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

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