Geoengineering: No Choice but Damocles?



Image: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

The planet continues to warm unabated.

The level of CO2 in the atmosphere surpassed the 410 ppm (parts per million) threshold in April last year (Kahn, 2017), a level not reached in millions of years in the history of Earth (and certainly not in the history of humankind). Keeping global warming to below 2°C, the goal of the UNFCCC in 2015, is now extremely unlikely (Raftery et al., 2017), and we may already be committed to a rise in temperatures of 1.5°C (King & Henley, 2016; Mauritsen & Pincus, 2017). This means more extreme precipitation events, droughts, the drowning of island communities, agricultural areas rendered useless, and mass migration (Shankman, 2016; Shurma & Oriwg, 2017; Lederman, 2018; Goodell, 2018).

We may even be faced with an increase of 3°C or 4°C. Millions of people live in areas that would be irreversibly flooded in such a world (Holder et al., 2017), food production would “significantly drop” (Lewis, 2015), and in some cases “developed human society would no longer be sustainable” (Lynas, 2008; Lelieveld et al., 2016).

The victory of the “carbon-industrial machine” is clear, according to Stephenson (2017), and we are approaching “geophysical and social tipping points unimagined by previous generations”. 77% of global warming since the 1980s is the responsibility of only a hundred corporations, largely in the business of extracting and marketing fossil fuels, and these corporations are inextricably tied to a warming future (Aronoff, 2017).

The governments and capitalists of the world are aware of the danger approaching, and they are making preparations to maintain the current status quo of inequality. From enforcing borders and restricting the movement of migrants to establishing private militias and hideouts, preparations for climate change “are based upon and aim to reinforce a systemic logic of competition and scarcity” (Buckland, 2017).

Geoengineering, thus, is a method for capitalism to maintain its extractivist, ecocidal nature and continue business-as-usual without the need for social, political, or economic change (Preston, 2013; Hamilton, 2013). A capitalist geoengineering would slow, manage, or maybe stop climate change, but would not be able to stop itself from the “totalising biocrisis” that capitalism represents for non-human nature (Institute for Experimental Freedom, 2009). But what of a geoengineering that was not aligned with capitalist interests?

Solar Radiation Management

A draft United Nations report on the feasibility of Solar Radiation Management (SRM) geoengineering via aerosols identified several problems despite its attractiveness as a “cheap fix” [for more on the fallacy of seeking simple techno-solutions to complex problems see Weinberg (1967) and Harvey (2003)]. SRM in the report was described as “economically, socially and institutionally infeasible” based on issues of testing, responsibility, and the lack of scientific study (Doyle, 2018a). This is corroborated by the revised position of the American Geophysical Union, who stressed that the scientific understanding of geoengineering and its impacts “remains poor” (Landau, 2018; see also Dunne, 2018).

The report also warns of the danger of the “termination effect”. This is one of the greatest dangers of SRM:

“All the models suggest that if, say, you were geoengineering from now into 2100, and then suddenly stopped in 2100 … you would get all of the global warming accumulated in the business as usual model, in about five years,” Haywood says. This rebound, known as the “termination effect,” means that if humans want to use any geoengineering scheme based on reflection (those that use aerosols or reflective surfaces), we would also have to dramatically reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and the amount of emissions we produce.” (Geib, 2018)

Essentially, if the world governments together initiated a program of SRM to reduce global temperatures, it might be too dangerous to stop – we’d effectively be locked into a program of anthropogenic temperature regulation (Trisos et al., 2018). If anything interrupted this regular injection of aerosols into the atmosphere, such as a war or natural disaster, it would produce what the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute call a “double catastrophe scenario”, where

“it could precipitate a runaway greenhouse effect that turns Earth into an uninhabitable hellish cauldron like our planetary neighbor Venus … once a stratospheric geoengineering program has been established by anyone, anywhere, it must not be interrupted for any reason, especially not abruptly. But one or more interruptions cannot be ruled out, hence the existential danger.” (Torres, 2017)

There is however scientific literature that claims concerns regarding the termination have been “significantly overestimated” and that the idea of a being locked into geoengineering “is not accurate” (Parker & Irvine, 2018). This proves the point of the AGU that the science and impacts behind SRM are incomplete.

Other studies have found that SRM, combined with cloud modification, could recover “average” levels of temperature and precipitation, but regional differences would persist (Cao et al., 2017; Irvine et al., 2017). Who has the authority to decide which countries or populations win or lose in such a scenario? Such decision making would fall to the de-facto rulers, the wealthiest of the global North, where such authority would be used to entrench the interests of capital over people.

Other methods of SRM by altering the albedo of the earth via cloud modification or orbital sunshades produce mixed results. “Sunshade geoengineering” would improve global crop yields compared to a world of global warming according to Pongratz et al. (2012) but they admit there are unknown side effects and risks, and that “the most certain way to reduce climate risks to global food security is to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.” Likewise Parkes et al. (2015) find that “marine sky brightening” could improve agricultural yields and reduce crop failures in areas of the world, but “further work is required” regarding other agricultural impacts. Such geoengineering methods do nothing to prevent other environmental catastrophes such as ocean acidification (Williamson & Turley, 2012), nor does it address the global economy’s disastrous reliance on fossil fuels (Lim, 2018; Klein, 2016).

However, in a perverse state of affairs, our limited “geoengineering” of unintentional aerosol release due to industrial activity has been masking the true warming associated with rising greenhouse gas emissions for some time. Removing these aerosols from the atmosphere as part of efforts to reduce pollution and clean the air (especially in urban centres) would

“induce a global mean surface heating of 0.5–1.1°C, and precipitation increase of 2.0–4.6%. Extreme weather indices also increase.” (Samset et al., 2018)

Cleaning up our air would therefore produce a miniature termination effect, triggering increased temperature, rain, and extreme weather events as the cooling effect of aerosol pollution diminishes and our suppressed climate impacts rush up to meet us. Do we have no choice but to maintain an aerosol shield lest dangerous warming already occur? Or are there alternative geoengineering options?

Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR)

The direct removal of carbon dioxide, the most abundant of greenhouse gases emitted by industrial and agricultural activity, is the other geoengineering option.

The simplest and most obvious method is afforestation, or “carbon farming” (Biggers, 2015; Velasquez-Manoff, 2018). Plantations of fast-growing woody plants at the world’s dry coastal areas (Becker et al., 2013) and sequestering carbon as “biochar” (Lehmann, 2007; Matovic, 2011; Smith, 2016) are both proven methods of removing carbon dioxide that do not require fundamental scientific advancements, only scaling-up. This is a promising opportunity, especially with its agricultural benefits that could do much to reverse the desolation of the world’s soils (Laird, 2008; Tan et al., 2017), as well as to mitigate the troubling decline of forest carbon sinks globally (McSweeney, 2015; Nave et al., 2018).

However, there are limits. To be effective, land-based CDR would have to be scaled-up to a massive level. The “land requirements could be immense, affecting global food prices and food security” (Pasztor et al., 2017), and the water and other resource requirements would also be unsustainable (Heck et al., 2018). In saving one planetary boundary (Rockström et al. 2009), we could threaten others in the process (Harvey, 2018). In such a case “global mean temperature would no longer be a reasonable measure of the level of danger posed by climate change” (Irvine et al., 2017).

The “Atlas for the End of the World” is more direct:

“In short, as this century unfolds there will not be enough land to utilize forestry as the single mechanism for carbon sequestration.” (Weller et al., 2017)

carbon forest

Carbon Forest. Credit: Weller et al., 2017

As a result, it’s important to remember that “any sort of geo-engineering is not a substitute for emissions reductions” (Meyer, 2018).

One form of CDR that does not compete for land use involves stimulating blooms of phytoplankton in the ocean, often with iron nutrients (hence the term “iron fertilisation”) in order to increase photosynthesis rates and thus increase carbon dioxide drawdown (probablyasocialecologist, 2016). While promising, and potentially less problematic and more predictable then pumping aerosols in the atmosphere, there are still unknowns. Phytoplankton fertilisation on a large scale can release large quantities of dimethyl sulfide, increasing albedo and further cooling the earth alongside removing carbon dioxide, but at the cost of precipitation decreases across Europe, Africa, and parts of the Middle East (Grandey & Wang, 2015), or potential oceanic deadzones once the phytoplankton die (Geib, 2018). The use of algae plantations, which do not cause competition for agricultural land or freshwater resources, is another promising form of oceanic carbon capture that seems to avoid these issues (Sayre, 2010; Beal et al., 2018).

What of replacing the biologies of chlorophyll with machines? Already start-up businesses exist that are attempting to “decarbonise” the capitalist economy by extracting carbon dioxide from the air and subsequently utilising the gas for agriculture (Marshall, 2017) or hydrocarbon production (Vidal, 2018). Although promising these methods are in their early infancy – scaling them up will cost trillions (Temple, 2017). It’s no wonder that plutocrats like Bill Gates support such geoengineering approaches given their technocratic nature and the relative ease such technics can integrate into the world economy with minimum disruption (Malm, 2015).

An (Un)Natural Climate

In his latest work the philosopher Timothy Morton warns of the irreversibility of geoengineering, reminding us that it “affects the whole of the biosphere” and that there is no way to completely undo its unpredictable effects (Morton, 2018).

But what is climate change if not an (unintentional) geoengineering experiment let loose upon the biosphere? The trouble is not that we have modified nature – something that we cannot help but do as part of our existence on Earth (Li, 2009; Millar & Mitchell, 2015) – but that nature has been modified as part of a class project in pursuit of wealth, resource extraction, and cheap nature (Moore, 2016).

Anthropogenically-induced climate change is virtually indistinguishable from geoengineering – the only difference is intention, and speed. For over 10,000 years (Boivin et al, 2016) we have lived on a “cyborg planet” with “cyborg weather” (Wark, 2016). Popular conceptions of “pristine” nature and a human/nature dichotomy have attempted to mask this (Bookchin, 1995; Denevan, 2011), but we cannot “abandon” nature now – we have, as Frase (2016) explains,

“no choice but to become ever more involved in consciously changing nature. We have no choice but to love the monster we have made, lest it turn on us and destroy us.”

If geoengineering is unnatural, then so is climate change. The question is not whether we should intervene in biosphere (a moot point, since we already are) but to what extent, and what motivates us to do so, and how careful we are.

The problem of resolving the biocrisis in its climatic form is Herculean and cannot be underestimated. As Collings (2014) said:

“If we do manage to rise to this challenge, we will have accomplished a feat virtually unique in human history. If we do not, our failure will be understandable, even if it will make us uniquely horrific. Either way, our generation will be the only of its kind in the history of the species. No wonder this moment feels so strange.”

We will have to sacrifice the childish notions of a pristine, natural Earth despoiled by a homogenous humanity (Bookchin, 2005) if we have a hope of preventing the biocrisis.

No Choice?

Geoengineering our climate has been likened to the Sword of Damocles hanging over the collective head of humanity (Appell, 2012), and this analogy is far from imperfect. Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to “net zero” by 2090 at the latest according to the IPCC (Vidal, 2018).

UN simulations are themselves predicated upon negative emissions technology to reach emission reduction targets:

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its Fifth Assessment Report, presented more than 100 modeled scenarios that it said had a high likelihood of keeping global temperatures within 2 degrees Celsius of preindustrial levels. Nearly all of them assumed that negative emissions technology would be viable and widely used” (Harvey, 2018)

But what if we – a hypothetical, united, sustainable humanity – needed to geoengineer?

Not all geoengineering technics are made equal – as described above there is a world of difference between the technocratic, centralising propensities of SRM and the decentralised, “natural” methods of CDR.

Some climate simulations in fact suggest global biodiversity would suffer more from unchecked climate change than from a purposefully geoengineered climate (Trisos et al., 2018). A climate scientist from Stanford University emphasised that geoengineering is “the only known way to cause the planet to start cooling off within socially-relevant timescales” (Geib, 2018). The fossil fuels emitted by previous generations “weighs like a nightmare” on the lives of the living, to paraphrase Marx (Marx, 1852) – and time is running out (Malm, 2016). At the rate at which the capitalist economy is despoiling the biosphere (Carr & Gilblom, 2018) geoengineering may be the only method of preventing runaway climate change (Keith et al., 2017). As Bookchin (2005) warned,

“If we do not intervene in the world today for purposes of ecological restoration…neither we nor the wildlife we wish to conserve is likely to have any future at all. We have gone beyond a so-called “primeval” world, to a point where the possibility of returning to it is simply excluded.”

Although we may be forced to use intentional geoengineering it has to be noted that geoengineering is not an alternative to emissions reductions (Doyle, 2018a; Meyer, 2018; McSweeney, 2018; Keith et al., 2017). Kim Stanley Robinson sums it up well: “The most powerful geoengineering technology for reducing our carbon burn would be a rapid shift to social justice and an end to capitalism” (Canavan et al., 2010). What we need is a new, anti-capitalist economic model that allows us to pursue and implement energy and climate policies that benefit us all, not the needs of the wealthy few (Evans, 2018; Doyle, 2018b).

We have always intervened with non-human nature for our benefit. If we have to intentionally geoengineer, let it be as part of an anti-capitalist praxis that recognises the social construction of nature, the necessity of intervention to protect non-human nature from the previous ravages of capitalism, and that climate modification is but one tool in a plethora of mitigation and adaptation options in pursuit of a free, just, sustainable future.


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Hope Before the Ruins


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?


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.


Anderson, A. (2017). The Fate of the Clean Power Plan under President Trump Accessed 27th April 2017.

Battistoni, A. (2012). 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.

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Brecher, J. (2017). A climate insurgency: building a Trump-free, fossil-free future Accessed 3rd May 2017.

Chaudhary, A. S. (2016). The Supermanagerial Reich Accessed 27th April 2017.

Cott, J. (1980). The Cosmos: An Interview With Carl Sagan Accessed 1st May 2017.

Curl, J. (2016). 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 Accessed 2nd May 2017.

Jacobin (2017). The National Park Service Goes Rogue 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 Accessed 27th April 2017.

Johnston, I. (2017). World-leading climate change scientist calls for ‘rebellion’ against Donald Trump Accessed 3rd May 2017.

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

Keller, H. (1916). Strike Against War Accessed 23rd May 2017.

Klein, N. (2013). Naomi Klein: How science is telling us all to revolt Accessed 3rd May 2017.

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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.

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

Donald Trump, and the Slow Violence of Climate Change


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).


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.)


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DiSavino, S. (2017). RPT-ANALYSIS-New U.S. pipelines to drive natural gas boom as exports surge Accessed 20th April 2017.

Goodman, S. (2017). Climate change is a clear and present danger to US security Accessed 17th April 2017.

Hall, A. (2017). Colonialism, climate change and the need to defund DAPL Accessed 20th April 2017.

Hampton, L. (2016). Sunoco, behind protested Dakota pipeline, tops U.S. crude spill charts 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 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 Accessed 20th April 2017.

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

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King, A., Henley, B. (2016). We have almost certainly blown the 1.5-degree global warming target Accessed 19th April 2017.

Klare, M. T. (2017). Climate Change As Genocide: Inaction Equals Annihilation Accessed 20th April 2017.

Knight, N. (2017). Study Shows Massive Global Permafrost Melt Underway While Trump Mentions Climate Not Once 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 Accessed 17th April 2017.

Malm, A. (2015). The Anthropocene Myth 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 Accessed 17th April 2017.

Meyer, R. (2017). Rex Tillerson Says Climate Change Is Real, but … Accessed 17th April 2017.

Milman, O. (2016). Military experts say climate change poses ‘significant risk’ to security Accessed 17th April 2017.

Mooney, C. (2017). The huge crack in this Antarctic ice shelf just grew by another 6 miles Accessed 17th April 2017.

Nett, K., Rüttinger, L. (2016). Insurgency, Terrorism and Organised Crime in a Warming Climate Accessed 25th April 2017.

Nicholson, B., Karnowski, S. (2017). Reported Dakota Access Pipeline Vandalism Exposes Risk of Sabotage Accessed 19th April 2017.

Out of the Woods (2016). Refuges and death-worlds Accessed 17th April 2017.

Out of the Woods (2017). Lies of the land: against and beyond Paul Kingsnorth’s völkisch environmentalism Accessed 20th April 2017.

Pearce, F. (2016). What Would a Global Warming Increase of 1.5 Degrees Be Like? Accessed 19th April 2017.

Purdy, J. (2016). 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? 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 Accessed 19th April 2017.

Solnit, R. (2014). Call climate change what it is: violence 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 Accessed 17th April 2017.

Streater, S. (2017). BLM ‘priority’ list pushes drilling, wall — leaked docs 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


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).


Adler, B. (2015). 8 things you need to know about Hillary Clinton and climate change Accessed 8th November 2016

Battistoni, A. (2012). The Flood Next Time Accessed 9th November 2016

Bosworth, K. (2016). Voices Against the Pipeline — “Five Lessons from Pipeline Struggles” Accessed 9th November 2016

Chemnick, J. (2016). 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 Accessed 8th November 2016

Cousins, F. (2016). Hillary Clinton Is Raking In Fossil Fuel Money At An Alarming Rate Accessed 8th November 2016

Harder, A., Mullins, B. (2016). Hillary Clinton Raises More Than Donald Trump From Oil Industry Accessed 8th November 2016.

Hausfather, Z. (2016). Is Natural Gas a Bridge Fuel? Accessed 8th November 2016

Kahn, B. (2016). The world passes 400ppm carbon dioxide threshold. Permanently Accessed 8th November 2016

Martin, M. J., Fruhwirth, J. (2013). Welcome to Blockadia! Accessed 9th November 2016

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McKibben, B. (2016). The Climate Movement Has to Elect Hillary Clinton—and Then Give Her Hell Accessed 9th November 2016

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Norton, B. (2016). 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 Accessed 9th November 2016

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Solnit, R. (2014). Call climate change what it is: violence Accessed 9th November 2016

Sutter, J. D. (2016). Hurricane Matthew looks a lot like the future of climate change Accessed 8th November 2016

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Worland, J. (2016). Donald Trump’s Victory Could Mean Disaster for the Planet 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 (, 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.


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 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” (, 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.


Anthony, S. (2016). World’s largest offshore windfarm in Yorkshire approved by UK government. Accessed 22/08/16

Beckman, K. (2015). Steve Holliday, CEO National Grid: “The idea of large power stations for baseload is outdated”. Accessed 21/08/16

Blackman, J. (2016). 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. Accessed 21/08/16

Business Leader (2016). Security is not the only reason to cancel Hinkley. There are many others. Accessed 20/08/16

Caldecott, B. (2016). Keeping the lights on: security of supply after coal. Accessed 27/08/16

Carbon Trust (2012). Revealed: the UK’s wave power hot spots. Accessed 27/08/16.

Carrington, D. (2016a). 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. 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. Accessed 01/09/16

Clarke, J. S. (2016). Hinkley C: government’s ‘revolving door’ to EDF execs. Accessed 21/08/16

Cuff, M. (2016). 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.–2 Accessed 27/08/16.

Diesendorf, M. (2016). Dispelling the nuclear ‘baseload’ myth: nothing renewables can’t do better! 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? Accessed 28/08/16

EDF (2016). Why Hinkley Point C is vital to the UK. Accessed 21/08/16

Elliott, L. (2016). UK green energy sector needs nurturing over nuclear. Accessed 22/08/16

Elmes, D. (2016). As Hinkley Point C put on ice: the UK needs to get over energy megaprojects. Accessed 21/08/16

Evans, S. (2016). 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! Accessed 01/09/16

Farrell, S. (2016). Hinkley Point C: what you need to know about the nuclear power project. Accessed 21/08/16

Freer, M. (2015). Simpler, smaller, cheaper? Alternatives to Britain’s new nuclear power plant. Accessed 21/08/16

Gawel, E., Strunz, S. (2014). Germany’s 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. Accessed 21/08/16

Institute for Experimental Freedom (2009). Introduction to the Apocalypse. 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. Accessed 23/08/16

Macalister, T. (2016b). Crown estate wades into 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. 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. Accessed 01/09/16 (2012). Bulletin: German nuclear exit delivers economic, environmental benefits. Accessed 22/08/16

plasmatelly (2014). Communising energy: power to the people! 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’. Accessed 28/08/16

de Rivaz, V. (2016). ‘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. Accessed 22/08/16

Sauven, J. (2016). 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. Accessed 23/08/16.

Solarcentury (2014). Further evidence supports opportunity for creating bio-diverse solar farms. Accessed 25/08/16

Stacey, K., Burgis, T. (2016). EDF’s French nuclear plant faces years of further delay. Accessed 22/08/16

Steiner, A. (2015). ‘The world is finally producing renewable energy at an industrial scale’. Accessed 22/08/16

The Economist (2016). When the facts change… Accessed 01/09/16

Vaughan, A. (2016a). Scrapping Hinkley for renewable alternatives would save ‘tens of billions’. Accessed 22/08/16

Vaughan, A. (2016b). 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. Accessed 28/08/16

World Energy Council (2014). Climate Change: Implications for the Energy Sector. Accessed 21/08/16

Climate Imperial: Geoengineering and Capitalist Hegemony (Part Eleven)



“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


Climate Imperial: Geoengineering and Capitalist Hegemony (Part Ten)



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


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Climate Imperial: Geoengineering and Capitalist Hegemony (Part Nine)


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


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).


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  • 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. Accessed 10 December 2015.
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Climate Imperial: Geoengineering and Capitalist Hegemony (Part Eight)



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)


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  • 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. Accessed 8 December 2015.
  • Cho, R. (2012). The Double-Edged Sword of Geoengineering. Accessed 8 December 2015.
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  • Connor, S. (2015). Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris. Accessed 27 November 2015.
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  • EGU [European Geosciences Union] (2013). Press Release: Could planting trees in the desert mitigate climate change? Http:// Accessed 8 December 2015.
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  • Harvey, F. (2014). UK infrastructure neglected and at risk from climate change, 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.
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  • 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.
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Climate Imperial: Geoengineering and Capitalist Hegemony (Part Seven)



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).


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