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

December 12, 2018
Arshad Khan
War, Anniversaries and Lessons Never Learned
Paul Street
Blacking Out the Yellow Vests on Cable News: Corporate Media Doing its Job
Kenneth Surin
The Brexit Shambles Rambles On
David Schultz
Stacking the Deck Against Democracy in Wisconsin
Steve Early
The Housing Affordability Crisis and What Millennials Can do About It
George Ochenski
Collaboration Failure: Trump Trashes Sage Grouse Protections
Rob Seimetz
Bringing a Life Into a Dying World: A Letter From a Father to His Unborn Son
Michael Howard
PETA and the ‘S’-Word
John Kendall Hawkins
Good Panopt, Bad Panopt: Does It Make A Difference?
Kim C. Domenico
Redeeming Utopia: a Meditation On An Essay by Ursula LeGuin
Binoy Kampmark
Exhuming Franco: Spain’s Immemorial Divisions
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Democratizing Money
Laura Finley
Congress Must Reauthorize VAWA
December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail