FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

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

September 25, 2018
Binoy Kampmark
Parasitic and Irrelevant: The University Vice Chancellor
September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will There Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail