Posts Tagged ‘geoengineering’


Just read an excellent article over on AlterNet, discussing what impact Bill Gates’ big speech of a few days ago might have. Gates just announced that he’s putting his massive resources and personal clout behind the target of getting to zero carbon emissions by 2050. Globally. Zero.

From the AlterNet article:

Gates spoke about his commitment to using his massive philanthropic resources (the Gates Foundation is the world’s largest) to make life better for people through public health and poverty alleviation (“vaccines and seeds” as he put it). Then he said something he’s never said before: that is it because he’s committed to improving life for the world’s vulnerable people that he now believes that climate change is the most important challenge on the planet.

Even more importantly, he acknowledged the only sensible goal, when it comes to climate emissions, is to eliminate them: we should be aiming for a civilization that produces no net emissions, and we should be aiming to live in that civilization here in the developed world by 2050.

I don’t think most of us even let ourselves dream about that kind of goal. Successes in the environmental movement, especially at the global level, are so depressingly few and far between that we have a tendency to define our goals very narrowly, to try to insulate ourselves a little from the cascade of disaster that would otherwise bury us. I can imagine and work towards a bike lane on Ste-Catherine Street. That’s a goal I can see reaching. I don’t think I could honestly focus on the goal of a zero-carbon-emissions world without falling into despair.

Maybe that’s just me. Maybe I give up too easily. But I think a lot of us would be daunted by this scale of work; because we don’t normally work on that scale. And the people who do work on a global scale readily, the CEOs of international corporations and the politicians of nation-states and the generally super-rich, they aren’t thinking this way. (I’m going to define “they” in a very reductionist way here as “anybody who has access to their very own airplane”.)

That’s why everyone’s buzzing so much about this: because Gates isn’t David Suzuki, he isn’t George Monbiot; he’s one of them. And now we’ve got one of them on our side.

Is his goal realistic? I don’t know. Is he, even with all the resources of his foundation, going to be able to have much of an impact here? Maybe, maybe not. But it sure is one heck of a morale boost that he’s decided to try.


Plan C is panic…also Plans D through Z

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.