Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures?
I just read how certain scientists are now describing geo-engineering options as ‘feasible‘. Sigh. As it has become increasingly obvious that society as we know it just cannot continue – the gospel of consumption message politicians and economists have been preaching over the last fifty years having outright misled us and painted us into a very tight corner – the goalposts start to get moved on theoretical ‘escape plans’ that people would have instantly dismissed before. Like that old junker car you wouldn’t have even considered before the recession, now we’re walking around it, kicking the tyres, and saying "hmm… perhaps it ain’t so bad after all?"
In our present global situation, we’ve either got to address some very hard questions about a complete, and likely very painful, rework of society – or we must continue trying to patch it up and hold it together with duct tape and twine. Unfortunately our messing with Ms. Gaia has now gone so far that to continue abusing her and ignoring her pleas will necessitate giving scientists the keys to the kingdom, as it were – they’ll perhaps be asked to fill roles normally only reserved for fictional characters in big budget Hollywood Sci-Fi movies.
Tinkering with basic planetary functions is a serious business, and one, I would propose, that is far too complicated for mortal man to attempt to manage. And, beyond immediate practicalities, the ethics of a very few making potentially globe-changing decisions on behalf of the many – the many who have done little or nothing to create this desperate situation – are beyond questionable.
The clip below is funny, and yet very poignant. At a time where politicians are gambling with our lives, placing huge odds-stacked-against-us bets that scientists and inventors will come to the rescue and solve all our environmental (and thus economic) woes, I think we would do well to humbly consider Thomas Midgley – a well-meaning but highly destructive inventor:
They say it’s good to be able to laugh at ourselves….
I think in this respect we would do well to take James Lovelock’s view of the world. Mr. Lovelock is the well respected British scientist, or self styled ‘Planetary Physician’, who contributed to the discovery of the holes in our ozone layer and who in the 1960s formulated the then controversial Gaia Hypothesis — the theory that all elements within the biosphere, as a collective whole, constitute a complete living organism, with the myriad elements working together to maintain a stable state, or state of homeostasis.
Essentially, elements like our oceans, flora, fauna, atmosphere, etc., all work together to regulate the climate and environment, and maintain the stable condition that has kept man and animal kind alive for millennia. Ignoring the realities of natural constants, like the inherent biological synergies present in healthy soil and aquatic systems, etc., and simplifying and depleting those systems instead, has been bringing troubling consequences. Addressing the root causes (primarily being reductionist thinking) removes the consequences, and also removes the need for the tinkering-with-the-house-of-cards geo-engineering scenario that world leaders and the captains of industry are increasingly gravitating towards.
The reality is that society is going to have to change, and the longer we leave it the more costly (in terms of time, dollars, and life) it will be. Adding extra problems into the mix by way of the at-present unforeseen consequences of making a dog’s breakfast of adjusting planetary functions is reactionary behaviour best avoided.
First, quite a number of scientists – physicists, engineers, etc. do strongly disagree with the “geo-engineering as a solution” idea. And the Royal Society did indeed strongly point out that it must not be considered as an alternative to CO2 reduction. So, to anyone, before you unthinkingly attack “the scientists”, think again.
Second, the whole thing may to some degree be a terminology issue. There is quite a bit of geo-engineering in the Permaculture Designer’s Manual. If I remember right, “if we put water harvesting dams on about 15% of the agricultural land, that should suffice to practically eliminate both drought and fire danger”. The difference her perhaps is that between an “all-scale beneficial” solution and a “myopic” solution that tries to solve one problem by creating a lot of others on other scales.
Third, we partly see here a phenomenon of “but even as the economy tanks, you will desperately need US” rhetorics from some not-so-well-educated (in terms of judgment and out-of-the-box-thinking engineering options, at least) engineers. Bill lamented about that time and again, e.g. “More brain surgery happens when we train more brain surgeons”. This actually raises an interesting question: does everyone who truly works towards viable solutions work towards making himself obsolete – and hence regards profit as a measure of nonsuccess?