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It’s all over the news. As carbon dioxide levels surpass the milestone of four hundred parts per million, people continue to lament humanity’s seeming inability to reduce emissions. Others continue to deny that climate change exists, or that, if it does exist, it is not caused by humans. Of course, as the overwhelming minority of climatologists will tell you, this is dangerously untrue. A new narrative is taking shape though, and one that we should all be watchful of. More and more people are coming out in support of climate engineering.
Climate engineering, the deliberate altering of the Earth’s climate, with the purpose of preventing the catastrophic effects of climate change, does not function as a solution to high levels of greenhouse gasses. Erecting an enormous space mirror may cool Earth by diverting solar radiation, but it doesn’t solve the problems that caused warming. Equally problematic is how little we know about the effects of altering the Earth’s climate.
Local ecosystems are fragile, and the planet is the most fragile ecosystem of all. Sulfur entered into the atmosphere may offset the warming effects of carbon, but it also causes ozone depletion. Furthermore, with global implications of engineering, who will be implementing and regulating these climate modifications? Any government, corporation, or individual can potentially alter the climate.
American entrepreneur Russ George received widespread attention with a series of unauthorized experiments. Last year he deposited one hundred tons of Iron Sulfate off the coast of British Columbia, causing a ten thousand square kilometer plankton boom. The plankton then sucks carbon out of the atmosphere. The problem is that this type of climate engineering is unregulated, and the effects on the local ecosystem are unknown. On a global scale, the effects could be disastrous.
Several conservative think tanks and research institutions have come out in favor of climate engineering as more effective that emissions reduction. The CATO Institute, the Heartland Institute, and the American Enterprise Institute have all celebrated the benefits of geo engineering. This is a complete reversal of the standing line that climate change is a fallacy. As climate change becomes harder and harder to deny, those with interests in unregulated emission generation are beginning to shift their tactics. And these shifts begin with the think tanks.
In the 1970s, many conservative think tanks were founded and backed by wealthy donors with the explicit purpose of advocating conservative policies. Right wing foundations, institutes, and publications conducted research and created publications to be marked directly to the public and policy makers. An alliance of corporate leaders, conservative politicians, and academics used these institutions to popularize many Reagan era policies that assisted these corporate leaders-regressive taxation, monetarism, and hostility to trade unions.
Pay attention to the think tanks! Ideology moves from the top to the bottom. Soon, conservative media will abandon climate change denial and move to geo engineering. This is not a solution to the problem of greenhouse emissions, and serves to protect the current political and economic system. If it finds widespread acceptance, the results could be catastrophic.
Ryan Eustace is a graduate student and an activist. He is optimistic, but he is not sure for how long.