Mainstream media coverage and casual conversation has accorded increasing attention to concerns of climate change, and it follows that the similar levels of attention are being drawn to emerging technological solutions proposed to address them. In principle, technological solutions are admirable because they go beyond the usual calls for quasi-ascetic restraint – recycling garbage and purchasing ‘green-friendly’ goods, all of which are now becoming trivial in the face of large scale flaws in the systems of industrialized modernity – and towards decisive remedies to our current way of life.
However, not all green proposals should be embraced uncritically. Should we fail to subject such proposals to close scrutiny, we will likewise create a false sense of problem solving. While such solutions are admirable in that they go above and beyond the usual calls for recycling and the purchase of ‘green’ products – which have been proven to be of trivial impact upon the large scale flaws in systems of production and consumption that characterize industrial modernity – not all of them should embraced uncritically. It is only by subjecting every proposal to save the planet to scrutiny that we can determine a truly sustainable future.One set of ideas that has received increasing currency in discussions of climate problem solving are the large scale planetary ‘technofixes’ collectively referred to as geo-engineering.
Concepts deemed as geo engineering are diverse: They include artificial trees designed to suck carbon out of the atmosphere, the managed release of sulfates into the atmosphere, and mirrors in space designed to reflect excess amount of sunlight. In effect, these are epic plans to manipulate the ecological fabric of our planet. (Bentley, 2006; Stiles, 2006;Techno-progressive futurist Jamais Cascio (2007) notes that key to the appeal of geo engineering is that hypothetically, it would not just moderate the effects of climate change, but remediate it. Simply put, it would not just cancel out the catastrophic effects being currently created but undo impacts already made. This is a crucial point to consider as none of the current solutions that have been gaining the most attention, such as alternative fuels, radicalized urban planning, and local agriculture, will put the greenhouse gas genie back in the bottle.However, the potential consequences of geo engineering could be disastrous and on the same order of magnitude they are proposed to fix problems.
Take for example the proposal to suck carbon dioxide into the planet’s oceans by seeding it with iron deposits. Many, including the Scientific Steering Committee of the Surface Ocean-Lower Atmosphere Study (SOLAS) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) have observed that this has the potential to worsen ocean acidification and lead to catastrophic results for marine ecology: The oceans are complex, dynamic, unpredictable and already vulnerable … We need [to] build their resilience, not undermine it [not] quick fixes to this global problem that may [cause far more long-term harm] than good. " (Gjerde, 2007)Steffen notes that even the term ‘geo engineering’ is questionable, as it attempts to imbue the kind of empirical or mathematical certainty that is associated with engineering, when it doesn’t. He worries that geo engineering smoothens over many of the bumps and curves that characterize our problems and demand creative solutions.In effect, planetary salvation becomes as easy as building a tunnel into a hill or a bridge across a river, when in fact our collective understanding of the systemic impacts is far less than the geo engineering promoters would have us believe.
One might as well call it ‘planetary experimentation. ’ In any case, even if proponents of geo engineering could win over the cautious skepticism that I hold as well as those of the bright green environmental mindset, it should never be used as a distraction from mustering the political will necessary to a sustainable way of life.Geo engineering could provide climate change skeptics a justification for political indifference to redressing our present way of life: Why opt for better designed cities, fuel efficient vehicles and profound infrastructural rethinking when we can merely ‘erase’ the effects of our problematic systems? This isn’t to say that geo engineering is to be condemned, but rather it should be subject to more scrutiny and research in order to determine its implications not just on a empirical level, but on an ethical one as well.Steffen worries that there is a major distinction to be made between technology that is transparent in agenda, collaborative in nature, and egalitarian in application as well as easy to remedy and technology that is centralized, expensive and difficult to reverse. Cascio proposes that geo engineering be rendered open source, such that it leaves the technology open to the scrutiny of a democratized space of development and discussion.
The more people who can examine and evaluate the geotechnological proposals, the greater the likelihood of finding subtle flaws or dangers, and the greater the pool of knowledge that can offer solutions. ” Between “Star Wars” - a missile defense system saddled with so much corruption that does nothing to provide for homeland security - and nuclear power – a promise of perpetual source of energy whose failures wreaked massive consequences – we ought to regard geo engineering with suspicion: dangerous until proven safe.