SocraticGadfly: Geoengineer against climate change? Eff you

April 03, 2011

Geoengineer against climate change? Eff you

A conference on climate geoengineering underscores one of the biggest reasons I oppose the idea — who makes the decisions on big-ticket geoengineering items?

Painting rooftops white, as the conference discussed, is one thing. (That said, I wouldn't call it "geoengineering." In the past, that word has been reserved for big-ticket items like seeding the atmosphere with aerosols, and this blog post will take it that way.)

Who makes the decisions what we're going to do, in terms of what substances or materials we use? Who makes the decisions as to who pays how much to fund this? If politicians override scientists, who holds them accountable, especially to swaths of conservative Americans who have shown themselves ready to be bamboozled by pseudoscience on so many issues in the past already?

Here's an American attendee, emphasizing the research need:
If climate engineering research isn't done now, climatologists say, the world will face grim choices in an emergency. "If we don't understand the implications and we reach a crisis point and deploy geoengineering with only a modicum of information, we really will be playing Russian roulette," said Steven Hamburg, a U.S. Environmental Defense Fund scientist.
But, that still doesn't answer all the questions above. And, if research is going to be just about the technology, and not paralleled by discussing the decision-making and the cost/payment issues, it's kind of senseless.

The first and second weren't addressed in the conference. As to the third?

Well, that leads to the issue of what I have called "salvific technologism," namely, the idea that technological advances are ALWAYS going to be the "cavalry" ready to ride over the hill in the nick of time. In the developed world, I think it's far and away the strongest in the U.S. That, in turn is because it dovetails so well with American exceptionalism. After all, Americans did Hoover Dam, the Manhattan Project, yada, yada, yada.

But, a look at previous U.S. attempts to "engineer" our ecology, on a smaller scale, show it's often been a big fat flop.

Tamarisk in the Southwest and kudzu in the Southeast are the two most glaring examples of that in terms of plant-based engineering.

Finally, "geoengineering" is a "tomorrow" solution to global warming and climate change. We don't have the specifics ironed out today? "No problem; we'll get to that tomorrow."

And, the conference DID, to its credit, address that:
Many here worried that someone, some group, some government would decide on its own to conduct large-scale atmospheric experiments, raising global concerns — and resentment if it's the U.S. that acts, since it has done the least among industrial nations to cut greenhouse emissions. They fear some in America might push for going straight to "Plan B," rather than doing the hard work of emissions reductions.
Here's the problem with geoengineering, in that way —

It doesn't require America, like the old Fram commercial, to pay up front now; it doesn't require Americans to face the cost of climate change and global warming. Beyond the "who's in charge" and "possible catastrophe" issues, that's the third reason to oppose geoengineering – it's a seductive mistress speaking honeyed words full of formlessness and void, to riff on the opening of Judeo-Christian scripture.

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