We Killed Democracy

When there are two sides to an argument it’s easy to see the opposing views as the enemy. I think a dominant example of this in Americans lives is the political debate between republicans and democrats. It’s not to hard to believe that if someone disagrees with you then they are fighting against you, but really in an argument we are on the same side and want the same things but just have different thoughts on what it looks like and how to get there. Both political party’s want the best for the citizens of the United States, just like both the “Gaian” and “Promethean” perspectives want the best possible outcome for the future. In Geoengineering and Sustainability Thiele works to show us this middle ground so that we can try and work together to create the best outcome for our dangerous and daunting future.

In order to better understand this middle ground between two philosophy’s we must first understand what the problem at hand is: how to best use geoengineering to solve climate change. Geoengineering is a study of science where humans implicant large scale ideas in order to alter earth. While this sounds like a promising way to solve all our conflicts we are then faced with the fundamental problem: are we even allowed to do this? Id like to think that if we change the whole world that we would need the whole world to vote on it, and yet there is no democracy for wild animals. The fish had no say in whether or not their waters become polluted, and they will have no say on the way we decide to “fix” their water.

When approaching the problem of geoengineering we learn there are two polar perspectives, the Gaian and Promethean. Gaian has its historical origins from mother nature and the balance of the earth, while Promethean is rooted in the power of humans to innovate and create. The Gaian way of thinking believes that to alter the world like we have (climate change) is throwing off the natural balance of the world which was set up to be its own pulsing heart created from all of nature living together. While the Promethean believe that through our intervention we can save life and make the world better then it was ever intended to be. Create a perfect future molded into an artificial balance of a well oiled machine.

While it may be easy to say that they are completely different ideologies Thiele shows that in the end both are working towards one goal. The end goal of sustainability. All humans want earth to live forever, we just have different views on how we can get there. Gaians may want to rip down cities and return to monkey while Prometheans might chop down every tree to create artificial infinite carbon sinks. In both futures we chose sustainability so maybe through compromise we can come up with less extreme options where we work as a team to prolong our planet.

When species mess up…

This paper was really interesting to read, as this subject is one that gives me a lot of anxiety but I also like to try and educate myself on subjects which give me anxiety.

I personally see myself fitting somewhere between the Gaian and Promethean perspectives, leaning more toward Promethean. In the paper, there was a quote somewhat along the lines of, “when a species messes up, they are wiped out without regret”. Humans have messed up, we’ve messed up bad. Nature on the planet is dying because of our own greed, and in a way our own desire to be like a god taking dominion over the planet. But if we are to remain in inaction, we will be punished for that. It is a complicated balance between not wanting to further the problem, while also needing to solve it. If we don’t try, we agree to succumb to the miss-steps of our forefathers and ourselves.

I think there is an important distinction to be made between the planet and nature. In my own mind, I do not view the atmosphere (including climate, natural disasters, etc) and nature as one. They work independently. Humans have had influence over nature for thousands of years, but our contribution to climate change is not a direct effect on nature. It is rather an indirect effect through the lens of influencing the planet. So to say, humans could go to Mars and cause similar issues without having the same green grass and animals around them. I think this is my main step apart from the Gaian perspective.

As much as the potential negative effects of things such as injecting aerosols into the atmosphere scare me, I know that we will NOT be able to fix this by trying to convince everyone on the planet to be more sustainable. There is not enough money in that business, and the elites of the human race are largely powered by greed. It is really sad to think about, but that is just how the human world works.

She Bats Last and She Bats 1,000

“Nature is perfect at the plate, and she owns the stadium” is a great analogy for the kind of fight we’re facing right now with the ecological crisis, but it also holds a defeatist sentiment that is somewhat difficult to reconcile; are we just supposed to give up? The short answer is: no. The two groups discussed in Thiele’s piece “Geoengineering and sustainability” at least agree that humans shouldn’t give up on trying to save our planet, but the Gaians and the Prometheans come to different conclusions on how exactly we should go about it; either through traditional means that preserve the natural features of the planet or through geoengineering, a newer field of technology that involves large scale operations to diminish some of the effects of the climate crisis.. As one can probably tell from the names, the Gaians, at the most basic level, care about preserving Earth’s natural features, while Prometheans believe that through the technological advancement of geoengineering we can help ourselves to survive, much like the mythical Greek figures of the same names. Thiele also went about accentuating the main points of both parties to make the common ground found between the two more apparent, so not all Gaians are as defeatist as the opening quote, and not all Prometheans are as calloused to disregard the spiritual value that the Earth holds for so many. The common ground found between the two is current sustainability. Sustainability is not large-scale changes like geoengineering, but it is still a way to combat climate change, which satisfies the Gaians, but also the technological advancement that is valued by the Prometheans is satisfied by how much research is going into our efforts. 

Thiele’s piece is a very important and prevalent piece for today, as there are plenty of avenues that we can pursue to solve aspects of the ecological crisis, but because of the amount of disagreement, moving forward is difficult. His efforts towards bringing the two sides together are really what we need; even if Mother Nature bats perfect and owns the stadium, if we play as a team we can hold her to only a few runs instead of her 10-running us in the first inning.

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

At Odds Till the End

One of my favorite environmental quotes is from George Carlin. It’s rather long but he sums it up saying “The planet isn’t going anywhere. WE are!”. The debate between the “Gaian” and “Promethean” approaches to fixing our current problems is certainly an interesting one. As I was reading the paper by Thiele, I kept going back and forth on which side I agreed with more. It was only after reading the paper that I realized the whole point was to talk about the polarity of the two points and how to work together. By picking a “side” I am just putting myself in a position to oppose the other. The paper makes clear that the problem is not solvable without cooperation from both views.  

The Gaians who talk about diseases being good or rejecting modern medicine turn me away just as much as the uber-technocratic Prometheans who want to think their way out of every problem without actually solving any. These viewpoints are in obvious contrast, but not everything about the two are. I loved the part about the Gaian perspective where they talked about nature always batting last. Climate change doesn’t really matter to the Earth. The world will adapt and there will be new life that takes the place of the old. I also resonated with the idea of holding those responsible for our current crisis to account. It would be all too easy to forget the reasons we got into this mess, and to let the oil and gas companies off the hook for lying to us for decades.  

This being said the Prometheans make some sound points. Geoengineering is a last-ditch effort to do what no one else seems willing to do. We have been told for how many years now that emissions need to be reduced by this much, and what has happened? Well, we banned plastic straws for those plastic cups you still drink. And the CEOs of Shell, Exon, and BP bathe themselves in the blood money of dehydrating children, so I’d say we’ve done pretty poorly overall. Humanity is unique to the Earth, this much is true. Turtles didn’t build the car, raccoons didn’t split the atom, we did. For crying out loud we launched a person into space, a couple times at that. Humanity IS in a unique position to make changes to the Earth, but as the Gaians point out, humility is key. This, I think, is one common ground we can all agree on. All who strive to fix the environment want to live and see a better world for our children. 

Man v.s Nature

The ethics of geoengineering is a very interesting topic that is becoming more and more pertinent to the present day. We currently have, and are, improving and developing technology that is capable of controlling climate change. Whether this be through injecting sulfur into the atmosphere or by large scale carbon capture, technologies like this are on the horizon (we actually have the capability of offsetting our emissions through carbon capture today, but it would cost an estimated $6.3 and $15 trillion annually to do so. For reference the GDP of the USA was $18.14 trillion in 2018 [1]).

In her article “Geoengineering and Sustainability”, Leslie Paul Thiele tackles the debate as to whether or not we should undertake geoengineering [2]. She splits up the debate into two belief systems, the Prometheans and Gaians. The Gaians believe that humanity will never have power over nature to successfully pull off geoengineering. They believe that even if we do alter the planet in a major way, there will always be severe consequences and nature will have the final say. On the other hand, Prometheans hold the viewpoint that we, as humans, have always been distinguished by our technology and we have been geoengineering (on smaller scales) since we started using tools and fire to shape our surroundings. This viewpoint holds the idea that humanity has the power to successfully geoengineer the planet. However, this is only true if the risks and rewards of a given technology reach the point that it is logically considered feasible. She then goes on to assert that the only way to bring these viewpoints together is through the lens of sustainability.

I agree that sustainability is a powerful, uniting framework that can unite both of these world views. However, I would assert that the issue is more complex. Splitting people up into two groups, the Prometheans and Gaians, is an oversimplification of humanity. People fall on a spectrum of belief and worldviews that cannot be cleanly split into two camps. I agree though that the concept of sustainability can bring people together for a common good. Making sure that we treasure our planet and ensure it will be livable and thriving for future generations to come is a key, uniting factor for all people. Through this viewpoint, whether geoengineering is a part of our future or not, it is definitely worth keeping on the table.

Humanity is at a crossroads where our power as a species is changing to a larger scale. We are transitioning to the point where our technology is capable of impacting the entire planet, whether we like it or not. As John Green puts it in his book The Anthropocene Reviewed, “We are at once far too powerful and not powerful enough… [being able] to radically reshape the Earth’s climate and biodiversity but not powerful enough to choose how we reshape it.” [3]


[1] Ritchie, Hannah, et al. “What Can You Do to Stop Climate Change? And Should You?” Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell , Kurzgesagt, 22 Sept. 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yiw6_JakZFc.

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

[3] Green, John. The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet. Dutton, 2021.

Healing the World (with the Things That Broke It) ⚙️

Geoengineering is an interesting concept, to say the least. It’s also surprising that any reference to this idea has persisted as long as it has. In just the last few decades, we as a species have become alarmingly aware of our negative impact on the environment. So suggesting that the only solution to this is even more human involvement and influence seems a little bit counterintuitive.

While I have not heard the specific terms of the “Gaian” and “Promethean” perspectives, I am nonetheless familiar with their basic ideological tenets. One is overtly spiritual and focused on nature, believing that humans have done enough, and should totally abandon any geoengineering efforts. The Gaians consider any attempt to physically shape the earth, regardless if it’s for the benefit of nature or not, to be a severe tragedy. They have a strong distaste for proponents of geoengineering, particularly those who fail to properly factor in the delicate yet powerful forces of nature.

The other point of view is quite the opposite. Prometheans see geoengineering as inevitable, and perhaps required, to save our species from extinction. Instead of condemning those who would abuse these systems, incentivize them to enact programs that assist the environment. Human development and alteration of the environment have been going on for millennia, long before even the Industrial Revolution.

Both points are endlessly fascinating, and yet Thiele hesitates to identify either one as the true answer. Both have value, and both miss the mark on a lot. I find it interesting how similar both viewpoints are. Like a lot of arguments concerning the relationship between man and nature, a distinct separation is made. The Gaian perspective holds that humanity should step back from the natural process. But they fail to recognize that humans, and even human development, are an integral part of nature. The Promethean perspective holds that humanity has the wisdom and power to enact whatever change we deem right. But they fail to recognize the far greater power of nature itself, and how as members of nature we would inevitably destroy ourselves.

In the end, both choices are subpar, and instead I would choose to side with Thiele. She recognizes the important ethical and ontological perspectives of both sides and believes that in order for them “to become engaged in a more productive dialogue, their viewpoints must be clearly articulated and some common ground forged… [they] can address how they might best conserve core values and relationships by managing the scale and speed of change. (Thiele 476)” Both perspectives must adhere to the more expansive tenets of sustainability, and find ways to work together in the context of humanity’s place within the larger world.

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

The Great Debate

Our current climate crisis is undeniable, and humanity now must take steps to try and fix these problems we’ve caused, or at least put systems in place to slow it down. What these steps should be is the big debate at this point, and as described in Thiele’s article, geoengineering is a possible solution. However, as this is a giant decision to be made, there are two polar sides in this debate on whether or not to use geoengineering. On one hand are the Gaians, who believe that Earth is a powerful presence that can take care of itself and needs no human intervention to fix its’ climate crisis. In fact they go as far as to claim that to impose our technology on the environment would be for us to play God. On the other hand are the Prometheans, who would prefer to use humanities technological advancements to try and reverse or slow down the effects of the ecological crisis. Thiele proposes that to create a middle ground for these two sides of the debate, sustainability should be discussed. I found it interesting that sustainability was brought up, but it does make sense, given that both Gaians and Prometheans would support sustainability efforts, and in fact already do.

In the contemplation of geoengineering, the question on whether some actions such as SRM would have disastrous unintended consequences was one that I thought was very important to the debate. As Prometheans have claimed, the unintentional consequences may not definitely be terrible, but it’s still something that should be taken into account. Thiele also pointed out that most Prometheans don’t believe that we should implement geoengineering in its current form, but rather should wait and do more research on it and only use it as a last resort. This point I think was one of the more important ones in the article; Prometheans don’t just want to use technology for the sake of it, they want to have it ready in the event that we should need it if other efforts have no effect. Overall, however, I personally feel that we can’t spend too long debating about what to do; in order to try and slow down the destruction of our environments around the world we must take action now.