Hope Before the Ruins

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Occupy Sandy

To paraphrase the anarchist revolutionary Buenaventura Durruti, we are not afraid of ruins because we know how to build a better world.

We have the technological capacity to abolish a fossil fuel powered global infrastructure and switch to renewable energy. Wind, water, and solar energy can “reliably supply the world’s needs” (Jacobson & Delucchi, 2009). We already have the “fundamental scientific, technical, and industrial know-how” to solve the climate crisis (Pacala & Socolow, 2004). Even under the global capitalist framework “market trends” are driving “new renewable energy deployment” (Anderson, 2017) and “investors” are increasingly divesting funds from fossil fuel developments (Johnston, 2016). We even have appropriate forms of geoengineering we can use to slow down and stabilise the biosphere while we put our global oikos in order (Lehmann, 2007; Becker et al., 2013; Biggers, 2015).

So what is stopping us?

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Photo by Evergreen Energy Solutions

As Roberts (2017) warns “political and social barriers will do more to slow that growth than any technical limitation.” Clear leadership is needed to ensure clean technologies are promoted rather than the technologies of the entrenched fossil fuel industries (Jacobson & Delucchi, 2009). But this leadership must come from below, not above:

“The historical record shows very clearly that deep, enduring changes in energy industries require the mobilization of mass social movements. We cannot simply wait for visionary politicians to forge the way.” (Podobnik, 2010)

These social and political barriers will need overcoming if we are to ever properly confront the Biocrisis. Although we have the technology for a 100% renewable global system, the changes needed are monumental – “We can’t slap on a carbon tax and call it a day. We have to remake the world, and we have to talk about it” (Battistoni, 2012). To quote Chaudhary (2016), we must address the fact that “the crisis is not now, the crisis has already been for some time”. If we don’t, we risk facing a future with “the same winners, the similar losers, the crimes, the human degradation”.

A society powered by clean and renewable energy “is a necessity for a sustainable and equitable society, but not a guarantee of one” (McBay, 2011). But we do have an innate capacity for cooperation rather than competition, a capacity that is not encouraged in today’s capitalist society (Cott, 1980; Schwartzman, 2015; Taylor, 2016). Our future society will have to be modelled on values above and beyond commodification and profit if we are to survive. It will focus on democratic management of resources to prevent pollution and waste (Löwy, 2007), an “economically rational” society with needs guided by ecological standards (Bookchin, 1991). Whether we like it or not, we will have to transition to a situation where we accept and live within biophysical limits (Levy, 2012). As for green growth, it is a dangerous oxymoron if there ever was one.

Surviving and repairing the damage of the Biocrisis will

“require more ability to improvise together, stronger societies, more confidence in each other. It will require a world in which we are each other’s wealth and have each other’s trust.” (Solnit, 2009)

We should take hope in the rebellions already taking place. The story of the US National Park Service going “rogue”, at least on social media, presents a model of subversion within traditional institutions (Jacobin, 2017). Calls for the global science community to involve itself in protest and “rebellion” against climate change continue to mount (Klein, 2013; Johnston, 2017), a promising development in an otherwise detached and aloof institution. People everywhere are “turning to mutual aid, collectivity, cooperatives, communalist ventures and the commons for an alternative” to the status quo (Curl, 2016). A growing “climate insurgency” aims to use “activities the authorities claim to be illegal” in order to “create an irresistible momentum of escalating popular action for climate protection” (Brecher, 2017). Indeed, for multitudes of people across the world, these struggles are far from over – their resistance is just beginning (Bosworth, 2016).

From joining Blockadia to supporting divestment campaigns to standing in solidarity with refugees, there are many ways to fight climate chaos in the immediate future (Out of the Woods 2015; 2016). But to fully address and solve the host of problems that constitute the Biocrisis we will have to “raise long-range, transformative demands that the dominant economic and political systems may prove unable to accommodate” (Tokar, 2014).

Despite our optimism, it may well be that the transnational actors that control the global economy and enforce the world’s borders may be unwilling to adapt to or accommodate our demands for a better world. They may prefer to necrotise the entire planet (McBrien, 2016) rather than change their ways – after all, “one might more easily persuade a green plant to desist from photosynthesis than to ask the bourgeois economy to desist from capital accumulation” (Bookchin, 1980). We may inherit a world of irreversibly damaged ecosystems and little energy resources left to build our dreams (Keefer, 2009).

But as Gastón Gordillo and Andreas Malm agree, rubble is a gateway to the future. Malm (2017) prepares us for the fact that “we must accept that loss is a major predicament of our time”, but this loss, as Gordillo (2014) notes, represented by the rubble of the old world – a world of divisiveness, cruelty, and injustice – is “an invitation to remake the world differently”. A world of fairness, ecological balance, justice, and hope. A world where each contributes according to their ability, and each receives according to their need. Let us scoop the rubble into our hands and join together as “heroes in an army of construction” (Keller, 1916) to build our better world.

References

Anderson, A. (2017). The Fate of the Clean Power Plan under President Trump http://blog.ucsusa.org/angela-anderson/the-fate-of-the-clean-power-plan-under-president-trump Accessed 27th April 2017.

Battistoni, A. (2012). The Flood Next Time https://www.jacobinmag.com/2012/12/the-flood-next-time/ Accessed 27th April 2017.

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.

Biggers, J. (2015). Iowa’s Climate-Change Wisdom https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/21/opinion/iowas-climate-change-wisdom.html Accessed 2nd May 2017.

Bookchin, M. (1980). Toward an Ecological Society. Black Rose Books, Montreal.

Bookchin, M. (1991). Libertarian Municipalism: An Overview https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/murray-bookchin-libertarian-municipalism-an-overview.html Accessed 3rd May 2017.

Bosworth, K. (2016). Voices Against the Pipeline — “Five Lessons from Pipeline Struggles” http://nobakken.com/2016/09/05/voices-against-the-pipeline-five-lessons-from-pipeline-struggles-by-kai-bosworth/ Accessed 7th May 2017.

Brecher, J. (2017). A climate insurgency: building a Trump-free, fossil-free future http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2988898/a_climate_insurgency_building_a_trumpfree_fossilfree_future.html Accessed 3rd May 2017.

Chaudhary, A. S. (2016). The Supermanagerial Reich https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/the-supermanagerial-reich/ Accessed 27th April 2017.

Cott, J. (1980). The Cosmos: An Interview With Carl Sagan http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/the-cosmos-19801225 Accessed 1st May 2017.

Curl, J. (2016). Reclaiming the American Commons https://roarmag.org/magazine/reclaiming-the-american-commons/ Accessed 3rd May 2017.

Gordillo, G. R. (2014). Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction. Duke University Press, Durham.

Hudson, A. D. (2015). On the Political Dimensions of Solarpunk https://medium.com/solarpunks/on-the-political-dimensions-of-solarpunk-c5a7b4bf8df4 Accessed 2nd May 2017.

Jacobin (2017). The National Park Service Goes Rogue https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/02/donald-trump-bureaucracy-national-park-service-smokey-bear/ Accessed 3rd May 2017.

Jacobson, M. Z., Delucchi, M. A. (2009). A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030. Scientific American 301 (5), 58-65.

Johnston, I. (2016). The people providing hope in a post-Trump world of climate denial https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change-global-warming-donald-trump-divestment-renewable-energy-fossil-fuels-google-bill-a7471926.html Accessed 27th April 2017.

Johnston, I. (2017). World-leading climate change scientist calls for ‘rebellion’ against Donald Trump https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/donald-trump-climate-change-rebellion-michael-mann-global-warming-scientists-a7556696.html Accessed 3rd May 2017.

Keefer, T. (2009). Fossil Fuels, Capitalism, And Class Struggle. The Commoner 13, 15-21.

Keller, H. (1916). Strike Against War http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/helenstrike.html Accessed 23rd May 2017.

Klein, N. (2013). Naomi Klein: How science is telling us all to revolt http://www.newstatesman.com/2013/10/science-says-revolt Accessed 3rd May 2017.

Lehmann, J. (2007). A handful of carbon. Nature 447, 143-144.

Levy, G. (2012). Natural limits, sustainability and socialism https://peopleandnature.wordpress.com/article-store/the-trouble-with-economic-growth/natural-limits-sustainability-and-socialism/ Accessed 3rd May 2017.

Löwy, M. (2007). Eco-Socialism and Democratic Planning. Socialist Register 43, 1-16.

Malm, A. The Walls of the Tank: On Palestinian Resistance http://salvage.zone/in-print/the-walls-of-the-tank-on-palestinian-resistance/ Accessed 23rd May 2017.

McBay, A. (2011). A Taxonomy of Action. In: McBay, A., Keith, L., Jensen, D. eds. Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet. Seven Stories Press, New York, 239-276.

McBrien, J. (2016). Accumulating Extinction: Planetary Catastrophism in the Necrocene. In Moore, J. ed. Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism. PM Press, San Francisco, 116-137.

Out of the Woods (2015). 6 Ways to Fight Climate Chaos http://novaramedia.com/2015/05/30/6-ways-to-fight-climate-chaos/ Accessed 15th May 2017.

Out of the Woods (2016). Infrastructure against borders https://libcom.org/blog/infrastructure-against-borders-06122016 Accessed 15th May 2017.

Pacala, S., Socolow, R. (2004). Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies. Science 305 (5686), 986-972.

Podobnik, B. (2010). Building the Clean Energy Movement: Future Possibilities in Historical Perspective. In: Abramsky, K.. ed. Sparking a Worldwide Energy Revolution: Social Struggles in the Transition to a Post-petrol World. AK Press, Oakland, 72-80.

Roberts, D. (2017). Is 100% renewable energy realistic? Here’s what we know http://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/4/7/15159034/100-renewable-energy-studies Accessed 27th April 2017.

Schwartzman, D. (2015). From Climate Crisis to Solar Communism https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/12/cop-21-paris-climate-change-global-warming-fossil-fuels/ Accessed 1st May 2017.

Solnit, R. (2009). A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. Viking Press, New York.

Taylor, S. (2016). How Natural is War to Human Beings? https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/out-the-darkness/201609/how-natural-is-war-human-beings Accessed 2nd May 2017.

Tokar, B. (2014). Toward Climate Justice: Perspectives on the Climate Crisis and Social Change (2nd edition). New Compass Press, Porsgrunn.

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Donald Trump, and the Slow Violence of Climate Change

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Credit: National Wildlife Federation

While Donald Trump embraces the modern equivalent of playing the fiddle while Rome burns, the world is hurtling towards the Biocrisis.

In catastrophic times (Stengers, 2015) like these, apocalyptic scenarios have become the norm. We only have four years until our “carbon budget” is blown – according to McSweeney and Pearce (2016):

“Four years of current emissions would be enough to blow what’s left of the carbon budget for a good chance of keeping global temperature rise to 1.5C.”

1.5C being the target of the COP21 Paris climate conference that aims to “significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change” (Pearce, 2016; King & Henley, 2016) and thus avoid the threat of “runaway” climate change. Global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak within the decade before precipitously dropping for this target to ever be reached (Walsh et al., 2017).

Meanwhile the Antarctic ice shelves continue to crack and fragment (Mooney, 2017), potentially accelerating sea level rise, and a “massive global permafrost melt” is underway that will release huge amounts of carbon dioxide that were previously buried in the frozen soil (Knight, 2017; Kokelj et al., 2017).

As climate change accelerates the Trump administration embraces the largest driver of this death spiral – fossil fuels – by repealing climate change legislation and planting an ExxonMobil CEO as Secretary of State (Lavelle, 2017; Stokes & Bowman, 2017; Meyer, 2017). Trump will make “America Safe through Energy Independence” by decimating public lands with accelerated fossil fuel extraction (Streater, 2017).

Like a ghastly cannibal cult, in the words of Carl Sagan (1997), “we subsist on the dead bodies of our ancestors and distant relatives”.

While the greenhouse gas levels rise, so will the seas – and so will the number of refugees seeking safety and stable climates (Out of the Woods, 2016). Climate change will displace millions and “reshape” the coastal geography of countries (Hays, 2017; Hauer, 2017), a fact now admitted by conservative policymakers and security experts (although such concerns focus on the dangers of terrorism and the loss of coastal military bases) (Milman, 2016; Nett & Rüttinger, 2016; Goodman, 2017). Indeed the first ever grant for climate refugees was issued in the USA just last year, allocating $48 million for the residents of Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana in what is “the first allocation of federal tax dollars to move an entire community of climate refugees” (Hunziker, 2016).

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Scientists look down at a river of meltwater flowing from southern Greenland. Photo by Justine Evans/Alamy Stock Photo

As communities are forcibly relocated by the harsh realities of climate change, so too will others have their land stolen from them – except not by slow disaster, but by pipeline construction and fossil fuel extraction. Construction of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline was restarted by Trump recently (Brown, 2017), a week after a pipeline owned by pipeline equity co-owner Enbridge ruptured, spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil in Texas (Horn, 2017). Sunoco, another player in the construction of the pipeline, has had hundreds of leaks (Hampton, 2016). The sheer number of pipeline spills, leaks, and failures in the USA is grotesquely astounding – thousands of incidents in the last thirty years, resulting in hundreds of deaths and billions in damages (Joseph, 2016).

Resistance and acts of sabotage against the Dakota Access pipeline continue to hamper its ability to reliably transport oil (Sexton, 2017; Nicholson & Karnowski, 2017).

Despite these struggles, pipelines are continuously being built in order to “unleash rich reserves of shale gas” so that the USA may “become one of the world’s top natural gas exporters” (DiSavino, 2017), despite problems concerning accurate shale gas reserve estimates and over hyped production forecasts (Rogers, 2013; Hughes, 2013). It is important to note at the forefront of these struggles, and those most affected by them, are indigenous populations (in the USA and the rest of the world), who still face an enduring legacy of colonialism and violence (Hall, 2017; Out of the Woods, 2017).

A Picture and Its Story: Documenting Standing Rock

“Water protectors” demonstrate against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

It is the poorest and most vulnerable who, just as under capitalism, will suffer the most with climate change. As Malm and Hornborg (2014) write,

“…witness Katrina in black and white neighborhoods of New Orleans, or Sandy in Haiti and Manhattan, or sea level rise in Bangladesh and the Netherlands, or practically any other impact, direct or indirect, of climate change. For the foreseeable future – indeed, as long as there are human societies on Earth – there will be lifeboats for the rich and privileged. If climate change represents a form of apocalypse, it is not universal, but uneven and combined.”

Similarly Stengers (2015) writes of “the possibility of a New Orleans on a global scale” where the wealthy survive and the fate of the poor is left uncertain – “but as for the others…”. Just because all humans share one planet and one atmosphere does not mean we are in this together (Purdy, 2016). To believe so depoliticises climate change – the apocalyptic imaginations so frequent in the headlines today “foreclose a proper political framing” by presenting global warming as a “humanitarian cause” that “is not articulated with specific political programs or socio-ecological project or revolutions” (Swyngedouw, 2010).

As the wealthy get wealthier, carbon emissions grow (Jorgenson et al., 2017). An average US citizen “emits more than 500 citizens of Ethiopia, Chad, Afghanistan, Mali, or Burundi” (Malm, 2015). A wealthy individual’s carbon emissions may be ten times higher than a poorer person (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2010). But this is the exact economic and social class of people who, as Davis (2008) warns, are capable “of creating green and gated oases of permanent affluence on an otherwise stricken planet” as the rest of us suffer.

The world’s poorest countries have contributed less than 1% of the greenhouse gases that endanger our stable climate system (Steffen et al., 2011). So we should call climate change what it truly is – violence, genocide against the poor, and inaction equals annihilation (Solnit, 2014; Klare, 2017). Where can we draw our tales of resistance and hope to guide us into the future?

(As this is written the 410 ppm threshold for atmospheric carbon dioxide levels has been reached, the first time since millions of years ago (Kahn, 2017). We are in the Biocrisis, inundated in it. The Biocrisis is the Anthropocene.)

References

Brown, A. (2017). As Construction Near Standing Rock Restarts, Pipeline Fights Flare Across the U.S. https://theintercept.com/2017/02/19/as-construction-near-standing-rock-restarts-pipeline-fights-flare-across-the-u-s/ Accessed 19th April 2017.

Davis, M. (2008). Living on the Ice Shelf http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/174949 Accessed 23rd April 2017.

DiSavino, S. (2017). RPT-ANALYSIS-New U.S. pipelines to drive natural gas boom as exports surge http://uk.reuters.com/article/usa-lng-pipelines-idUKL1N1HK1DT Accessed 20th April 2017.

Goodman, S. (2017). Climate change is a clear and present danger to US security http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/energy-environment/318950-climate-change-is-a-clear-and-present-danger-to-us Accessed 17th April 2017.

Hall, A. (2017). Colonialism, climate change and the need to defund DAPL https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/amy-hall/colonialism-climate-change-and-need-to-defund-dapl Accessed 20th April 2017.

Hampton, L. (2016). Sunoco, behind protested Dakota pipeline, tops U.S. crude spill charts http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-pipeline-nativeamericans-safety-i-idUSKCN11T1UW Accessed 20th April 2017.

Hauer, M. E. (2017). Migration induced by sea-level rise could reshape the US population landscape. Nature Climate Change, doi:10.1038/nclimate3271.

Hays, B. (2017). Sea level rise to trigger human migration, reshape inland cities http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2017/04/17/Sea-level-rise-to-trigger-human-migration-reshape-inland-cities/9471492453676/ Accessed 17th April 2017.

Horn, S. (2017). Dakota Access Pipeline Approved a Week After Co-Owner’s Pipeline Spilled 600,000 Gallons of Oil in Texas https://www.desmogblog.com/2017/02/09/dakota-access-pipeline-approved-enbridge-spill-texas Accessed 20th April 2017.

Hughes, J. D. (2013). Energy: A reality check on the shale revolution. Nature 494, 307-308.

Hunziker, R. (2016). The Political Era of Climate Refugees http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/10/28/the-political-era-of-climate-refugees/ Accessed 19th April 2017.

Jorgenson, A., Schor, J., Huang, X. (2017). Income Inequality and Carbon Emissions in the United States: A State-level Analysis, 1997–2012. Ecological Economics 134, 40-48.

Joseph, G. (2016). 30 Years of Oil and Gas Pipeline Accidents, Mapped https://www.citylab.com/environment/2016/11/30-years-of-pipeline-accidents-mapped/509066/ Accessed 25th April 2016.

Kahn, B. (2017). We Just Breached the 410 PPM Threshold for CO2 https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/we-just-breached-the-410-ppm-threshold-for-co2/ Accessed 24th April 2017.

King, A., Henley, B. (2016). We have almost certainly blown the 1.5-degree global warming target https://theconversation.com/we-have-almost-certainly-blown-the-1-5-degree-global-warming-target-63720 Accessed 19th April 2017.

Klare, M. T. (2017). Climate Change As Genocide: Inaction Equals Annihilation http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/climate-change-as-genocide-inaction-equals-annihilation_us_58f8c4a3e4b0cb086d7eaf4e Accessed 20th April 2017.

Knight, N. (2017). Study Shows Massive Global Permafrost Melt Underway While Trump Mentions Climate Not Once https://www.commondreams.org/news/2017/03/01/study-shows-massive-global-permafrost-melt-underway-while-trump-mentions-climate-not Accessed 17th April 2017.

Kokelj, S. V., Lantz, T. C., Tunnicliffe, J., Segal, R., Lacelle, D. (2017). Climate-driven thaw of permafrost preserved glacial landscapes, northwestern Canada. Geology, G38626.1.

Lavelle, M. (2017). Trump’s Executive Order: More Fossil Fuels, Regardless of Climate Change https://insideclimatenews.org/news/28032017/trump-executive-order-climate-change-paris-climate-agreement-clean-power-plan-pruitt Accessed 17th April 2017.

Malm, A. (2015). The Anthropocene Myth https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/03/anthropocene-capitalism-climate-change/ Accessed 24th April 2017.

Malm, A., Hornborg, A. (2014). The geology of mankind? A critique of the Anthropocene narrative. The Anthropocene Review 1 (1), 62–69.

McSweeney, R. Pearce, R. (2016). Analysis: Only five years left before 1.5C carbon budget is blown https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-only-five-years-left-before-one-point-five-c-budget-is-blown Accessed 17th April 2017.

Meyer, R. (2017). Rex Tillerson Says Climate Change Is Real, but … https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/01/rex-tillerson-climate-change/512843/ Accessed 17th April 2017.

Milman, O. (2016). Military experts say climate change poses ‘significant risk’ to security https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/sep/14/military-experts-climate-change-significant-security-risk Accessed 17th April 2017.

Mooney, C. (2017). The huge crack in this Antarctic ice shelf just grew by another 6 miles https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/01/19/enormous-antarctic-ice-shelf-rift-grows-by-another-6-miles/ Accessed 17th April 2017.

Nett, K., Rüttinger, L. (2016). Insurgency, Terrorism and Organised Crime in a Warming Climate https://uploads.guim.co.uk/2017/04/20/CD_Report_Insurgency_170419_(1).pdf Accessed 25th April 2017.

Nicholson, B., Karnowski, S. (2017). Reported Dakota Access Pipeline Vandalism Exposes Risk of Sabotage http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/midwest/2017/03/23/445462.htm Accessed 19th April 2017.

Out of the Woods (2016). Refuges and death-worlds https://libcom.org/blog/refuges-death-worlds-25112016 Accessed 17th April 2017.

Out of the Woods (2017). Lies of the land: against and beyond Paul Kingsnorth’s völkisch environmentalism https://libcom.org/blog/lies-land-against-beyond-paul-kingsnorth%E2%80%99s-v%C3%B6lkisch-environmentalism-31032017 Accessed 20th April 2017.

Pearce, F. (2016). What Would a Global Warming Increase of 1.5 Degrees Be Like? https://e360.yale.edu/features/what_would_a_global_warming_increase_15_degree_be_like Accessed 19th April 2017.

Purdy, J. (2016). What I Had Lost Was a Country https://nplusonemag.com/online-only/online-only/what-i-had-lost-was-a-country/ Accessed 20th April 2017.

Rogers, D. (2013). Shale and Wall Street: Was the Decline in Natural Gas Prices Orchestrated? http://shalebubble.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/SWS-report-FINAL.pdf Accessed 20th April 2017.

Sagan, C. (1997). Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium. Random House, Inc., New York.

Sexton, J. (2017). Dakota Access Pipeline sabotaged in two states http://hotair.com/archives/2017/03/22/dakota-access-pipeline-sabotaged-in-two-states/ Accessed 19th April 2017.

Solnit, R. (2014). Call climate change what it is: violence https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/07/climate-change-violence-occupy-earth Accessed 20th April 2017.

Steffen, W., Persson, A., Deutsch, L., Zalasiewicz, J., Williams, M., Richardson, K., Crumley, C., Crutzen, P., Folke, C., Gordon, L., Molina, M., Ramanathan, V., Rockström, J., Scheffer, M., Schellnhuber, H. J., Svedin, U. (2011). The Anthropocene: From Global Change to Planetary Stewardship. Ambio 40 (7), 739-761.

Stengers, I. (2015). In Catastrophic Times: Resisting the Coming Barbarism. Translated from French by Goffey, A. Open Humanities Press, Paris.

Stokes, E., Bowman, T. (2017).  Trump’s Pro-Coal Orders Are Doomed to Fail http://time.com/4709796/trump-epa-climate-fossil-fuels/ Accessed 17th April 2017.

Streater, S. (2017). BLM ‘priority’ list pushes drilling, wall — leaked docs https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060052879 Accessed 17th April 2017.

Swyngedouw, E. (2010). Apocalypse Forever? Post-political Populism and the Spectre of Climate Change. Theory, Culture & Society 27 (2-3), 213-232.

Walsh, B., Ciais, P., Janssens, I. A., Peñuelas, J., Riahi, K., Rydzak, F., van Vuuren, D. P., Obersteiner, M. (2017). Pathways for balancing CO2 emissions and sinks. Nature Communications 8, doi:10.1038/ncomms14856.

Wilkinson, R., Pickett, K. (2010). The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger. Bloomsbury Press, New York.

Hilary Clinton and Ecological Survival

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Hilary Clinton at the 2014 National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas. Photo: John Locher/AP

Although clearer and more progressive on climate policy and environmental issues than Donald Trump, presidential candidate Hilary Clinton is by no means a friend of the environmental movement. Her role in politics will now be a lesser one after the victory of Trump’s presidential campaign.

This was a politician who made clear that she supported fracking and fossil fuel pipelines in order to “fuel our economy”, supporting renewable energy alongside oil and gas extraction in a confused “all of the above” approach (Norton, 2016). As Secretary of State it was Clinton’s staff who cooperated with TransCanada on the Keystone XL pipeline and she had accepted the false dogma of using natural gas as a “bridge fuel”towards a renewable economy (Cousins, 2016 – see also McJeon et al., 2014 and Hausfather, 2016).

The International Energy Agency has predicted that the majority of the world’s energy will still come from fossil fuels in the next few decades (Tweed, 2016), and a politician who had received “more than $6.9 million from the fossil fuel industry” would have likely ensured that this pattern continued in the USA (Coleman, 2016). Clinton had, in fact, raised more money from the oil industry than her presidential rival (Harder & Mullins, 2016).

Her support for continued fossil fuel extraction occurred with a backdrop of climate chaos. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have recently surpassed the symbolic 400 parts per million (ppm) threshold (Kahn, 2016) with the fear that “today’s greenhouse gas levels may already commit Earth to an eventual total warming of 5 degrees Celsius” over the next millennia (Snyder, 2016). The devastation of Hurricane Matthew, according to CNN, “looks a lot like the future of climate change” (Sutter, 2016). Heedless of this devastation, like the rest of the US political system, Clinton continued to promote the orthodoxy that capitalism is compatible with a stable climate.

Ultimately Clinton shares the same hypocritical approach to climate change that her democrat predecessor Obama had – “tackling [climate change] aggressively on the consumption side but continuing to boost fossil fuel supplies” (Adler, 2015). This involved maintaining a “studied silence” when it came to the controversy of Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline (McKibben, 2016; Ortega, 2016).

The issue however, is now moot. Donald Trump has already begun planning his climate policy, which largely revolves abolishing the Clean Power Plan (Worland, 2016), wanting to “cancel” the Paris Agreement (Mufson & Dennis, 2016), and abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (Plumer, 2016). This, despite the fact that climate change has been recognised as a “major national security risk” by the Climate Security Consensus Project (Papenfuss, 2016).

Indeed, to the rest of the world, “the U.S. citizens’ choice to elect Donald Trump seems like a death sentence” (Chemnick, 2016). We must now support the efforts of Blockadia (Martin & Fruhwirth, 2013) and stand in solidarity with indigenous nations and migrants in the fight against climate chaos (Out of the Woods, 2015; Bosworth, 2016). Climate change is not just a sociogenic process – it is violence:

“That’s a tired phrase, the destruction of the Earth, but translate it into the face of a starving child and a barren field – and then multiply that a few million times. Or just picture the tiny bivalves: scallops, oysters, Arctic sea snails that can’t form shells in acidifying oceans right now. Or another superstorm tearing apart another city. Climate change is global-scale violence, against places and species as well as against human beings. Once we call it by name, we can start having a real conversation about our priorities and values. Because the revolt against brutality begins with a revolt against the language that hides that brutality.” (Solnit, 2014)

With that in mind, we must contend with the fact that this is not just something “on a list of things to worry about” – in order to prevent climate chaos in the new right-wing political landscape “we have to remake the world, and we have to talk about it” (Battistoni, 2012).

References

Adler, B. (2015). 8 things you need to know about Hillary Clinton and climate change http://grist.org/climate-energy/8-things-you-need-to-know-about-hillary-clinton-and-climate-change/. Accessed 8th November 2016

Battistoni, A. (2012). The Flood Next Time https://www.jacobinmag.com/2012/12/the-flood-next-time/. Accessed 9th November 2016

Bosworth, K. (2016). Voices Against the Pipeline — “Five Lessons from Pipeline Struggles” http://nobakken.com/2016/09/05/voices-against-the-pipeline-five-lessons-from-pipeline-struggles-by-kai-bosworth/. Accessed 9th November 2016

Chemnick, J. (2016). No Plan B at Climate Talks, Given Trump Win https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/no-plan-b-at-climate-talks-given-trump-win/. Accessed 9th November 2016

Coleman, J. (2016). Hillary Clinton’s Connections to the Oil and Gas Industry http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/campaign-updates/hillary-clintons-connection-oil-gas-industry/. Accessed 8th November 2016

Cousins, F. (2016). Hillary Clinton Is Raking In Fossil Fuel Money At An Alarming Rate http://www.desmogblog.com/2016/09/07/hillary-clinton-raking-fossil-fuel-money-alarming-rate. Accessed 8th November 2016

Harder, A., Mullins, B. (2016). Hillary Clinton Raises More Than Donald Trump From Oil Industry http://www.wsj.com/articles/so-far-hillary-clinton-raises-more-than-donald-trump-from-oil-industry-1473190849. Accessed 8th November 2016.

Hausfather, Z. (2016). Is Natural Gas a Bridge Fuel? http://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2016/08/is-natural-gas-a-bridge-fuel/. Accessed 8th November 2016

Kahn, B. (2016). The world passes 400ppm carbon dioxide threshold. Permanently https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/sep/28/the-world-passes-400ppm-carbon-dioxide-threshold-permanently. Accessed 8th November 2016

Martin, M. J., Fruhwirth, J. (2013). Welcome to Blockadia! http://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/welcome-to-blockadia-enbridge-transcanada-tar-sands. Accessed 9th November 2016

McJeon, H., Edmonds, J., Bauer, N. Clarke, L., Fisher, B., Flannery, B. P., Hilaire, J., Krey, V., Marangoni, G., Mi, R., Riahi, K., Rogner, H., Tavoni, M. (2014). Limited impact on decadal-scale climate change from increased use of natural gas. Nature 514, 482-485

McKibben, B. (2016). The Climate Movement Has to Elect Hillary Clinton—and Then Give Her Hell https://www.thenation.com/article/the-climate-movement-has-to-elect-hillary-clinton-and-then-give-her-hell/. Accessed 9th November 2016

Mufson, S., Dennis. B. (2016). Trump victory reverses U.S. energy and environmental priorities https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/11/09/trump-victory-reverses-u-s-energy-and-environmental-priorities/. Accessed 9th November 2016

Norton, B. (2016). Leaked email: Hillary Clinton told “radical environmentalists” to “get a life,” defended fracking and pipelines http://www.salon.com/2016/10/18/leaked-email-hillary-clinton-told-radical-environmentalists-to-get-a-life-defended-fracking-and-pipelines/. Accessed 8th November 2016

Ortega, O. (2016). Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/10/24/clintons-troubling-silence-on-the-dakota-access-pipeline/. Accessed 9th November 2016

Out of the Woods (2015). 6 Ways to Fight Climate Chaos http://novaramedia.com/2015/05/30/6-ways-to-fight-climate-chaos/. Accessed 9th November 2016

Papenfuss, M. (2016). Climate change poses major national security risk to US, warn military experts http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/climate-change-poses-major-national-security-risk-us-warn-military-experts-1581419. Accessed 9th November 2016

Plumer, B. (2016). There’s no way around it: Donald Trump is going to be a disaster for the planet http://www.vox.com/2016/11/9/13571318/donald-trump-disaster-climate. Accessed 9th November 2016

Snyder, C. W. (2016). Evolution of global temperature over the past two million years. Nature 538, 226-228.

Solnit, R. (2014). Call climate change what it is: violence https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/07/climate-change-violence-occupy-earth. Accessed 9th November 2016

Sutter, J. D. (2016). Hurricane Matthew looks a lot like the future of climate change http://edition.cnn.com/2016/10/07/opinions/sutter-hurricane-matthew-climate-change/index.html Accessed 8th November 2016

Tweed, K. (2016). Leaked Clinton Emails Mention Climate Change More Than Obamacare http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Leaked-Clinton-Emails-Mention-Climate-Change-More-Than-Obamacare. Accessed 8th November 2016

Worland, J. (2016). Donald Trump’s Victory Could Mean Disaster for the Planet http://time.com/4564224/donald-trump-climate-change/. Accessed 9th November 2016

Part 2: Hinkley Point C – Alternatives to Nuclear Ideology

paneles solares

Image: Jose Juan Castellano

As we saw in the last post plans for a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point C, Somerset have been beset by troubles. This next post aims to detail further problems with a nuclear strategy for the UK, and highlight the alternatives to achieve a genuine low-carbon energy sector.

The Problems

Hinkley Point C (henceforth just Hinkley) is simply another example of the current UK government engaging with projects not for economic or environmental concerns, but for ideological reasons. For example, “taxpayers could end up paying more than £30bn through a range of subsidies” in order to support the new power station because it is not profitable by itself (Business Leader, 2016). Advisors in DECC (when it existed) also had links to EDF, which could explain the preferential treatment given to nuclear energy (Clarke, 2016) despite the fact that the current set price for electricity generated from the power station offered by the UK government is double average wholesale electricity prices (Elmes, 2016), representing another loss for the average UK citizen. As if that wasn’t enough,

“The predicted cost of Hinkley Point C has steadily risen from £14bn to £24.5bn and has steadily risen from earlier estimates of £16bn. The complexity of the project is enormous, due to what is believed to be by many to be an over-engineered design. There are also reported issues regarding the manufacture of the reactor pressure vessel for the EPR [European Pressurised Reactor] associated with anomalies in the composition of the steel.” (Freer, 2015)

These defects – enormously dangerous in a nuclear power station – are down to the French nuclear firm Areva, responsible for leading the construction of Hinkley, misreporting or failing to report key information in their quality control documents. As a result Hinkley – and other nuclear power plants around the world – may be using components that would be unable to “withstand sudden breakdown in certain conditions” (Boren, 2016).

On the bright side, we won’t have to worry about these manufacturing errors causing problems in the immediate future. Due to ongoing delays “Hinkley C is unlikely to produce electricity much before 2030” (Carrington, 2016a). By the time it is online it is likely to face ongoing problems due to extreme weather events caused by climate change (if global warming hasn’t been mitigated appropriately by then). Nuclear power stations are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather as these events

“could disrupt the functioning of critical equipment and processes that are indispensable to safe operation including reactor vessels, cooling equipment, control instruments and back-up generators.” (World Energy Council, 2014)

So at the moment we are looking forward to a nuclear power station billions over budget, not scaled to be completed until 2025 (Farrell, 2016), and subsequently vulnerable to storm damage and rising sea levels.

On top of this the justification that Hinkley will provide the UK with “baseload”power that is “vital to the UK” (EDF, 2016) is a myth. The importance of the new power station “has been repeatedly overplayed” (Gosden, 2016) and “the idea of large power stations [nuclear or not] for baseload is outdated” (Beckman, 2015). Practical experience, such as the German states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Schleswig-Holstein running on 100% renewable energy, and a host of studies and computer simulations of electricity markets and supply-demand systems prove that monolithic power stations providing baseload power are not required (Diesendorf, 2016). Other studies have shown that closing down nuclear power stations and transitioning to renewable energy provides a host of environmental and economic benefits without jeopardising energy security (Phys.org, 2012; Gawel & Strunz, 2014).

Additionally, any employment supported by the construction of Hinkley will be temporary and filled by overseas workers, and less than a thousand jobs will be “created” for day-to-day operations (Fairlie, 2016). Jobs in the renewable energy sector far outweigh nuclear jobs. It is no surprise then that public support for Hinkley is very low (Chrisafis, 2016; Pagnamenta, 2016). There are even internal disputes within the board of EDF, with worker representatives filing “a challenge to overturn the company’s controversial decision to build the nuclear reactors” due to essential information about the power station not being shared with all board members (Chrisafis, 2016).

So we have seen that nuclear energy would be problematic for UK, and if Hinkley Point C were allowed to develop it would be a tacit endorsement for further nuclear development regardless of its practicality. So what are the alternatives?

The Solutions

The current situation seems dire. At the moment “the percentage of energy Britain now has to import has returned to the levels last seen in the early 1970s, before North Sea oil came on stream” (Elliott, 2016). This is a fear that the nuclear industry has exploited in order to appear as a solution. But as Elliott continues, “the cost of renewables are coming down all the time”. To develop a practical, secure energy supply requires the UK “to move away from large Hinkley-type projects” (Business Leader, 2016). This is not only an environmentally safer option but more economically secure – the thinktank Intergenerational Foundation found that “Britain would pay up to £40bn less for renewable alternatives that would generate the equivalent power to Hinkley over the plant’s planned lifetime” (Vaughan, 2016a). For the UK to pursue nuclear energy when “the world is finally producing renewable energy at an industrial scale” and with global installations of renewable energy projects surpassing “100,000 megawatts of capacity” in 2014 seems ludicrous (Steiner, 2015). As The Economist (2016) reports,

“Since Hinkley became a serious proposal less than a decade ago, the cost of nuclear power has increased, that of renewables has fallen and the price of battery storage—which could one day disrupt the entire power system—has plummeted. What is more, EDF’s nuclear technology has failed to get off the ground in the two projects in Finland and France that have sought to use it.”

So what are our options? Let us assess the evidence.

Wind

The world’s largest offshore windfarm was recently approved by the UK government, set to be constructed 100km off the Yorkshire coast (Anthony, 2016). It will provide power to almost two million homes when completed. As more of these windfarms are constructed (there are currently thirty offshore windfarms in UK territory) the energy generated will steadily become more reliable – as den Rooijen (2016) explains, “if the wind doesn’t blow in one [area], the wind blows in another, and the net effect is that the combined power output is less variable”. He continues

“At present, we have 2,200 wind turbines in operation and under construction, taking up less than 1% of our total seabed. National Grid estimates that nearly half of all power could be generated from our seabed by 2030 through offshore wind, combined with tidal power lagoons and strong electrical connections to our neighbouring countries.”

With 5GW (gigawatts) of offshore wind energy and 9GW of onshore wind currently online with new projects constantly in the pipeline (e.g. Hornsea Projects 1, 2, and 3) the 3.2GW that Hinkley will provide seems insignificant by comparison (Macalister, 2016a).

At the moment offshore windfarms are already being built at cheaper prices than Hinkley, and will meet 10% of the UK’s electricity demand by 2020 (Sauven, 2016; Macalister, 2016b) while Hinkley will only produce 7% when it is finally built in 2025 (ignoring delays common with the reactor design – see Stacey & Burgis, 2016). Looking to land, the UK government’s own calculations predict that “onshore wind power and large-scale solar [will] cost less per megawatt hour than new nuclear by 2025” (Vaughan, 2016b). Renewables will also be cheaper to build – the Intergenerational Foundation found that onshore wind power would be £31.2 billion cheaper than Hinkley whilst producing the same amount of energy over a thirty-five year period (Simms, 2016).

In reality the UK has exploited less than 1% of its offshore wind energy potential – a total of 675GW is economically feasible, which is more than six times the UK’s current electricity demand (Cavazzi & Dutton, 2016). The potential for wind energy alone dwarfs UK nuclear power.

Solar

Solar power is similar to wind power – it is cheap, efficient, and a far better alternative to nuclear projects like Hinkley. By 2025, large-scale solar is expected to cost between £50 and £75 per megawatt hour, according to the UK government’s energy department, whereas nuclear power is expected to cost “around £85-125/MWh, in line with the guaranteed price of £92.50/MWh that the government has offered Hinkley’s developer, EDF” (Vaughan, 2016b). The Intergenerational Foundation’s report consolidates the cheapness of solar compared to nuclear, citing evidence that solar power in the UK would be £40 billion cheaper compared to Hinkley over the thirty-five year contract period (Simms, 2016).

Solar power is now 50% cheaper than it was in 2011, and “more than 800,000 homes now have rooftop solar” (Sauven, 2016) proving its effectiveness. Solar power recently beat coal power in the UK for the first time some months ago, generating “1,273 gigawatt hours of power” in May, beating the 778 gigawatt hours generated by coal (Evans, 2016), showcasing its ability to outclass fossil fuels in power generation.

Looking past simple economic comparisons, solar power arrays can also enhance biodiversity as they take up only a small percentage of the land and often allow insect species “to thrive” compared to arable land (Solarcentury, 2014). A more recent study found that “solar farms can lead to an increase in the diversity and abundance of broad leaved plants, grasses, butterflies, bumblebees and birds” (Montag et al., 2016). Solar power on agricultural land is also a possibility – a 2013 study published in Agricultural and Forest Meteorology found that crops under a “half-density” array of solar panels “were just as productive as the ones in the unshaded control plots; in a few cases, they were even more productive”and that “shading irrigated vegetable crops with PVPs [photovoltaic panels] allowed a saving of 14 percent to 29 percent of evapotranspired water, depending on the level of shade created and the crop grown” (Marrou et al., 2013). Solar power is thus an effective energy delivery strategy without having to sacrifice grassland or arable land, compared to the large footprint required of nuclear power stations like Hinkley.

Other Possibilities

Solar and wind power are not the only alternatives to Hinkley available to us – there is a miscellany of other technologies available. Wave energy devices, for example, placed in the “most economic areas” around the UK’s coast could generate up to 10GW, which equates to “11% of the UK’s current power generation” (Carbon Trust, 2012).

Instead of producing additional power, increased energy efficiency measures in the UK would make projects like Hinkley obsolete. Improving efficiency could, according to various authors, reduce electricity demand by the equivalent of four to six Hinkley power stations (DECC, 2012; Blackman, 2016) and save billions of pounds a year. As Damian Carrington (2016b) writes,

“Energy efficiency could deliver six Hinkley’s worth of electricity by 2030, interconnector cables to Norway, Denmark and France could add another two or three Hinkleys to the grid by 2025 and four Hinkleys’ worth of electricity could be saved by 2030 by increasing the ability to store electricity and making the grid smarter, with the latter alone saving bill payers £8bn a year.”

These trends in efficiency, smart grids, and better energy storage won’t go away – “the National Grid predicts that in some scenarios by 2020, small-scale and distributed generation will represent a third of total capacity in the UK” (Sauven, 2016).  This is simply proof that the age of megaprojects like Hinkley is over – the UK needs to focus on connecting “consumption as well as supply and think more decentralised than central” (Elmes, 2016).

Is it Possible?

These technics are far from implausible – many of them rely on technology that exists today and trends that are already occurring. If Hinkley Point C is cancelled (and it should be) additional renewable energy projects can “plug significant gaps in capacity very quickly – much more quickly than long lead time and significantly delayed new nuclear” (Caldecott, 2016). The recent analysis from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit using “ultra-conservative” estimates and considering “only mature technologies” succinctly surmised that “Hinkley is not essential” (ECIU, 2016), contrary to the assertions of the EDF chief executive (de Rivaz, 2016).

As Gawel and Strunz (2014) wrote in their case study of Germany’s nuclear phase-out, it is less about technology and more about providing a “a long-term transition perspective and a stable political consensus” that will encourage the development of renewable energy and not so-called “low-carbon” energy sources like nuclear or gas. This social and political shift will readily yield “measurable economic and environmental benefits” (Phys.org, 2012).

Many studies and analyses looking at the possibility of a long-term, global shift to renewable energy have found that it is plausible and easily achievable. EDF’s claim that we shouldn’t “hope that a new technology will meet all our needs” is unfounded and false – we don’t need “new” technologies because existing ones are more than enough (de Rivaz, 2016). Such claims muddy the waters when it comes to discussing a sustainable future and betray the wants of large energy corporations like EDF who are threatened by the coming wave of renewable and decentralised energy technologies. In fact, pursuing the idea of nuclear power as part of the UK’s energy strategy would be harmful to genuine renewable energy uptake – a study by the University of Sussex found that countries like the UK who are “nuclear-committed” and plan to replace old nuclear power plants with newer models are slower to adopt renewable energy and reduce the carbon intensity of energy generation (Lawrence et al., 2016; Cuff, 2016). The study identified that

“progress in both carbon emissions reduction and in adoption of renewables appears to be inversely related to the strength of continuing nuclear commitments.”

Thus any and all assertions that nuclear power should be a component of the UK’s energy strategy are detrimental in the long-term.

Jacobson and Delucchi (2010) in a peer-reviewed study found that instituting a global infrastructure based on wind, water, and solar energy could not only meet the world’s energy needs but reduce “world power demand by 30%”. In a growing trend, they emphasise that “barriers to the plan are primarily social and political, not technological or economic”. Schwartzman and Schwartzman’s (2011) similar study, published via the Institute for Policy Research & Development, found that a global transition to (only) wind and solar power could

“occur in two or three decades and requires very little fossil fuel (on the order of one half of a year’s present global consumption) and no revolutionary technological innovations.”

As far back as 2004 one peer-reviewed study identified that “humanity already possesses the fundamental scientific, technical, and industrial know-how to solve the carbon and climate problem for the next half-century” (Pacala and Socolow, 2004).

Importantly though, we cannot wait for these energy trends to unfold by themselves. Many political and economic actors will work and lobby to ensure that energy systems in the UK remain centralised and based on scarce supplies of fossil fuels, the better to control energy distribution in a country gripped by the worst inequality in decades (Williams-Grut, 2015; Reuben, 2015). But as Podobnik (2010) warned

“The historical record shows very clearly that deep, enduring changes in energy industries require the mobilization of mass social movements. We cannot simply wait for visionary politicians to forge the way.”

A mass social movement in the UK calling for fair, equitable, renewable energy generation (e.g. plasmatelly, 2014) is thus required to not only break the trend of monolithic, centralised energy projects being built, but also to protect and defend the environment from the biocrisis (Institute for Experimental Freedom, 2009). Projects like Hinkley Point C must be opposed whenever they emerge. Any form of society that hopes to survive in the coming decades can and must be powered by renewable energy.

References

Anthony, S. (2016). World’s largest offshore windfarm in Yorkshire approved by UK government. http://arstechnica.co.uk/science/2016/08/world-largest-windfarm-hornsea-two-uk/ Accessed 22/08/16

Beckman, K. (2015). Steve Holliday, CEO National Grid: “The idea of large power stations for baseload is outdated”. http://www.energypost.eu/interview-steve-holliday-ceo-national-grid-idea-large-power-stations-baseload-power-outdated/ Accessed 21/08/16

Blackman, J. (2016). The role for energy storage as an alternative to Hinkley Point C. http://www.energy-storage.news/analysis/the-role-for-energy-storage-as-an-alternative-to-hinkley-point-c Accessed 27/08/16

Boren, Z. D. (2016). Hinkley builder admits defective parts may be found in nuclear plants around the world. https://energydesk.greenpeace.org/2016/06/18/flamanville-defective-parts-around-the-world/ Accessed 21/08/16

Business Leader (2016). Security is not the only reason to cancel Hinkley. There are many others. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/aug/14/hinkley-point-security-not-only-reason-to-cancel-many-others Accessed 20/08/16

Caldecott, B. (2016). Keeping the lights on: security of supply after coal. http://www.brightblue.org.uk/images/lightson.pdf Accessed 27/08/16

Carbon Trust (2012). Revealed: the UK’s wave power hot spots. https://www.carbontrust.com/about-us/press/2012/10/revealed-the-uks-wave-power-hot-spots/ Accessed 27/08/16.

Carrington, D. (2016a). Five ways to power the UK that are far better than Hinkley Point. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/damian-carrington-blog/2016/mar/18/five-ways-to-power-the-uk-that-are-far-better-than-hinkley-point Accessed 21/08/16

Carrington, D. (2016b). Hinkley’s nuclear plant fails all tests – bar the politics. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/damian-carrington-blog/2016/jul/28/hinkley-point-c-nuclear-plant-fails-all-tests-bar-the-politics Accessed 27/08/16.

Cavazzi, S., Dutton, A. G. (2016). An Offshore Wind Energy Geographic Information System (OWE-GIS) for assessment of the UK’s offshore wind energy potential. Renewable Energy 87 (1), 212-228.

Chrisafis, A. (2016). EDF representatives file legal challenge in France over Hinkley Point. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/aug/31/edf-representatives-file-legal-challenge-in-france-over-hinkley-point Accessed 01/09/16

Clarke, J. S. (2016). Hinkley C: government’s ‘revolving door’ to EDF execs. http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_round_up/2988011/hinkley_c_governments_revolving_door_to_edf_execs.html Accessed 21/08/16

Cuff, M. (2016). Study: Countries that support nuclear energy lag on climate targets. http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/2468561/study-countries-that-support-nuclear-energy-lag-on-climate-targets Accessed 28/08/16

DECC [Department of Energy and Climate Change] (2012). Capturing the full electricity efficiency potential of the UK. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/capturing-the-full-electricity-efficiency-potential-of-the-uk–2 Accessed 27/08/16.

Diesendorf, M. (2016). Dispelling the nuclear ‘baseload’ myth: nothing renewables can’t do better! http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2987376/dispelling_the_nuclear_baseload_myth_nothing_renewables_cant_do_better.html Accessed 21/08/16

ECIU [Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit] (2016). Hinkley: What If? Can the UK solve its energy trilemma without Hinkley Point C? http://eciu.net/reports/2016/hinkley-what-if-can-the-uk-solve-its-energy-trilemma-without-hinkley-point-c Accessed 28/08/16

EDF (2016). Why Hinkley Point C is vital to the UK. https://www.edfenergy.com/energy/nuclear-new-build-projects/hinkley-point-c/why_we_need_HPC Accessed 21/08/16

Elliott, L. (2016). UK green energy sector needs nurturing over nuclear. https://www.theguardian.com/business/economics-blog/2016/aug/15/uk-green-energy-sector-needs-nurturing-hinkley-point-nuclear Accessed 22/08/16

Elmes, D. (2016). As Hinkley Point C put on ice: the UK needs to get over energy megaprojects. https://theconversation.com/as-hinkley-point-c-put-on-ice-the-uk-needs-to-get-over-energy-megaprojects-63166 Accessed 21/08/16

Evans, S. (2016). Analysis: Solar beats coal over a whole month in UK for first time. http://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-solar-beats-coal-over-a-whole-month-in-uk-for-first-time Accessed 27/08/16

Fairlie, I. (2016). If it’s jobs they want, Labour and the unions must back renewables, not Hinkley C! http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2988060/if_its_jobs_they_want_labour_and_the_unions_must_back_renewables_not_hinkley_c.html Accessed 01/09/16

Farrell, S. (2016). Hinkley Point C: what you need to know about the nuclear power project. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/07/hinkley-point-c-what-you-need-to-know-nuclear-power-station Accessed 21/08/16

Freer, M. (2015). Simpler, smaller, cheaper? Alternatives to Britain’s new nuclear power plant. https://theconversation.com/simpler-smaller-cheaper-alternatives-to-britains-new-nuclear-power-plant-48071 Accessed 21/08/16

Gawel, E., Strunz, S. (2014). Germany’s decision to phase out nuclear power is fundamentally sensible from an economic perspective. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2014/10/27/germanys-decision-to-phase-out-nuclear-power-is-fundamentally-sensible-from-an-economic-perspective/ Accessed 22/08/16

Gosden, E. (2016). Hinkley Point not necessary to keep the lights on, says SSE chief. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/08/16/hinkley-point-not-necessary-to-keep-the-lights-on-says-sse-chief/ Accessed 21/08/16

Institute for Experimental Freedom (2009). Introduction to the Apocalypse. https://www.indybay.org/uploads/2009/12/02/apocalypse_read.pdf Accessed 28/08/16

Jacobson, M. Z. & Delucchi, M. A. (2010). Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power. Energy Policy 39 (3), 1154–1169.

Lawrence, A., Sovacool, B., Stirling, A. (2016). Nuclear energy and path dependence in Europe’s ‘Energy union’: coherence or continued divergence? Climate Policy 16 (5).

Macalister, T. (2016a). Hinkley Point C is not only new energy option, says windfarm developer. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/aug/04/windfarms-hinckley-point-plant-henrik-paulsen-dong Accessed 23/08/16

Macalister, T. (2016b). Crown estate wades into Hinkley Point nuclear debate. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/14/crown-estate-hinkley-point-nuclear-debate Accessed 22/08/16

Marrou, H., Guilioni, L., Dufour, L., Dupraz, C., Wery, J. (2013). Microclimate under agrivoltaic systems: Is crop growth rate affected in the partial shade of solar panels? Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 177, 117-132.

Montag, H., Parker, G., Clarkson, T. (2016). The Effects of Solar Farms on Local Biodiversity: A Comparative Study. http://www.solar-trade.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/The-effects-of-solar-farms-on-local-biodiversity-study.pdf Accessed 25/08/16

Pacala, S., Socolow, R. (2004). Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies. Science 305, 968-972.

Pagnamenta, R. (2016). Hinkley nuclear support falls as majority oppose China role. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/hinkley-nuclear-support-falls-as-majority-oppose-china-role-23lgfff3g Accessed 01/09/16

Phys.org (2012). Bulletin: German nuclear exit delivers economic, environmental benefits. http://phys.org/news/2012-11-bulletin-german-nuclear-exit-economic.html Accessed 22/08/16

plasmatelly (2014). Communising energy: power to the people! https://libcom.org/blog/communising-energy-power-people-18022014 Accessed 28/08/16

Podobnik, B. (2010). Building the Clean Energy Movement: Future Possibilities in Historical Perspective. In: Abramsky, K.. ed. Sparking a Worldwide Energy Revolution: Social Struggles in the Transition to a Post-petrol World. AK Press, Oakland, 72-80.

Reuben, A. (2015). Gap between rich and poor ‘keeps growing’. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-32824770 Accessed 28/08/16

de Rivaz, V. (2016). ‘New nuclear’ has to be part of our low-carbon energy future. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/08/27/new-nuclear-has-to-be-part-of-our-low-carbon-energy-future/ Accessed 28/08/16

den Rooijen, H. (2016). Hinkley C’s future is in doubt. Let’s turn our sights to offshore wind. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/14/hinkley-cs-future-is-in-doubt-lets-turn-our-sights-to-offshore-wind Accessed 22/08/16

Sauven, J. (2016). For a secure energy future, there are far better investments than Hinkley. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/08/for-a-secure-energy-future-there-are-far-better-investments-than-hinkley Accessed 23/08/16

Schwartzman, P. D. & Schwartzman, D. W. (2011). A Solar Transition is Possible. Institute for Policy Research & Development, London.

Simms, A. (2016). Toxic Time Capsule: Why nuclear energy is an intergenerational issue. http://www.if.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Toxic-Time-Capsule_Final_28-Mar.pdf Accessed 23/08/16.

Solarcentury (2014). Further evidence supports opportunity for creating bio-diverse solar farms. http://www.solarcentury.com/uk/media-centre/evidence-supports-opportunity-creating-bio-diverse-solar-farms/ Accessed 25/08/16

Stacey, K., Burgis, T. (2016). EDF’s French nuclear plant faces years of further delay. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/73d62552-ec65-11e5-bb79-2303682345c8.html Accessed 22/08/16

Steiner, A. (2015). ‘The world is finally producing renewable energy at an industrial scale’. https://www.theguardian.com/vital-signs/2015/apr/20/renewable-energy-global-trends-solar-power Accessed 22/08/16

The Economist (2016). When the facts change… http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21703396-hinkley-point-would-tie-britain-energy-system-already-out-date-when-facts Accessed 01/09/16

Vaughan, A. (2016a). Scrapping Hinkley for renewable alternatives would save ‘tens of billions’. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/05/scrapping-hinkley-for-renewable-alternatives-will-save-tens-of-billions Accessed 22/08/16

Vaughan, A. (2016b). Solar and wind ‘cheaper than new nuclear’ by the time Hinkley is built. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/11/solar-and-wind-cheaper-than-new-nuclear-by-the-time-hinkley-is-built Accessed 23/08/16

Williams-Grut, O. (2015). Here’s just how wealthy the top 1% in Britain are. http://uk.businessinsider.com/ons-chart-on-wealth-inequality-in-britain-2015-12 Accessed 28/08/16

World Energy Council (2014). Climate Change: Implications for the Energy Sector. http://www.worldenergy.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Climate-Change-Implications-for-the-Energy-Sector-Summary-from-IPCC-AR5-2014-Full-report.pdf Accessed 21/08/16

Climate Imperial: Geoengineering and Capitalist Hegemony (Part Eleven)

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Conclusion  

“Learning to honor the wild…means never imagining that we can flee into a mythical wilderness to escape history and the obligation to take responsibility for our own actions that history inescapably entails.” — William Cronon, 1995

We have seen, then, the horrors that await us in a capitalist future. We seem stuck between two hellish paths. One is of climate crisis, of “climate-induced scarcity” and “militarised policing of the class lines” (Out of the Woods, 2014a), and of “increasingly authoritarian forms of state power” to discipline unrest triggered by resource shortages (Steven, 2012). As Davis (2008) warns, “we’re talking here of the prospect of creating green and gated oases of permanent affluence on an otherwise stricken planet”.

The other is of a world disciplined not only by capital but by technocracy, characterised by the concealing of scientific research from the public (Mirowski et al., 2013), of control of weather systems for reasons of national security, and of a wealthy techno-elite patenting geoengineering technologies and profiting off climate inaction (Yusoff, 2013: 2803). In this scenario, “we would have a roof, not a sky – a milky, geoengineered ceiling gazing down on a dying, acidified sea” (Klein, 2014: 260). The idea of human ingenuity solving the problem of climate change with a technical fix without any need for structural change is seductive, especially for those in power (Andersen, 2015).

But this is a false dichotomy. A third way, characterised by anti-capitalism, rational economic management, and a holistic approach to humanity’s place in the earth system, is possible and realisable.

Resistance to state and capitalist failures at addressing the climate crisis is growing (Out of the Woods, 2015). As Battistoni (2012) tells us, “we have to remake the world, and we have to talk about it”, and more importantly act on it. There is hope that the “extraordinary” natural disasters we may face with climate change will lead to the resurgence of “extraordinary communities” (Karlin, 2013), whilst at the same time we combat reactionary, xenophobic attitudes that divert attention to the symptoms of the climate crisis and not the cause (McGrath, 2014; Out of the Woods, 2014b).

The technics we need to mitigate and adapt to a warming world already exist. From agricultural adaptations (McVeigh, 2014; White, 2014) to methods of energy generation (Jacobson & Delucchi, 2010; Saenz, 2012; Grover, 2014) to “appropriate” forms of geoengineering (Lehmann, 2007; Becker et al., 2013; Biggers, 2015). Indeed, “humanity already possesses the fundamental scientific, technical, and industrial know-how to solve the carbon and climate problem for the next half-century” (Pacala and Socolow, 2004) and the “knowledge and physical instruments for promoting a harmonization of humanity with nature…are largely at hand or could easily be devised” (Bookchin, 2005: 83).

But this future is not for certain. In order to maintain the habitability of the earth system (for humans, at least) we will require a fundamental restructuring of politics, economics, and society’s attitude to the nature/human false dichotomy. As Carl Sagan warned,

“We’ve never done such a thing before, certainly not on a global scale. It may be too difficult for us. Dangerous technologies may be too widespread. Corruption may be too pervasive. Too many leaders may be focused on the short term rather than the long.” (1997)

We need to make sure that our descendants do not “one day say that ours was a time of affluence, subsidized by their suffering” (Andersen, 2015). Our choice to embark towards an anti-capitalist and “ecological society” must be predicated upon our ability “to learn from the material lessons of the past and to appreciate the real prospects of the future” (Bookchin, 2003). The concept of “solar communism”, an embodiment of Marx’s dictum “from each according to her ability, to each according to her needs” for both humans and the natural world, is one example of a model society we should strive for (Schwartzman, 2015).

If we succeed then perhaps, as William Cronon concluded twenty years ago, “we can get on with the unending task of struggling to live rightly in the world—not just in the garden, not just in the wilderness, but in the home that encompasses them both” (Cronon, 1995).

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight | Part Nine | Part Ten


References

Climate Imperial: Geoengineering and Capitalist Hegemony (Part Ten)

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Non-Wilderness   

It is important to realise the concept of a natural, untouched “wilderness” is a false one, and one we must eject from our thinking when it comes to issues such as climate change, climate stabilisation, and geoengineering. Indeed, the neat divide between “natural” and “artificial” is a false one – as Donna Haraway (1991) puts it, in modern society “the certainty of what counts as nature — a source of insight and promise of innocence — is undermined, probably fatally” (152-3). To quote Murray Bookchin’s work at length:

“There is no part of the world that has not been profoundly affected by human activity–neither the remote fastnesses of Antarctica nor the canyons of the ocean’s depths. Even wilderness areas require protection from human intervention; much that is designated as wilderness today has already been profoundly affected by human activity. Indeed, wilderness can be said to exist primarily as a result of a human decision to preserve it. Nearly all the nonhuman life-forms that exist today are, like it or not, to some degree in human custody, and whether they are preserved in their wild lifeways depends largely on human attitudes and behavior.” (1995)

The “primeval” world that some desire, Bookchin continues, no longer exists and so “the possibility of returning to it is simply excluded” (2005: 58). Returning to the theme of alienation William Cronon (1995) adds to this, stating that

“Only people whose relation to the land was already alienated could hold up wilderness as a model for human life in nature, for the romantic ideology of wilderness leaves precisely nowhere for human beings actually to make their living from the land.”

In less abstract terms, Li (2009) points out that “in reality, it is impossible for human economic activities to have zero impact on the environment” (1041).

In this sense geoengineering technologies should not be rejected based on their supposed artificiality or naturalness, but based on their appropriateness and limitations. CDR, for example, should be seen as a prudent alternative to SRM not because it involves “respecting nature” (Preston, 2013: 24) but because it mimics processes of carbon dioxide drawdown that have been proven to work. As the GHGs humanity emits will “last many thousands of years in the atmosphere before losing even half its warming potential” (Kintisch, 2010: 231) we must come to terms with the fact that “if we do not intervene in the world today for purposes of ecological restoration” then the earth system will be in grave danger (Bookchin, 2005: 58).

This does not entail uncritical use of geoengineering technologies however. As detailed some geoengineering approaches may simply replicate or worsen the already deadly effects of future climate change (Cooper, 2010: 184; Klein, 2014: 261; Dwortzan, 2015). But as a degree of climate chaos is expected with locked-in atmospheric warming we are faced with the “daunting challenge” of taking action and acting as “caretaker of both people and ecosystems” (Preston, 2012: 197). As David Orrell (2007) informs us, “we have passed a kind of tipping point in our relationship with the world” and, like it or not, “our actions now influence its workings at every level” (12).

Public Science

Science is increasingly seen not as a public good but as something that belongs in the private domain. Science, Mirowski et al (2013) fear, is being made “to conform to the market imperative, as can be seen from attacks on high school science teachers and the re-engineering of the university for the knowledge economy”. Even in the lofty world of peer-reviewed journals it was found that “the greater the financial and other interests and prejudices in a scientific field, the less likely the research findings are to be true” (Ioannidis, 2005: 699). As institutions are privatised or reduced to “joint-ventures” the common person’s control of science and the public accountability of scientific research will diminish (Brown, 2000; Vaughan, 2014). This comes naturally as under capitalism there is

“a disincentive to communicate information. The market encourages secrecy, which is inimical to openness in science. It presupposes a view of property in which the owner has rights to exclude others. In the sphere of science, such rights of exclusion place limits on the communication of information and theories which are incompatible with the growth of knowledge … science tends to grow when communication is open… [In addition a] necessary condition for the acceptability of a theory or experimental result is that it pass the public, critical scrutiny of competent scientific judges. A private theory or result is one that is shielded from the criteria of scientific acceptability.” (O’Neill, 1998: 153)

Even further, Levins and Lewontin (1985) comment on evidence that “modern science is a product of capitalism” (197) and that “the commoditization of science, then, is not a unique transformation but a natural part of capitalist development” (199). Such appropriation of scientific findings in the context of geoengineering is dangerous, limiting public accountability and fuelling technocratic practices. More forcefully Albert Camus (1956) accuses science of betraying “its origins…in allowing itself to be put to the service of State terrorism and the desire for power” (295). As Francisco Ferrer argued, “science, which is produced by observers and workers of all countries and ages, ought not be restricted to class” (Harper, 1987: 100).

What we need then is “socially responsible science” to play a larger role in any and all geoengineering research. As geoengineering research is carried out “in the name of society” and as a result needs to express society’s “needs, interests, and priorities” scientists need to accept their responsibilities and duties to the common good and not to private or state interests (Bird, 2014: 170). Scientists are part of society, not separate or above it.

In this regard the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science (BSSRS) is a welcome template. Established in 1969 the BSSRS “aimed to open up the politics of science to both scientific and public scrutiny”, noting the importance of environmental issues and women’s rights and having a “strong commitment to the class component of environmental problems” (Bell, 2013). Science was a force for good but “as it was currently constructed was part of the problem” and needed to be changed. The BSSRS passed what was to be known as the “Durham Resolution”, whereby they pledged, among other things, “not to conceal from the public any information about the general nature of my research and about the dangerous uses to which it might be put” and “to explain to the public the general nature and possible uses of research conducted by private or State bodies over which there is little or no public control” (Solidarity, 1971). Such attitudes, if adopted by contemporary scientists in the fields of geoengineering research, would ensure research into modifying the planet’s climate was acceptably controlled, understandable, and communicated adequately to wider society. As Levins and Lewontin (1985) remind us, “the irrationalities of a scientifically sophisticated world come not from failures of intelligence but from the persistence of capitalism” (208).

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

Part Eleven coming soon


References

  • Bell, A. (2013). Beneath the white coat: the radical science movement. http://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2013/jul/18/beneath-white-coat-radical-science-movement Accessed 10 December 2015.
  • Bird, S. J. (2014). Socially Responsible Science Is More than “Good Science”. Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education 15 (2), 169–172.
  • Bookchin, M. (1995). A Philosophical Naturalism. http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/bookchin/philosonatural.html Accessed 11 December 2015.
  • Bookchin, M. (2005). The Ecology of Freedom. AK Press, Oakland.
  • Brown, J. R. (2000). Privatizing the University–the New Tragedy of the Commons. Science 290 (5497), 1701-1702.
  • Camus, A. (1956). The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt. Trans. by Anthony Bower. Vintage Books, New York.
  • Cooper, M. (2010). Turbulent worlds: financial markets and environmental crisis. Theory, Culture and Society 27 (2–3) 167–190.
  • Cronon, W. (1995). The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature. In: Cronon, W. ed. Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature. W. W. Norton & Co, New York, 69-90.
  • Dwortzan, M. (2015). NEWS RELEASE: Fertilize the Ocean, Cool the Planet? http://globalchange.mit.edu/news-events/news/news_id/480#.Vmq8wtKLS9I Accessed 11 December 2015.
  • Haraway, D. (1991). Simians, Cyborgs and Women. Routledge, New York.
  • Harper, C. (1987). Anarchy: A Graphic Guide. Camden Press, London.
  • Ioannidis, J. P. A. (2005). Why Most Published Research Findings Are False. PLoS Medicine 2 (8), e124.
  • 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.
  • Levins, R., Lewontin, R. (1985). The Dialectical Biologist. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.
  • 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.
  • Mirowski, P., Walker, J., Abboud, A. (2013). Beyond denial. https://overland.org.au/previous-issues/issue-210/feature-philip-mirowski-jeremy-walker-antoinette-abboud/ Accessed 10 December 2015.
  • O’Neill, J. (1998). The Market: Ethics, Knowledge and Politics. Routledge, London.
  • Orrell, D. (2007). The Future of Everything: The Science of Prediction. Thunder’s Mouth Press, New York.
  • 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.
  • Solidarity, 1971. Socially-responsible scientists or soldier-technicians? https://libcom.org/library/socially-responsible-scientists-or-soldier-technicians-1971 Accessed 10 December 2015.
  • Vaughan, A. (2014). Warning over ‘privatisation’ of environmental science research body. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/apr/28/food-and-environment-research-agency-privatisation Accessed 10 December 2015.

Climate Imperial: Geoengineering and Capitalist Hegemony (Part Nine)

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What Is To Be Done? 

“Humanity’s global geochemical dominance and the dangers that loom as a result are etched in the sky. It will be that way for a very long time.” — Eli Kintisch, 2010

Resistance 

For the sake of humanity and the climate we have seen we have to struggle against both climate nationalism, consisting of unilateral actions and economic growth regardless of its consequences, and the threat of a rising technocracy that would dominate and de-politicise the global society through scientific expertise and techno-fetishism. But as Dr Thorpe and Dr Welsh (2008) remind us, “this is an era where the potential for interventions consistent with anarchist principles is perhaps greater than ever before”. As the impacts of climate change become locked-in regardless of what we do in the present, we have to remember that global warming is, as well as a question of science and policy, a question of “democracy”:

“about who benefits, who loses, who should decide, and who does. Surviving and maybe even turning back the tide of this pervasive ongoing disaster will require more ability to improvise together, stronger societies, more confidence in each other.” (Solnit, 2010: 296)

Indeed geoengineering, not as an issue of stabilising climate but of stabilising capitalist modes of production, “is not the political answer we need; therefore it is also not the technical answer we need” (Millar and Mitchell, 2015). We must be aiming to stabilise and restore the Earth’s climate system for the benefit of all, not for profit. Climate change is a “symptom” of the normal functioning of capitalism – “Capitalism is the origin of the biocrisis, the last and final crisis of capitalism”, and if allowed to continue the climate system will be the latest victim to be “sacrificed to the ravenous appetite of capital” (Institute for Experimental Freedom, 2009: 12). It is not unrealistic to imagine that “the future of humanity depends on the global class struggle” (Li, 2009: 1057).

At the COP21 Climate Change conference references to “negative emissions” technology (aka CDR) “have been dropped from a draft climate agreement” (Upton, 2015). Whether this will alter current research into geoengineering remains to be seen.

Regardless, the most appropriate way to prevent the climate crisis is to reduce GHG emissions (Ming et al., 2014). Buck (2012) reports that within the scientific community there is “near consensus” that geoengineering should not be considered a substitute for reducing GHG emissions and is in no way a “silver bullet”, stressing that “geoengineering research must take place in a context of climate change management that includes mitigation and adaptation measures” (258). A reliance on geoengineering whilst maintaining current fossil fuel consumption rates is in fact extremely dangerous as “our ability to stabilize the climate at <2 °C declines as cumulative emissions increase” (Smith et al., 2015: 7-8). If we fail and reach a period of climate crisis, then we face the possibility that

“Maybe a hundred years down the line, nobody will look back at climate change as the most important issue of the early 21st century, because the damage will have been done, and the idea that it might have been prevented will seem absurd. Maybe the idea that Mali and Burkina Faso were once inhabited countries rather than empty deserts will seem queer, and the immiseration of huge numbers of stateless refugees thronging against the borders of the rich northern countries will be taken for granted. The absence of the polar ice cap and the submersion of Venice will have been normalised; nobody will think of these as live issues, no one will spend their time reproaching their forefathers, there’ll be no moral dimension at all. We will have wrecked the planet, but our great-grandchildren won’t care much, because they’ll have been born into a planet already wrecked.” (The Economist, 2011).

“Appropriate” Geoengineering

Technology is not, as some primitivists assume (Sheppard, 2003), an evil unto itself, but simply reflects and embodies relations of power and social structures. There is room for sensible application of most technologies if it is appropriately scaled and judged in terms of environmental and social effects. Like Murray Bookchin’s Social Ecology, “technologies are to be assessed according to their role in enhancing human freedom and integrating human society with natural processes” (Out of the Woods, 2014). To quote the philosopher Albert Camus at length:

“it is useless to want to reverse the advance of technology. The age of the spinning-wheel is over and the dream of a civilization of artisans is vain. The machine is bad only in the way that it is now employed. Its benefits must be accepted even if its ravages are rejected.” (1956: 295)

This technological progress must be guided, however. We cannot afford to neglect the consequences – environmental, political, economic, social – of breakthroughs and applications of untested technology. As the popular astronomer Carl Sagan encouragingly said, it is “well within our power to guide technology, to direct it to the benefit of everyone on Earth” (1997: 163). He also hoped the biocrisis would encourage the view that “the well-being of the human species takes precedence over national and corporate interests” and produce the end result of “a binding up of the nations and the generations, and even the end of our long childhood” (Ibid). Hopefully we will not disappoint him.

As mentioned throughout this article, the more “natural” geoengineering technologies of CDR lend themselves well to an “appropriate” form of managing the Earth’s climate (e.g. Becker et al., 2013). Although geoengineering technologies large in scale and complexity lend themselves to technocratic management and “alienation from the land” (1), CDR techniques, especially local and inclusive forms, would “bring about a decrease in alienation for many of us” (Buck, 2012: 260). Buck continues:

“The impulse to engineer, to make or re-make nature, need not be ‘interventionist’, with all the negative connotations the term carries; it could be the positive intervention of people who are designing their habitats, with an eye for beauty. There are other cultural patterns that factor into our nature-making besides the desires for control or profit.” (Ibid.)

Such “positive intervention” is a welcome response to the idea of “designer climates” controlled for the purposes of the wealthy where “the whole idea of restoring a ‘natural’ climate had been abandoned entirely” (Preston, 2013: 33). Additionally, compared to SRM technologies which often require technocratic control and centuries-long programme maintenance, “simple” CDR such as forest preservation/restoration represent an “immediate opportunity” for “efficient” geoengineering with corresponding “greenhouse gas benefits” (Jackson and Salzman, 2010: 73).

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

Part Ten coming soon


(1) For short introductions to the Marxist concept of “alienation” see Cox (1998) and Warburton (2015).

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.
  • Buck, H. J. (2012). Geoengineering: re-making climate for profit or humanitarian intervention? Development and Change 43 (1), 253-70.
  • Camus, A. (1956). The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt. Trans. by Anthony Bower. Vintage Books, New York.
  • Cox, J. (1998). An Introduction to Marx’s Theory of Alienation. http://pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk/isj79/cox.htm Accessed 10 December 2015.
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  • Jackson, R. B., Salzman, J. (2010). Pursuing Geoengineering for Atmospheric Restoration. Issues in Science and Technology 26 (4), 67-76.
  • Kintisch, E. (2010). Hack the Planet: Science’s Best Hope – Or Worst Nightmare – for Averting Climate Catastrophe. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New Jersey.
  • 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.
  • Millar, S. W. S., Mitchell, D. (2015). The Tight Dialectic: The Anthropocene and the Capitalist Production of Nature. Antipode [Early View].
  • 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.
  • Out of the Woods (2014). Murray Bookchin’s libertarian technics. https://libcom.org/blog/murray-bookchins-libertarian-technics-11032014 Accessed 10 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.
  • Sagan, C. (1997). Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium. Random House, Inc., New York.
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  • 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.
  • Solnit, R. (2010). A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. Penguin Books, New York.
  • The Economist (2011). Durban and everything that matters. http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2011/12/climate-change Accessed 13 January 2015.
  • Thorpe, C., Welsh, I. (2008). Beyond Primitivism: Toward a 21st Century Anarchist Theory & Praxis for Science. Anarchist Studies 16 (1), 48-75.
  • Upton, J. (2015). Geoengineering a ‘Risky’ Bet, Scientists Warn Negotiators. http://www.climatecentral.org/news/geoengineering-a-risky-bet-scientists-warn-19760 Accessed 9 December 2015.
  • Warburton, N. (2015). Karl Marx on Alienation. [Online]. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02h7dlv Accessed 10 December 2015.

Climate Imperial: Geoengineering and Capitalist Hegemony (Part Eight)

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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.

Climate Imperial: Geoengineering and Capitalist Hegemony (Part Seven)

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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)

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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.
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