On this week’s episode of CBC’s The Sunday Edition, among the guests was one David Keith, an advocate of geoengineering. Geoengineering, for those that don’t know, is basically the same as terraforming, except we’d do it here on Earth rather than on some alien planet. It involves making large-scale alterations to the way the planet works. So pretty much what we’ve been doing ever since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, then, except this time we’d be doing it on purpose. The CBC host called it “Plan B” in case our glorious leaders fail to come to a sufficiently drastic agreement in Copenhagen.
The specific technology that would be brought into play in this instance involves the spraying of sulphur compounds in the upper atmosphere to reflect a greater proportion of the sun’s radiation and thus cool the Earth. This is similar to what happens after a major volcanic eruption. In theory, it should work. It might even work in practice.
Keith is careful to say that this wouldn’t be an easy fix, and wouldn’t substitute for cutting carbon emissions; we have to cut emissions, and drastically. At best, this plan would provide us with some breathing space to allow us to minimize the damage while emissions are dropping. But I wonder how many people, upon hearing about this plan, are actually going to take that away as the message. I think it’s more likely that a lot of them will be all “oh look, technology’s going to save us, just like we thought it would, la la la we can do whatever we want.”
I’m not saying that technology isn’t going to be extremely helpful for both mitigation and adaption in the years ahead. Of course it will. Our society is too large and too complex for any kind of back-to-the-land ideology to work on a global scale. But it’s worth going back to the I=PATE formula here, and remembering that technology is only one part of the equation. Without a shift in values away from the commodification of life, all the gadgets in the world will be no better than a brief distraction from the abyss.
Oh, and to the guy who keeps writing me angry letters about “censorship”: I will let your comments through once you’ve demonstrated that you can get through three consecutive sentences without using a racial slur of some kind. Meanwhile you can peddle your garbage on your own blog, thanks.