of the human species places young people and old, women and men, poor and rich, exploited and exploiters, people of color and whites all on a par that stands completely at odds with social reality. Everyone, in turn, despite the different burdens he or she is obliged to bear, is given the same responsibility for the ills of our planet. Be they starving Ethiopian children or corporate barons, all people are held to be equally culpable in producing present ecological problems. Ecological problems, in effect, are de-socialized and restated in genetic, psychological, personal, and purely subjective terms so that they no longer have political or economic content.” (33)

References

  • Becker, K., Wulfmeyer, V., Berger, T., Gebel, J., Münch, W. (2013). Carbon farming in hot, dry coastal areas: an option for climate change mitigation. Earth System Dynamics 4, 237-251.
  • Bookchin, M. (2005). The Ecology of Freedom. AK Press, Oakland.
  • Burns, W. C. G. (2011). Climate Geoengineering: Solar Radiation Management and its Implications for Intergenerational Equity. Stanford Journal of Law, Science & Policy 4, 39-55.
  • CCC [Committee on Climate Change] (2014). Buildings and infrastructure ill-prepared for changing climate. https://www.theccc.org.uk/2014/07/08/buildings-and-infrastructure-ill-prepared-for-changing-climate/ Accessed 8 December 2015.
  • Cho, R. (2012). The Double-Edged Sword of Geoengineering. http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2012/05/01/the-double-edged-sword-of-geoengineering/ Accessed 8 December 2015.
  • Collins, M., R. Knutti, J. Arblaster, J.-L. Dufresne, T. Fichefet, P. Friedlingstein, X. Gao, W.J. Gutowski, T. Johns, G. Krinner, M. Shongwe, C. Tebaldi, A.J. Weaver and M. Wehner (2013). Long-term Climate Change: Projections, Commitments and Irreversibility. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Connor, S. (2015). Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris. http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/global-warming-experts-say-temperatures-could-rise-by-6c-by-2100-with-cataclysmic-results-10193506.html Accessed 27 November 2015.
  • Edney, K., Symons, J. (2014). China and the blunt temptations of geo-engineering: the role of solar radiation management in China’s strategic response to climate change. The Pacific Review 27 (3), 307-332.
  • EGU [European Geosciences Union] (2013). Press Release: Could planting trees in the desert mitigate climate change? Http://www.egu.eu/news/67/could-planting-trees-in-the-desert-mitigate-climate-change/ Accessed 8 December 2015.
  • Goldenberg, S. (2015). Warming of oceans due to climate change is unstoppable, say US scientists. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/16/warming-of-oceans-due-to-climate-change-is-unstoppable-say-us-scientists Accessed 9 December 2015.
  • Harvey, F. (2014). UK infrastructure neglected and at risk from climate change, engineers warn. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jun/26/vital-uk-infrastructure-neglected-engineers-warn Accessed December 2015.
  • Jackson, R. B., Salzman, J. (2010). Pursuing Geoengineering for Atmospheric Restoration. Issues in Science and Technology 26 (4), 67-76.
  • Lehmann, E. (2014). Infrastructure Threatened by Climate Change Poses a National Crisis. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/infrastructure-threatened-by-climate-change-poses-a-national-crisis/ Accessed 8 December 2015.
  • Leinen, M. (2011). The Asilomar International Conference on Climate Intervention Technologies: Background and Overview. Stanford Journal of Law, Science & Policy 4, 1-5.
  • Lindsey, R. (2014). How much will Earth warm if carbon dioxide doubles pre-industrial levels? https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-qa/how-much-will-earth-warm-if-carbon-dioxide-doubles-pre-industrial-levels Accessed 8 December 2015.
  • Mathesius, S., Hofmann, M., Caldeira, K., Schellnhuber, H. J. (2015). Long-term response of oceans to CO2 removal from the atmosphere. Nature Climate Change 5, 1107–1113.
  • Ming, T., de Richter, R., Liu, W., Caillol, S. (2014). Fighting global warming by climate engineering: Is the Earth radiation management and the solar radiation management any option for fighting climate change? Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 31, 792–834.
  • Preston, C. J. (2012). Beyond the End of Nature: SRM and Two Tales of Artificity for the Anthropocene. Ethics, Policy & Environment 15 (2), 188-201.
  • Preston, C. J. (2013). Ethics and geoengineering: reviewing the moral issues raised by solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 4 (1), 23-37.
  • Rahmstorf, S. (2008). Anthropogenic Climate Change: Revisiting the Facts. In Zedillo, E. (ed.) Global Warming: Looking Beyond Kyoto. Brookings Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 34–53.
  • Schuur, E. A. G., McGuire, A. D., Schädel, C., Grosse, G., Harden, J. W., Hayes, D. J., Hugelius, G., Koven, C. D., Kuhry, P., Lawrence, D. M., Natali, S. M., Olefeldt, D., Romanovsky, V. E., Schaefer, K., Turetsky, M. R., Treat, C. C., Vonk, J. E. (2015). Climate change and the permafrost carbon feedback. Nature 520, 171–179.
  • Smith, P., Davis, S. J., Creutzig, F., Fuss, S., Minx, J., Gabrielle, B., Kato, E., Jackson, R. B., Cowie, A., Kriegler, E., van Vuuren, D. P., Rogelj, J., Ciais, P., Milne, J., Canadell, J. G., McCollum, D., Peters, G., Andrew, R., Krey, V., Gyami, S., Friedlingstein, P., Gasser, T., Grübler, A., Heidug, W. K., Jonas, M., Jones, C. D., Kraxner, F., Littleton, E., Lowe, J., Moreira, J. R., Nakicenovic, N., Obersteiner, M., Patwardhan, A., Rogner, M., Rubin, E., Sharifi, A., Torvanger, A., Yamagata, Y., Edmonds, J., Yongsung, C. (2015). Biophysical and economic limits to negative CO2 emissions. Nature Climate Change.
  • Stover, D. (2015). Climate change: irreversible but not unstoppable. http://thebulletin.org/climate-change-irreversible-not-unstoppable8044 Accessed 8 December 2015.
  • University of Leeds (2014). Geoengineering our climate is not a ‘quick fix’. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141125205712.htm Accessed 28 November 2015.
  • World Bank Group (2014). Turn Down the Heat: Confronting the New Climate Normal. World Bank, Washington DC.
Advertisements

Climate Imperial: Geoengineering and Capitalist Hegemony (Part Seven)

114_ce_rendering-contactor_large

Techno-fetishism   

Another key problem with current approaches to geoengineering and the climate crisis is the pervasiveness of “techno-fetishism”, the love of technology and its apparent ability to produce quick-fixes to hitherto intractable problems. As Marxist David Harvey (2003) explains,

“By fetishism I mean the habit humans have of endowing real or imagined objects or entities with self-contained, mysterious, and even magical powers to move and shape the world in distinctive ways.” (3)

Harvey’s technological fetishism corresponds well with Alvin Weinberg’s concept of a “technological fix”, the idea of using engineering solutions to solve social or behavioural problems (Weinberg, 1967). These elements come as no surprise given geoengineering’s roots in the “golden era of American big science” (Kintisch, 2010: 86; Klein, 2014). As Winner (1980) so eloquently stated, “scarcely a new invention comes along that someone does not proclaim it the salvation of a free society” (122). Indeed, as its advocates hope, geoengineering would ensure that

“…numerous environmental as well as human harms would be avoided. Arctic ice would be maintained, polar bears would be saved, bull trout would be preserved within their mountain streams, the rains would not be reduced in Africa, plant species would have no need to shift their ranges northwards and upwards, crops would be less likely to fail and diseases would be less likely to expand their range. Humanity would breathe a huge, collective sigh of relief as a whole host of human and natural values would be salvaged. Environmentalists could rejoice at this last-gasp preservation of those things they care about most.” (Preston, 2012: 195)

Such a technological assemblage, aiming to advance scientific solutions to problems that confront capitalism, is an element of “late capitalist hypermodernity”, alongside other such technologies as genetic engineering, in vitro meat, and smart devices (Malm, 2015). As Pascal Steven (2012) warns, however, “there is no equitable technological solution to climate change”. Such an emphasis on technological fixes serves to distract humanity’s collective attention from the real cause of the climate crisis – “capital not carbon” (Ibid).

Non-neutrality of Technology

Similarly to techno-fetishism is the common idea that technology is a neutral “thing”, independent of politics or society. It is a concept that needs to be addressed and rebuked as it is rife within the geoengineering clique (Kintisch, 2010).

The core issue is that technology is never neutral. To quote the writers Hardt and Negri:

“We know well that machines and technologies are not neutral and independent entities. They are biopolitical tools deployed in specific regimes of production, which facilitate certain practices and prohibit others.” (2000: 405)

In simpler terms, as “humans create technology and use it…it is sensible to say that technology is political in the sense that it involves or embodies the exercise of power” (Martin, 2015). In other words all technological breakthroughs, intentionally or not, reflect and embody certain political and social views and structures. Tom Athanasiou (1991) cites the Human Genome Project as a prime example of a supposedly neutral technology, a “frightening development” not because of its capacity to reduce life to “information” but because it contains a

“promise to further increase the power and hegemony of today’s reductionist medical establishment. And this is true despite the fact that real improvements in therapy and healing, as well as some amazing science, can be expected to flow from it.”

Similarly geoengineering, despite some scientific findings that would help mitigate and reverse elements of the biocrisis, would “increase the power and hegemony” of the capitalist ruling class. Geoengineering under capitalism would simply further the objectives of the global market – that is, “the maximization of economic growth and efficiency…for profit purposes” as well as reinforcing capitalism’s “hierarchical organization” (Fotopoulos, 1997: 155). As the astronomer Carl Sagan wrote:

“…the technologies that allow us to alter the global environment that sustains us should mandate caution and prudence. Yes, it’s the same old humans who have made it so far. Yes, we’re developing new technologies as we always have. But when the weaknesses we’ve always had join forces with a capacity to do harm on an unprecedented planetary scale, something more is required of us – an emerging ethic that also must be established on an unprecedented planetary scale.” (1997: 268)

Unfortunately under capitalism, this “emerging ethic” is unlikely to be obtained, leaving geoengineering in the hands of the powerful.

The Rise of Technocracy

If geoengineering were to be used it would necessitate the creation of an anti-democratic technocracy of scientists and engineers, leaving the control of the world’s climate in the hands of a self-chosen panel of experts in the form of a “command-and-control world-governing structure” (Szerszynski et al., 2013: 2812). This embryonic geoengineering clique, or “geoclique” (Kintisch, 2010), far from being a human embodiment of scientific objectivity, has a vested interest in the implementation of geoengineering. As Klein (2014) details, “many of the most aggressive advocates of geoengineering research are associated with planet-hacking start-ups, or hold patents on various methods” and as a result stand “to make an incredible amount of money if their technique goes forward” (263). Far from neutral, these technocrats embody the non-neutrality of technology detailed above, standing to enhance their own power and wealth in the pursuit of technological fixes for the climate crisis.

It would virtually be impossible to wrest control from this technocracy once established. After all, they would control the “complex array of atmospheric measurements” synonymous with any geoengineering programme (Hamilton, 2014). As a result the “decision makers in government would…be highly dependent on a technocratic elite at what would effectively be a global climate regulatory agency” (Ibid). What we risk is a repeat of the nuclear “techno-science agendas” of the Cold War, where despite “local opposition, general population risks, and scientific uncertainty”, states would employ strategies of mass surveillance (1) and propaganda to override public fears and ensure the implementation of geoengineering (Thorpe and Welsh, 2008). And geoengineering, like nuclear weaponry, is far from being an innocuous technological invention. It’s potential pervasiveness and control of the planet’s climate would establish issues of “world risk, anticipatory governance of futures, [and] atmospheric securitisation” (Yusoff, 2013: 2800), serving to further cement the power of a fledgling technocracy. In such a world, “idealistic” democracy would give way to “practical” technological solutions to society’s problems. Quoting Winner (1980) at length:

“It is characteristic of societies based on large, complex technological systems, however, that moral reasons other than those of practical necessity appear increasingly obsolete, “idealistic,” and irrelevant. Whatever claims one may wish to make on behalf of liberty, justice, or equality can be immediately neutralized when confronted with arguments to the effect: “Fine, but that’s no way to run a railroad” (or steel mill, or airline, or communications system, and so on).” (133)

Would calls to reduce GHG emissions be seen as “idealistic” or “irrelevant? Would we be told “Fine, but that’s no way to run the climate?”

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six

Part Eight coming soon


(1) The surveillance of environmental activists is already well underway. For examples see Ahmed (2013; 2014); Wallace (2014); Netpol (2015); and Levine (2015).

References

  • Ahmed, N. (2013). Pentagon bracing for public dissent over climate and energy shocks. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2013/jun/14/climate-change-energy-shocks-nsa-prism Accessed 7 December 2015.
  • Ahmed, N. (2014). Are you opposed to fracking? Then you might just be a terrorist. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/jan/21/fracking-activism-protest-terrorist-oil-corporate-spies Accessed 7 December 2015.
  • Athanasiou, T. (1991). Greenwashing Agricultural Biotechnology. Processed World 28, 16-21.
  • Fotopoulos, T. (1997). Towards an Inclusive Democracy. Cassell, London and New York.
  • Hamilton, C. (2014). Geoengineering and the politics of science. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 70 (3), 17-26.
  • Hardt, M., Negri, A. (2000). Empire. Harvard University Press, London.
  • Harvey, D. (2003). The Fetish of Technology: Causes and Consequences. Macalester International 13 (7), 3-30.
  • Kintisch, E. (2010). Hack the Planet: Science’s Best Hope – Or Worst Nightmare – for Averting Climate Catastrophe. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New Jersey.
  • Klein, N. (2014). This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. Simon & Schuster, New York.
  • Levine, G. (2015). FBI spied on Keystone protesters, worked with pipeline builder TransCanada. http://america.aljazeera.com/blogs/scrutineer/2015/5/12/fbi-spied-on-keystone-protesters-worked-with-pipeline-builder-transcanada.html Accessed 7 December 2015.
  • Malm, A. (2015). Socialism or barbecue, war communism or geoengineering: Some thoughts on choices in a time of emergency. In: Borgnäs, K., Eskelinen, T., Perkiö, J., Warlenius, R. The Politics of Ecosocialism: Transforming welfare. Routledge, London.
  • Martin, B, (2015). Anarchist shaping of technology. Anarcho-Syndicalist Review 63, 11-15.
  • Netpol [Network for Police Monitoring] (2015). Why are counter-terrorism police treating fracking opponents as ‘extremists’? https://netpol.org/2015/04/09/prevent-fracking-extremism/ Accessed 7 December 2015.
  • Preston, C. J. (2012). Beyond the End of Nature: SRM and Two Tales of Artificity for the Anthropocene. Ethics, Policy & Environment 15 (2), 188-201.
  • Sagan, C. (1997). Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium. Random House, Inc., New York.
  • Steven, P. (2012). Are We Anywhere? Carbon, Capital and COP-15. https://libcom.org/library/are-we-anywhere-carbon-capital-cop-15-pascal-steven Accessed 6 December 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.
  • Thorpe, C., Welsh, I. (2008). Beyond Primitivism: Toward a 21st Century Anarchist Theory & Praxis for Science. Anarchist Studies 16 (1), 48-75.
  • Wallace, W. (2014). Surveillance of activists is about to get much, much worse. https://overland.org.au/2014/07/surveillance-of-activists-is-about-to-get-much-much-worse/ Accessed 7 December 2015.
  • Weinberg, A. (1967). Reflections on Big Science. MIT Press, Cambridge.
  • Winner, L. (1980). Do Artifacts Have Politics? Daedalus 109 (1), 121-136.
  • Yusoff, K. (2013). The Geoengine: Geoengineering and the Geopolitics of Planetary Modification. Environment and Planning A 45 (12), 2799-2808.

Climate Imperial: Geoengineering and Capitalist Hegemony (Part Six)

us-intelligence-warns-climate-change-threat

Climate Nationalism   

The regional variation and effectiveness of geoengineering efforts raises the spectre of climate nationalism, where nation states focus on climate change impacts that affects them, at the expense of global agreements and united action. Although geoengineering ostensibly aims for a global “solution” “there are still highly variable regional impacts to implementing geo-engineering in practice” (Brown and Sovacool, 2011: 137) and regional climate changes after geoengineering “are likely” (Rasch et al., 2008). Predictions for how SRM affects different regions (e.g. China and India) “diverge from historical baselines in different directions” so “it may not be possible to stabilize the climate in all regions simultaneously” (Ricke et al., 2010: 537). In other words some nations will invariably lose out – “one nation’s emergency can be another’s opportunity” (Victor et al., 2009).

Individual nations might pursue such technologies “to reduce the negative impacts of rising temperatures on their population” regardless of the impact on their neighbours (Preston, 2013: 30). Indeed, as Clive Hamilton (2010) warns us, it may be likely in the future that

“…an impatient nation suffering the effects of climate disruption may decide to act alone. It is not out of the question that in three decades the climate of the Earth could be determined by a handful of Communist Party officials in Beijing. Or the government of an Australia crippled by permanent drought, collapsing agriculture and ferocious bushfires could risk the wrath of the world by embarking on a climate control project.”

We cannot be naïve enough to think the wealthiest governments in the world would risk ecological and political fallout to sacrifice their own national interests for those of the Global South (Klein, 2014: 276). Geoengineering the Earth’s climate carries the risk of creating “novel climate configurations” with corresponding “complex issues of justice and redistribution” (Szerszynski et al., 2013: 2811). Burns (2011) calls geoengineering “the quintessential act of generational selfishness” causing “future generations to “stick with the program” or face catastrophic impacts” (55). Svoboda et al (2011) continue this line of thought, warning the discontinuation of geoengineering by future generations would cause “severe economic damages for those future generations”.

Weaponisation

Although ENMOD prohibits “military or any other hostile use of environmental modification techniques” the potential for the weaponisation of geoengineering technologies “is of obvious strategic interest” (Preston, 2013 :30). And back in 1996 US military officers, whilst not reflecting “the official policy or position of the United States Air Force, Department of Defense, or the United States government”, wrote a report titled “Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025” (House et al., 1996). In it they detailed how

“enhancing friendly operations or disrupting those of the enemy via small-scale tailoring of natural weather patterns to complete dominance of global communications and counterspace control, weather-modification offers the war fighter a wide-range of possible options to defeat or coerce an adversary” (vi)

They also see such warfare as a natural extension of a national security strategy that includes weather modification, and highlight its ability to “deter and counter potential adversaries” (vii). More recently, groups such as the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have recognised the “potential for solar shades to be used as weapons” according to Edney and Symons (2014: 314) and “convened a meeting in 2009 to consider geoengineering” (Hamilton, 2014). Their interest is shared by agencies such as the “semi-secret” JASON (Kintisch, 2009) and the CIA (Robock, 2015).

That planetary modification on a scale that dwarfs earlier efforts at “weather warfare” is being considered as a potential element of “national security” should fill us with dread. These are technologies that, like nuclear weapons, “would effectively determine the living conditions of all humanity” (McLaren, 2015).

Cost and Control

“Geoengineering will be much more expensive and challenging than previous estimates suggest” as the University of Leeds (2014) reports. In their simulations, they continue, “Issues around monitoring and predicting the effects of our actions led to huge indecision and highlighted how challenging it would be to ever try and deploy these techniques in the real world.”

This statement helps highlight the massive technical and political issues surrounding any potential implementation of geoengineering. David Roberts (2010) lists some important questions:

“To begin with, consider that by some estimates a large-scale, controlled scientific experiment with solar radiation management could take up to 10 years. In the meantime, who controls the research? Who funds it? Who has access to the information it reveals? Will it take place behind closed doors in the Department of Defense or in public, in a transparent, open-source spirit? … What happens to the law once humanity is officially in charge of the climate? Are we then liable for what takes place in it? … If a geoengineering experiment goes awry, typhoon season is disrupted, and millions in Asia die from drought, what would liability even look like?”

On the technical side, it is important to remember that the natural world, contrary to early scientific thought, is not easily quantifiable or conquerable. There is no reason to expect that we would receive “convenient early warning signals of an impending environmental catastrophe” from the earth system (Benedick, 2011: 6). Geoengineering technologies, according to the National Research Council (2015), “pose considerable risks and should not be deployed at this time”. Otherwise we risk living in a world where nothing “would be outside the reach of humanity’s fallible machines, or even fully outside at all” (Klein, 2014: 260).

There is still “no assessment of how geo-engineering technologies either individually or together” could interact (Galaz, 2012), or how the different techniques could affect the earth system’s components (Rockström et al., 2009). Such an intervention in the Earth’s climate could simply replicate the current patterns of climate change – that is, “equally unpredictable, incalculable and turbulent in its unfolding” (Cooper, 2010: 184). Some SRM technologies would need constant, meticulous maintenance or risk catastrophic failures – estimates suggest that failure to sustain a geoengineering programme could lead to climate warming at a pace twenty times greater than the warming evident today (Matthews and Caldeira, 2007). As Yusoff (2013) explains, the sheer scope of geoengineering creates new questions “to do with world risk, anticipatory governance of futures, atmospheric securitisation, [and] innovation of “earth systems governmentality”” (2800).

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

Part Seven coming soon


References

  • Benedick, R. E. (2011). Considerations on governance for climate remediation technologies: lessons from the “ozone hole”. Stanford Journal of Law, Science & Policy 4, 6-9.
  • Brown, M. A., Sovacool, B. K. (2011). Climate Change and Global Energy Security: Technology and Policy Options. MIT Press, Massachusetts.
  • Burns, W. C. G. (2011). Climate Geoengineering: Solar Radiation Management and its Implications for Intergenerational Equity. Stanford Journal of Law, Science & Policy 4, 39-55.
  • Cooper, M. (2010). Turbulent worlds: financial markets and environmental crisis. Theory, Culture and Society 27 (2–3) 167–190.
  • Edney, K., Symons, J. (2014). China and the blunt temptations of geo-engineering: the role of solar radiation management in China’s strategic response to climate change. The Pacific Review 27 (3), 307-332.
  • Galaz, V. (2012). Geo-engineering, Governance, and Social-Ecological Systems: Critical Issues and Joint Research Needs. Ecology and Society 17(1), 24.
  • Hamilton, C. (2010). The Frightening Politics of Geo-engineering. http://ourworld.unu.edu/en/the-frightening-politics-of-geoengineering Accessed 2 December 2015.
  • Hamilton, C. (2014). Geoengineering and the politics of science. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 70 (3), 17-26.
  • House, T. J., Near, Jr., J. B., Shields, W. B., Celentano, R. J., Husband, D. M., Mercer, A. E., Pugh, M. J. E. (1996). Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025. http://csat.au.af.mil/2025/volume3/vol3ch15.pdf Accessed 3 December 2015.
  • Kintisch, E. (2009). DARPA to Explore Geoengineering. http://news.sciencemag.org/2009/03/darpa-explore-geoengineering Accessed 3 November 2015.
  • Klein, N. (2014). This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. Simon & Schuster, New York.
  • Matthews, H. D., Caldeira, K. (2007). Transient Climate-carbon Simulations of Planetary Geoengineering. PNAS, 104, 9949–54.
  • McLaren, D. (2015). Where’s the justice in geoengineering? http://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2015/mar/14/wheres-the-justice-in-geoengineering Accessed 28 November 2015.
  • National Research Council (2015). Climate Intervention Is Not a Replacement for Reducing Carbon Emissions; Proposed Intervention Techniques Not Ready for Wide-Scale Deployment. http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=02102015 Accessed 4 December 2015.
  • Preston, C. J. (2013). Ethics and geoengineering: reviewing the moral issues raised by solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 4 (1), 23-37.
  • Rasch, P. J., Tilmes, S., Turco, R. P., Robock, A., Oman, L., Chen, C., Stenchikov, G. L., Garcia, R. R. (2008). An overview of geoengineering of climate using stratospheric sulphate aerosols. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 366 (1882), 4007-37.
  • Ricke, K. L., Morgan, M. G., Allen, M. R. (2010). Regional climate response to solar-radiation management. Nature Geoscience 3, 537 – 541.
  • Roberts, D. (2010). The Ultimate Sunblock. http://prospect.org/article/ultimate-sunblock-0 Accessed 26 November 2015.
  • Robock, A. (2015). The CIA asked me about controlling the climate – this is why we should worry. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/17/cia-controlling-climate-geoengineering-climate-change Accessed 3 December 2015.
  • Rockström, J., W. Steffen, K. Noone, Å. Persson, F. S. Chapin, III, E. Lambin, T. M. Lenton, M. Scheffer, C. Folke, H. Schellnhuber, B. Nykvist, C. A. De Wit, T. Hughes, S. van der Leeuw, H. Rodhe, S. Sörlin, P. K. Snyder, R. Costanza, U. Svedin, M. Falkenmark, L. Karlberg, R. W. Corell, V. J. Fabry, J. Hansen, B. Walker, D. Liverman, K. Richardson, P. Crutzen, and J. Foley. (2009). Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity. Ecology and Society 14 (2), 32.
  • Svoboda, T., Keller, K., Goes, M., Tuana, N. (2011). Sulfate Aerosol Geoengineering: The Question of Justice. Public Affairs Quarterly 25 (3), 157-180.
  • 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.
  • University of Leeds (2014). Geoengineering our climate is not a ‘quick fix’. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141125205712.htm Accessed 28 November 2015.
  • Victor, D. G., Morgan, M. G., Apt, J., Steinbrune, J. (2009). The Geoengineering Option: A Last Resort Against Global Warming? https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/arctic-antarctic/2009-03-01/geoengineering-option Accessed 4 December 2015.
  • Yusoff, K. (2013). The Geoengine: Geoengineering and the Geopolitics of Planetary Modification. Environment and Planning A 45 (12), 2799-2808.

Climate Imperial: Geoengineering and Capitalist Hegemony (Part Five)

tumblr_o28rp9tekx1uumzf8o1_1280

Image credit

Imperial Climate: Predictions, Possibilities, Problems 

“The ability to alter the climate is of obvious strategic interest to global powers and those invested in the political stability of particular regions.” — Preston, 2013

Capitalism and the Climate

As David Roberts (2010) warned in the beginning of this series, the historical record predicts that control of the mechanisms of geoengineering will be in the hands of the wealthy, following a capitalistic tradition of controlling the means of production and of life. As Szerszynski et al (2013) succinctly say, geoengineering “will become conditioned by economic forces” (2809). In this sense the ability to intentionally modify the climate represents a ‘techno-corporatist’ interpretation of nature as part of a “weak” form of ecological modernisation (Christoff, 1996), and thus sees technological assemblies like geoengineering as a “lifeline for capitalist economies threatened by ecological crisis” (Gibbs, 1998: 5). More bluntly, Brown & Sovacool (2011) tell us that geoengineering “raises the specter of ecological imperialism” (138). Geoengineering is in fact a “regressive” policy option according to Stirling (2014) as such an activity is aligned with “entrenched existing concentrations of power extending out from the energy sector” (15). He continues:

“That a regressive transition built around climate geoengineering is asserted in some quarters to be somehow self-evidently more tractable than a progressive transformation based on renewable energy is an indication not only of the strength of entrenched vested interests in this sector, but of their impact on wider structures, knowledges and expectations alike.” (16)

In this way geoengineering (especially SRM) represents an attempted “quick fix” to the climate crisis whilst “further transferring environmental risk to the poorest countries and the most vulnerable people” in a typical capitalist fashion (SRMGI, 2011: 21). The poorest members of human civilisation, who are predicted to suffer the worst impacts of the climate crisis, are also incidentally “the populations that will be most vulnerable to any negative side effects that geoengineering experiments may have” (Olson, 2011). Meanwhile, while the Global South (or “Third World”) suffers, geoengineering allows capitalism to continue its “high levels of consumption, waste, and greenhouse gas emissions” (Preston, 2013: 26).

The unreliable and heterogeneous regional impacts that correspond with geoengineering efforts could very easily exacerbate geopolitical issues. A professor of the UK Climate Geoengineering Governance project described that “if India had put sulphate particles into the stratosphere, even as a test, two years before the recent floods in Pakistan, no one would ever persuade Pakistan that that had not caused the floods” (Carrington, 2014). And if a country like China, one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing economies, decided to implement geoengineering programmes regardless of an international consensus it would “dramatically alter the dynamics of multilateral climate negotiations” (Edney and Symons, 2014: 308). Geoengineering in effect would become a zero-sum game that would be massively skewed to the already rich and powerful and reflect existing power disparities. As Klein (2014) explains:

“it might be possible to tailor some of these technologies to help the most vulnerable people on the planet, and those who contributed least to the creation of the climate crisis—but not without endangering some of the wealthiest and most powerful regions. So we are left with a question less about technology than about politics: does anyone actually believe that geoengineering will be used to help Africa if that help could come only by putting North America at greater risk of extreme weather?” (276)

Or in another example, indigenous peoples in the Arctic would clearly desire the preservation of sea ice that is critical for their livelihoods, but if the powerful maritime industries preferred “summers with an ice-free Arctic Ocean” for simpler transport logistics it is clear who would get their way. It is no surprise then that because “those who control the heat shield” would use it for their own interests recent efforts to restrict geoengineering have been led by the Global South (Hamilton, 2014).

Structures of democratic (1) governance would also suffer if geoengineering experiments were authorised in the face of a climate emergency and the “nascent architectures of collective environmental governance” would likely be undermined (Clark, 2013). Indeed the lack of an effective international agreement tackling the climate crisis has “already put the legitimacy of democratic processes under strain” (Szerszynski et al., 2013: 2810) and SRM geoengineering is potentially conducive to a “centralised, autocratic, command-and-control world-governing structure” (2812). A “large, sophisticated technological system” such as geoengineering, as Winner (1980) wrote, would be “highly compatible with centralized, hierarchical managerial control” (132).

On the other hand geoengineering could encourage unilateral action by nations willing to mitigate climate change impacts that affect them regardless of the wider impact. The SRMGI (2011) has already warned of the transfer of “environmental risk” from rich nations to poor nations.

Business as Usual

As quoted earlier geoengineering appeals to the figureheads of capitalism as it allows for the continued high levels of production, consumption, and waste endemic to the capitalist system (Preston, 2013) and creates a “lifeline” for capitalist economies to survive the climate crisis (Gibbs, 1998). It preemptively denies the need for social and institutional change demanded by many (e.g. Bookchin, 1980; Battistoni, 2012; Klein, 2014; Out of the Woods, 2015) and maintains the existence of “the power of corporate interests, growth fetishism and the comfortable conservatism of consumer society” (Hamilton, 2013), as well as giving “the green light to burn more coal” and “avoids the need to raise petrol taxes” (Hamilton, 2010). As Li (2009) writes, climate stabilisation measures present unacceptable short-term costs and would slow “the pace of capital accumulation”, and as a result a nation state risking “their competitive position in the world system” is very unlikely (1043).

As per usual, “the expansion of capital trumps actual public interest in protecting the vital conditions of life” (Foster et al., 2010: 71). It is the “paradox” of geoengineering, Klein (2014) tells us, that it does not require any significant change such as emissions reductions, only that we “keep doing what we have done for centuries, only much more so” (267).

As part of this process the issue of climate change undergoes “de-politicization” so it

“is not the system that is the problem, but its pathological syndrome (for which the cure is internal), that is posited as ‘excess’. … The ‘enemy’ is, therefore, always vague, ambiguous, socially empty or vacuous (like ‘CO2’); the ‘enemy’ is a mere thing, not socially embodied, named and counted. While a proper analysis and politics would endorse the view that CO2- as-crisis stands as the pathological symptom of the normal, one that expresses the excesses inscribed in the very normal functioning of the system (i.e. capitalism), the policy architecture around climate change insists that this ‘excessive’ state is not inscribed in the functioning of the system itself, but is an aberration that can be ‘cured’ by mobilizing the very inner dynamics and logic of the system” (Swyngedouw, 2010: 222-3).

Geoengineering also creates significant opportunities for profit as the issue of climate change is forced from the political to the economic realm. There are “substantial economic opportunities” regarding geoengineering technologies including patents, the design of SRM particles and delivery systems, monitoring systems, the transport of raw materials, and financial and compensatory schemes (Szerszynski et al., 2013: 2814). And as Malm (2015) reminds us there are ample opportunities for the “self-made” heroes of capitalism – “Bill Gates is now the world’s number one financial supporter of geoengineering research”.

Indeed, geoengineering has been criticised “for being inextricably linked to market fixes for climate change” such as carbon markets which “would produce the commercial incentive for geoengineering to take off as a for-profit activity” (Buck, 2012: 261). In fact “the prospect of a burgeoning carbon market [helped] to shape the very formation of ocean fertilisation research, even for some of its most seasoned scientists” (Factor, 2015: 318). More bluntly, Fauset (2008) writes that “ocean fertilisation projects and tree plantations are little more than a scam to make money on the carbon market” (63).

From an ecosocialist perspective, geoengineering acts as a way to bypass the “second contradiction of capitalism” (O’Connor, 1998) – that is, “capital’s tendency to destroy its surroundings and undermine its own conditions of production” (Buck, 2012: 255). Indeed, it can be seen as a “class project” that will ensure the “climate system [is] stable enough for existing production systems to continue operating” (Ibid). Geoengineering gives “a new lease on life” for capitalism. As Murray Bookchin told us in 1985:

“Capitalism is not a decaying social order; it is an ever-expanding order that grows beyond the capacity of any society to contain its ravages and cope with its predatory activities. If capitalism is not abolished in one way or another, it will annihilate social life as such or, at least, do an excellent job of undermining it and the biosphere on which all life depends.” (74)

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

Part Six coming soon


(1) It is debatable if democracy worthy of the name can exist with capitalism. In 1926 Errico Malatesta wrote that

“If classes and individuals exist that are deprived of the means of production and therefore dependent on others with a monopoly over those means, the so-called democratic system can only be a lie, and one which serves to deceive the mass of the people and keep them docile with an outward show of sovereignty, while the rule of the privileged and dominant class is in fact salvaged and consolidated. Such is democracy and such it always has been in a capitalist structure, whatever form it takes, from constitutional monarchy to so-called direct rule.”

More recently Noam Chomsky (1999) wrote

“…democracy requires that people feel a connection to their fellow citizens, and that this connection manifests itself through a variety of nonmarket organizations and institutions. A vibrant political culture needs community groups, libraries, public schools, neighborhood organizations, cooperatives, public meeting places, voluntary associations, and trade unions to provide ways for citizens to meet, communicate, and interact with their fellow citizens. Neoliberal democracy, with its notion of the market über alles, takes dead aim at this sector. Instead of citizens, it produces consumers. Instead of communities, it produces shopping malls. The net result is an atomized society of disengaged individuals who feel demoralized and socially powerless.” (11)

References

  • Battistoni, A. (2012). The Flood Next Time. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2012/12/the-flood-next-time/ Accessed 2 December 2015.
  • Bookchin, M. (1980). Toward an Ecological Society. In: Bookchin, M. Toward an Ecological Society. Black Rose Books, Portland, 57-71.
  • Bookchin, M. (1985). Were we wrong? Telos 65, 59-74.
  • Brown, M. A., Sovacool, B. K. (2011). Climate Change and Global Energy Security: Technology and Policy Options. MIT Press, Massachusetts.
  • Buck, H. J. (2012). Geoengineering: re-making climate for profit or humanitarian intervention? Development and Change 43 (1), 253-70.
  • Carrington, D. (2014). Reflecting sunlight into space has terrifying consequences, say scientists. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/nov/26/geoengineering-could-offer-solution-last-resort-climate-change Accessed 1 December 2015.
  • Chomsky, N. (1999). Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order. Seven Stories Press, London.
  • Christoff, P. (1996). Ecological modernisation, ecological modernities. Environmental Politics 5 (3), 476-500.
  • Clark, N. (2013). Geoengineering and Geologic Politics. Environment and Planning A 45 (12), 2825-2832.
  • Edney, K., Symons, J. (2014). China and the blunt temptations of geo-engineering: the role of solar radiation management in China’s strategic response to climate change. The Pacific Review 27 (3), 307-332.
  • Factor, S. (2015). The Experimental Economy of Geoengineering. Journal of Cultural Economy 8 (3), 309-324.
  • Fauset, C. (2008). Techno-fixes: a critical guide to climate change technologies. Corporate Watch, London.
  • Foster, J. B., York, R., Clark, B. (2010). The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth. Monthly Review Press, New York.
  • Gibbs, D. (1998). Ecological Modernisation: A Basis for Regional Development? https://gin.confex.com/gin/archives/1998/papers/gibbs.pdf Accessed 1 December 2015.
  • Hamilton, C. (2010). The Frightening Politics of Geo-engineering. http://ourworld.unu.edu/en/the-frightening-politics-of-geoengineering Accessed 2 December 2015.
  • Hamilton, C. (2013). The new sorcerer’s apprentices. http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/eij/article/hamilton/ Accessed 2 December 2015.
  • Hamilton, C. (2014). Geoengineering and the politics of science. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 70 (3), 17-26.
  • Klein, N. (2014). This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. Simon & Schuster, New York.
  • Li, M. (2009). Capitalism, Climate Change and the Transition to Sustainability: Alternative Scenarios for the US, China and the World. Development and Change 40 (6), 1039–1061.
  • Malatesta, E. (1926). Neither Democrats, nor Dictators: Anarchists. https://www.marxists.org/archive/malatesta/1926/05/neither.htm Accessed 1 December 2015.
  • Malm, A. (2015). Socialism or barbecue, war communism or geoengineering: Some thoughts on choices in a time of emergency. In: Borgnäs, K., Eskelinen, T., Perkiö, J., Warlenius, R. The Politics of Ecosocialism: Transforming welfare. Routledge, London.
  • O’Connor, J. (1998). Capitalism, Nature, Socialism: A Theoretical Introduction. Capitalism, Nature, Socialism 1 (1), 11-38.
  • Olson, R. L. (2011). Geoengineering for Decision Makers. https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/Geoengineering_for_Decision_Makers_0.pdf Accessed 1 December 2015.
  • Out of the Woods (2015). 6 Ways to Fight Climate Chaos. http://wire.novaramedia.com/2015/05/6-ways-to-fight-climate-chaos/ Accessed 2 December 2015.
  • Preston, C. J. (2013). Ethics and geoengineering: reviewing the moral issues raised by solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 4 (1), 23-37.
  • Roberts, D. (2010). The Ultimate Sunblock. http://prospect.org/article/ultimate-sunblock-0 Accessed 26 November 2015.
  • SRMGI [Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative] (2011). Solar radiation management: the governance of research. http://www.srmgi.org/files/2012/01/DES2391_SRMGI-report_web_11112.pdf Accessed 1 December 2015.
  • Stirling, A. (2014). Emancipating Transformations: From controlling ‘the transition’ to culturing plural radical progress. http://steps-centre.org/wp-content/uploads/Transformations.pdf Accessed 1 December 2015.
  • Swyngedouw, E. (2010). Apocalypse Forever? Post-political Populism and the Spectre of Climate Change. Theory, Culture & Society 27 (2-3), 213-232.
  • 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.
  • Winner, L. (1980). Do Artifacts Have Politics? Daedalus 109 (1), 121-136.