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Avoiding the Frankenplanet





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I do not plan to make a career out of beating up on geo-engineers, but they were back in the news recently in articles published by the on-line magazine Yale Environment 360 and by The Economist.

For those of us who believe that engineering the Earth’s life-support systems is a wild and dangerous fantasy, there was good news and bad news.


The good news was reported by The Economist: Two new studies conclude that geo-engineering is not as promising an answer to climate change as some in that budding discipline hope.


If you are not yet familiar with geo-engineering, I will attempt to define it in non-technical terms before offering a few observations on the new research:


o Geo-engineering is the practice of messing around with global life-support systems we don’t understand. If we did understand them, we might not be in the pickle we’re in today. Or at least it would be a greener pickle.


o Geo-engineering is a relatively new field based on the outdated and repeatedly discredited assumption that we humans are smart enough and wise enough to rule over the rest of the biosphere. Rather than applied engineering, we might call it “applied conceit”.


o Contrariwise and at the same time, geo-engineering is a symptom of our growing skepticism that we are able to stop climate change with rational solutions such as energy efficiency, renewable energy, carbon pricing and behavioral changes. In other words, interest in geo-engineering is rooted in the idea that although we’re too stupid to do the simple things that would slow climate change, we’re smart enough to do the improbable things.


o Geo-engineering is one outgrowth of our apparent learning disability about the law of unintended consequences. That law would be unleashed full-force once we started manipulating the oceans and atmosphere to create what one environmentalist calls “the Frankenplanet”. Geo-engineering is like a grownup version of whack-a-mole, where hammering down one problem causes others to pop up, to our great surprise.
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