Props to sustainability

In their article entitled “Geoengineering and Sustainability,” Leslie Paul Thiele bridges the two ideals of Gaian and Promethean through the concept of sustainability. Thiele describes the Gaian perspective on the world as viewing “the planet as a complex self-regulating system that will become dangerously upset by large-scale human manipulation. This orientation is well captured by two aphorisms employed within the environmental community: ‘Nature knows best’ and ‘Nature bats last.’” (464). Geoengineering disrupts this view, and Gaians see it as a naive way humans act out of hubris to try to play God. Gaians see the human race as not having enough foresight and intelligence about the complexities of Mother Nature to create technology that would not have disastrous climate, social, and political consequences. Human technology does not stand a chance against the billions of years of evolution Nature has had to perfect herself. 

The Promethean perspective on the world, however, is one of “a can-do attitude that approaches most if not all problems as having technological solutions (Lewis 1992, Dryzek 1997, Sandel 2004, Thiele 2011, Hamilton 2013). It is optimistic about progress, and dismissive of warnings about the violation of natural or sacred boundaries. Human beings have always been technological tinkerers” (467). Prometheans see geoengineering as not necessarily the best solution, but a solution that would be immoral to take off the table. They see playing God as an integral part of human nature. We have affected the climate for thousands of years and geoengineering is nothing different. Humans now have the duty to take care of the earth because we are the most powerful species, and with that, comes a lot of responsibility. We have the duty to make the planet a better place for our species and other species, and if geoengineering can keep all species safe, then it should be used. 

My series of beliefs fall in line quite well with those of the ideal Gaian. Even though I went into the article with this mindset, Thiele, through the bridging of these two mindsets with sustainability, helped me find common ground with the Promethean viewpoint. Although these two viewpoints are opposites at first glance, they do want the same goal: for the human race to live on this planet sustainability. As someone with a Gaian perspective, I agree that if geoengineering was seen as biomimicry, it could regrettably be used, but as long as other political, social, and environmental changes were also being enforced. My concern with geoengineering is that if people see it as the solution to climate change, humans will place less importance on all the other sustainable measures that are needed on the planet (ex. preserving topsoil, reducing ocean acidification…). But, if geoengineering was used as a temporary last resort, along with a plethora of other more sustainable solutions, I would understand its use. 

Leslie Paul Thiele (2019) Geoengineering and sustainability, Environmental Politics, 28:3, 460-479, DOI: 10.1080/09644016.2018.1449602

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