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What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

By Tom Lux, Co-chair, PSARA Environmental Committee

What would be the best way to reduce the chances of climate change wreaking havoc on earth? Obviously, one answer is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we put into the atmosphere. Burn less fossil fuels – keep them in the ground. Putting this policy into practice and transitioning to clean energy, which we have the technology for now, however, is incredibly difficult because of the political power of the fossil fuel industry. So, we continue to pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere and heating the planet.

But don’t worry: there are a few scientists, engineers, and inventors who are burning the midnight oil trying to develop an “easier fix.” The deliberate use of technology to manipulate the environment is called geoengineering. So what are these modern-day Dr. Strangeloves coming up with? According to one geoengineering supporter Joe Nocero in the New York Times, “One method is carbon capture, traditionally conceived as a process that sucks up carbon from the air and buries it in the ground.” (Wouldn’t it be better to leave it in the ground in the first place?) Nocero continues, “A second is called solar radiation management (SRM) which uses techniques like shooting sulfate particles into the stratosphere in order to reflect or divert solar radiation back into space.” Again, wouldn’t it be simpler to attack the source of the problem – carbon pollution – rather than to try to divert the sun’s rays? SRM is expensive, and it is messing with one of the most basic sources of life on earth.

For these modern Dr. Strangeloves “the story of the past and the story of the future revolve around one thing: ‘Meaningful climate mitigation is fundamentally a technological challenge.’ It is not kings, presidents, proletarians or generals who make history – but rather scientists, inventors and engineers, and it is they who will save us. This position is a defense of the status quo and is the same one argued by those who have resisted all climate protection legislation that would disrupt the structure of power…” *

“What could possibly go wrong?” Naomi Klein asks in her book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate. SRM basically behaves like a volcanic eruption and this causes havoc with weather systems and historically has caused drought in large parts of the world with enormous loss of life. But proponents of dimming the sky say not to worry, the drought would all be in the southern hemisphere! Why worry? The scientific field called chaos theory tells us that when we alter a system in such a drastic way, the results are entirely unpredictable, and there is no going back.

The geoengineering clique (partly funded by Bill Gates) feel that with big enough brains and big enough computers we can control the climate just like we have been trying to harness nature since the beginning of the industrial era. As Naomi Klein states, “… digging, damming, drilling, diking. Is it really as simple as adding a new tool to our nature taming arsenal: dimming? This is the strange paradox of geoengineering. Unlike cutting our emissions in line with the scientific consensus, succumbing to the logic of geoengineering does not require any change from us; it just requires that we keep doing what we have done for centuries, only much more so.”

The ancients called this hubris; the great American philosopher, farmer, and poet Wendell Berry calls it “arrogant ignorance.” Maybe it is time to start listening to the vast majority (97 percent) of scientists who perceive climate change as a real threat to Mother Earth and the future of our children. Maybe it is time we weren’t so concerned about how we can control and manipulate the forces of nature, but rather how we can live in harmony with nature’s laws and transition to clean energy.

* ”The Technofix Is In,” by Clive Hamilton; Earth Island Journal, April 21, 2015.

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