Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Mad Scientists and Geo-Engineering


We are doomed as a parasitic, rapacious species, and with that air of certain demise, anything is possible.  That, at least, seems to be behind the desperate push for a human effort to reverse, alter and adjust the environment in order to halt the previous effects of alteration and adjustment that have been visited upon the globe.  One thing is bound to happen: a right royal cock-up of stupendous proportions.  If something is broken, it’s bound to get even more so when it comes to “environmental” solutions.

Let us, for a moment, assume the optimist’s position on what has come to be called geo-engineering”, the effort to lessen the impact of climate change by altering the earth’s climate.  This is donning the cap of reflection, an eccentric’s demeanour in attempting to right the crimes committed against the environment.  Research as to whether such dramatic measures of environmental reversal are possible has yet to be done on a grand scale, and is being proposed.  A genteel David Keith of Harvard University in a recent interview (ABC Lateline, Nov 22), suggested that environmentally engineered adjustments were entirely feasible in a scientific sense – that “taboo” had been broken, at least in “polite company”.  The political will, however, would be problematic.  Treaties would have to be negotiated, covenants signed.

The big and strong would have to muster their forces for the effort, with smaller nations obediently following the dictated regime.  Equipment and materials could be mustered from the G20 to implement whatever grand scheme might be posed.  As Keith argues, if one is talking about adding sulphates “or some other engineered particle” to the stratosphere, only a few could actually pull it off.  In precisely doing that, problems of governance arise.

“The big question right now really is: should we do research in the open atmosphere? Should we go outside of the laboratory and begin to actually tinker with the system and learn more about whether this will work or not?”  When a scientist starts tinkering with the ecosystem, it’s time to get jittery.

What it would require would be a “climate emergency” that would propel nations to act.  Terror inspires action, trauma catalyses. A negative, inverted logic to progress, but it’s something that is driving the moment.

There is nothing to say that such manipulations are not themselves problematic. In time, such contributions might precipitate other, even graver crises.  The broken can be more comprehensively destroyed.  Certainly, the efforts of such individuals as Russ George have been noted, with their unpredictable effects, their pompous assertions, and their self-indulgence.  George, dubbed by The New Yorker (Oct 18) as the world’s first “geo-vigilante”, is a fan of ocean fertilization, a geo-engineering technique he thinks is paved with gold – and iron sulphate.  His altruistic credentials tend to come a distant second, which is not in itself a problem, till you discover his somewhat skewed perspectives.   Undeterred, he is convinced that there is enough data to suggest that good news is abound.

Last August, high concentrations of chlorophyll were detected in the Pacific Ocean.  George’s dumping of 200 thousand pounds of iron sulphate was initiated from a fishing boat 200 nautical miles west of the islands of Haida Gwaii.  George is not a fan of scientific rigour.  Business comes first.  He “didn’t write a scientific paper about the implications of fertilizing the Pacific Ocean with iron.  He just went out and did it, with the backing of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation” (Popular Mechanics, Nov 28).  The rationale, in time, is to improve depleted fish stocks, rather than the environment per se.

This, in itself, poses a danger. The focus here is less on reducing fossil fuel emissions than finding other ways of manipulating the environment to allow us to consume as rapaciously as ever.  We are not being told by the likes of George to consume less and in a different, more efficient way – we are being encouraged to simply find a panacea and reverse environmental shocks.

Dumping near the Galapagos and Canary Islands was not something that the Spanish and Ecuadorean governments were that keen on – George’s vessels were subsequently barred from their ports.  His efforts have been scrutinised with such effect that international moratoria have been passed targeting the use of ocean fertilization (Guardian, Oct 15).  But if this is an example of geo-engineering in action, we have much reason to be worried. Jason Blackstock of the Institute of Science, Innovation and Society at Oxford bandies about one scenario: “[In] Michael Crichton’s novel with little robots taking over and eating the world [Prey], they are things that could be pretty damaging if released into the environment, but we just don’t know”.  Such reasoning is bound to inspire confidence.

Binoy Kampmark was as Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
Christopher Brauchli
Wonder Woman at the UN
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
Lee Ballinger
Tupac: Holler If You Hear Him
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”