Utne Blogs > Environment

The Really Big Questions About Geoengineering

 by Keith Goetzman


Tags: Environment, climate change, global warming, geoengineering,

Earth Island Journal Autumn 2009Much of the speculation about “geoengineering” to halt or reverse climate change circles around the technical aspects: Will it work to spray sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to deflect sunlight, or to build synthetic trees that will capture carbon dioxide and turn it into a liquid to store underground? The answers, of course, are unknowable.

Jason Mark focuses more on the ethical and philosophical implications of such long-shot approaches in “Hacking the Sky” in the Autumn 2009 issue of Earth Island Journal. For starters, thinking that we can manage the natural systems of the earth signals a grandly twisted sorts of hubris steeped in cynicism.

“Geoengineering,” Mark writes, “has become the refuge of the cynic. It assumes that although we may be able to alter how the planet works, we are incapable of changing the way we run the world.”

Geoengineering would present a host of big questions even if it showed some success. For instance, what if an engineered cooling of the globe had unequal effects like, say, a decrease in monsoon rains over Asia? And who would be at the controls? Governments? Corporations? Both scenarios portend frightening possibilities. Ultimately, Mark arrives at a starkly candid assessment of our predicament:

We should at least be honest: There is scant difference between doing something unintentionally and knowing it’s harmful, and intentionally, but riskily, trying to fix it. For 20 years, we have understood the consequences of pumping the atmosphere full of CO2, and still we persist. We crossed a moral line long ago.

Our double bind is this: Either we keep our hands off the sky, and hope we act in time to prevent the destruction of Arctic ecosystems, the desertification of the Amazon, the abandonment of ancient cities. Or we try our luck at playing Zeus, knowing that it could make matters worse. No matter what, we risk losing Creation.

Source: Earth Island Journal

geod
9/28/2009 6:37:24 PM

I'm pretty sure the point of this article is that we need to control ourselves,not the ecosystem.Not just use the planet as a toxic waste dump.Gizmo,you need to get your scientific data from someone other than Rush Limbaugh and the like,as decades of drug use has rotted their brains. The fact that there are some who would like to"cash in" on the problem,doesn't mean there isnt a problem. If one happens to be an entrepreneur in these times,there are ways to make money in an effort to help the planet,and give your customer a "fair shake" in the process.Short ROI solutions are available even without tax incentives.Perhaps using our time to find real world ,real time solutions would be wiser than finding fault in others efforts.Let us not forget how many scientist disagreed with those who said cigarettes were harmful to our health,how did that one work out?There are plenty of other examples of dissension in the scientific community,but they only involved little things like the dynamics of the solar system,the age of the planet and my fave-the theory of relativity...perhaps we should have listened to the doubters then too. We simply need to adjust our behavior before the planet runs out of miraculous ways to save us from ourselves............................GEOD P.S.-gizmo I'd love to hear your statistics on Mt St Helens,counts ,amounts and chemical compounds.Then we could all be sure where you get your intel.


gizmo
9/27/2009 1:13:58 PM

Candice, wise. Very wise... These same pundits that talk about "hard science": 1. forget that there's 100's of scientists, climetologists, etc. that DISagree with the "bandwagon" of pop-science; 2. that we're in the coolest decade in recorded history; 3. That Mt. St. Helens was FAR more "polluting" than we are; 4. That even if "we" do "something", it'll just be billions of $$ thrown away to "feel-gooders", since China, India, Indonesia and the African nations are telling us what we can do with our "global warming". My biggest issues? FOLLOW THE MONEY!!! Al Gore just got something like 1/2 billion $ to build a 90k car in.... yep! SWEDEN!!! Who's gonna benefit? NOT the Americans who are paying for this, NOT the "common people' for they can't afford the damn thing, NOT the American economy (even though that's where the stimulus money's supposed to be going, NOT the American workers who are out of work...


candice_2
9/26/2009 12:18:03 PM

I'm convinced that we should just stop, take a break from our obsession with re-engineering creation in all it's forms. We are way too far from the garden to make a u-turn. So I propose we pause for the cause ...