Questions Around Geo-Engineering and Our Future

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

Before this week’s readings, I had no idea that there was such a large body of discourse dedicated to the topic of geo-engineering, or even what geo-engineering was in general. The idea of using technology to intervene so forcefully with the Earth’s natural systems is an unnerving thought and prompts numerous questions. Is geo-engineering (or really any of our previous exploits of the Earth) moral? Is this going too far? Is it our last hope? Is this choosing between the lesser of two evils – geoengineering or doing nothing?

These questions and more interrupted my thoughts as I progressed through the readings. When thinking of the lesser of two evils, I came back to something we have discussed almost weekly in this class: how climate change disproportionately affects minorities. Wood’s article hits this on the head when he mentions that “6 billion people would benefit and 1 billion would be hurt;” that 1 billion composed mainly of those living in less developed countries. However, how does this compare to how many people would be affected if we stayed on our current path, with seemingly no intervention or meaningful reduction in emissions? I’m not sure if there is a consensus – or if there will ever be a consensus – on which option is “better.”

This brings to me to the question of whether geo-engineering is our last hope. As we become more pessimistic about the fight against climate change, the fall back of geo-engineering seems like a copout. So much work has been put into determining how to reduce our emissions, yet we see little large-scale political effort actually being done. If geo-engineering is feasible and as cheap as Wood states in his article, why wouldn’t our economic and political leaders choose it instead? This is a dangerous idea to consider as we grapple with the lack of action in response to protocols that state we are in our last decade to make necessary changes.

The last section of chapter seven of “Earthmasters” really gets to a key issue surrounding geo-engineering. The topic of playing God. In an earlier blog post, I referenced Dunlap’s World Views. The concept and practice of geo-engineering falls very clearly into the dominant western worldview and human exceptionalism paradigm – that humans are the masters of the own destiny and every problem can be solved through technological advancement. However, the natural and ecological laws in place cannot be broken. Attempting to circumvent the natural Earth feels far too risky and beyond the bounds of what humans should try and emulate. I fear that the feedback loops we have witnessed are only a handful of too many to count that we are unable to fathom. The idea of pursuing ideas that may have unintended consequences we cannot foresee seems far more dangerous than trying to mitigate the effects we have on the environment by changing our lifestyles.

Wood references “Blade Runner” many times in his discussion of geo-engineering. With all of these questions and the uncertainties surrounding geo-engineering, a dystopian future seems more and more certain.