The Doomsday Machine and the Race to Save the World: Geoengineering Emerges as Plan B at the 11th Hour
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Faith Gemmill, also of the Indigenous Environmental Network, calls geoengineering "a political tactic to allow the causes of the current crisis -- and therefore the crisis itself -- to continue." In a specific counter to Ken Caldeira's claim toward protecting Arctic ecosystems, Gemmill said, "There is no doubt that [geoengineering solutions] will perpetuate our situation in Alaska."
Geoengineering also involves potentially thousands of patents and proprietary claims, making it a venture capitalist's dream; one patent owned by David Keith, the scientist who co-manages the Gates Foundation's $4.6 million geoengineering research fund, bears the official patent explanation, "Carbon dioxide capture method for generating carbon credits."
Critics like the ETC Group and the Indigenous Environmental Network tend to see geoengineering as a smokescreen that wealthy nations use to avoid both emission reductions and political commitments. Neth Daño of ETC Group, who is from the Philippines, notes that, "The key players are all from the global North; not a single developing country is involved in this effort, and there is no process to allow developing country governments to be involved in decisions to which we are the most vulnerable."
In a recent exchange, the Royal Society's John Shepherd charged that ETC's analysis is "based on fear and suspicion"; ETC Group's Sylvia Ribeiro countered by saying, "It is possible to be both knowledgeable and suspicious. After all, these are the same governments, industries and scientists responsible for climate change, who have spent trillions of dollars to protect their industries while allowing a billion people to go hungry."
While various manifestations of the geoengineering fantasy might, in fact, be able to temporarily cool the planet, the strictly technological approach to climate tends to forget that global warming is not the problem. The multiple aspects of ecological crisis -- global warming, species die-off, the disruption of water cycles, ocean acidification, depletion of soil nutrients, extreme weather events, and unprecedented levels of social inequality, economic marginalization, extreme poverty, and war -- are, arguably, mere symptoms of a common problem. That problem, simply put, is vast overuse of the Earth's finite resources. And, given the nature of the dilemma, there may be no lever large enough, nor ground firm enough -- short of ending fossil fuel exploitation -- to make the Archimedean prophecy of geoengineering bear out.
Jeff Conant is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the author of 'A Community Guide to Environmental Health' (Hesperian Foundation, 2008) and 'A Poetics of Resistance' (AK Press, 2010).