Steve Randall, Larry Ely & Rob Crowner: Beware ‘technophilic’ solutions and ‘geoengineered’ Earth

Last modified: Thursday, August 15, 2013

Fracking has been attacked as an environmental menace to underground water supplies, and may eventually be greatly restricted. But it has also unleashed so much petroleum in North America that the International Energy Agency ... predicted ... that by 2035, the United States will become “all but self-sufficient in net terms.”

— Charles C. Mann, “What if We Never Run Out of Oil?” The Atlantic, May 2013.

The apparent paradox of denialist think tanks supporting geoengineering solutions to the global warming problem that does not exist can be understood as a reassertion of technological-production science over environmental impact science. Thus the Exxon-funded Heartland Institute – the leading denialist organization that has hosted a series of conferences at which climate science is denounced as a hoax and a communist conspiracy — has enthusiastically endorsed geoengineering as the answer to the problem that does not exist.

— Clive Hamilton, “Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering,” Yale University Press, 2013.

AMHERST — Lately, the corporate-guided way of life in America has been heartened by the growing prospect of national energy independence made real by the unexpected discovery of exotic sources of oil and gas: fracking, tar sands, methane hydrates beneath the seafloor, deep-ocean drilling and what may be discovered when the polar ice disappears. A palpable sense of relief exudes from neoliberal think tanks like the Heartland Institute, long shaken by the oft-repeated prediction of Shell Oil geophysicist M.K. Hubbert who, since 1956, had been forecasting, correctly, that oil supplies would peak in the mid-1970s — a nightmare scenario for American consumerism and Wall Street.

But with new exotic sources, it would now seem that carbon-based energy may go on and on indefinitely, were it not for the fact that releasing ever more carbon into the atmosphere has set yet another limit on endless oil, diminishing the prospects for endless growth, capitalists and even human civilization.

This limit is fast approaching and insistent because international and domestic efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have universally failed even as sometime within the next few decades the Earth is projected to be warmer than it has been for 15 million years.

All efforts have failed because Park Avenue controls the government, because people have become socially and economically dependent on (and addicted to) American consumerism and highway mobility, and because the scale of socioeconomic transformation required by a carbon mitigation policy seems both daunting and scary.

Collective refusal to do anything which could avoid a future that will be nasty, brutish and hot has caused some climate scientists to give up any expectation that a rational carbon abatement program can ever be adopted in time to save humanity from itself.

Even though something like 97 percent of all experts agree that climate Armageddon is just around the corner, corporate-sponsored think tanks have succeeded in messaging the popular desire to pull the covers over one’s head and pretend it will all go away. Consequently, there is now emerging a deliberate large-scale plan to intervene into the climate system, end the natural world, and redesign Earth like a climate-controlled shopping mall: geoengineering.

There are two broad categories: (1) Carbon dioxide removal technologies aim to extract excess CO2 from the atmosphere and store it somewhere. (2) Solar radiation management technologies aim to reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth.

The former attempts to clean up the mess we are making, while the latter tries to mask the effect of the mess by diminishing the solar energy trapped by greenhouse gases.

These technophilic “solutions” to the problem “that does not exist” (ending the natural world and turning the planet into an air-conditioned shopping mall) signify the dawn of the “Anthropocene.”

They are the truly daunting and scary scenarios — which we will discuss more fully in our next column. Suffice it to say here that a massive technofix which aims to offset the hugely negative impact of the mess we are making rather than to stop messing in the first place is fraught with unforeseen consequences for the complex and intricately interconnected ecology of the Earth.

It is an approach which places profits and irresponsible consumerism over life on this planet.

Steve Randall, Larry Ely and Rob Crowner are the writers for the Pioneer Valley Relocalization Project. Their columns appear monthly.


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