Geoengineering is the practice of using technology to alter or lessen the amount of sunlight that reaches the Earth’s surface. It can also be termed Solar Radiation Management, as it is in effect managing that sun’s rays as they try to pass through our atmosphere on their way to the Earth. The aim is to lower global temperatures in much the same way as a major volcanic eruption – huge eruptions release massive clouds of dust and other particles, which reflect some of the sun’s light back into space, thereby causing a global temperature drop.
A range of methods have been proposed to conduct geongineering, such as: putting mirrors in space; brightening clouds; spraying water from the oceans or sulphate aerosols into the sky. Whatever the technology used, there is no doubt that this would cause a major interference with the planet’s natural systems.
I was inspired to write about this topic after I saw an environmental page I follow on Instagram share the news that Bill Gates would be funding the testing of a geoengineering technology that would take place this year,
However, I eventually found an article that said this testing was being called off after outcry from scientists and environmentalists. This is good news, for now. But if the media refuses to talk about issues such as this, and makes no effort to inform the general public of the dangers of certain so-called climate solutions, then what is to stop these highly-funded projects from taking off next time?
Gates has already spent vast amounts of money (though of course, its pocket change to him) on funding research into how we can block the sun – his name is even listed on multiple patents for hurricane-suppression. Yet, he has also been dismissive of using renewables to solve the climate crisis. This is a billionaire who’s lifestyle and business practices have wreaked major havoc on the environment, yet he thinks he can swoop in and now save the day?
Capitalism cannot save us from the climate crisis – this crisis was caused by capitalism. You only have to look at the billions that have been pledged to solving the climate problem, all whilst carbon emissions continued to soar.
Furthermore, this technology does nothing to treat the underlying cause of this climate disaster we are living in, as it doesn’t reduce air pollution from greenhouse gases. Instead, it just treats a single symptom – higher temperatures. Meanwhile, all the other symptoms, such as ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, and harm to human health, could just continue unabated. Additionally, geoengineering could even reduce the energy we can gain from solar power generators (unsurprisingly), making it harder to solve these other problems.
There are countless other issues with the use of geoengineering:
- It is unethical – testing this technology is highly dangerous and risky, and conducting tests on the atmosphere cannot be done without employing billions of people as “lab rats”, and its hardly likely that these test subjects would get a say in the experiments conducted at their expense
- It is vulnerable and unreliable – this technology could have major negative implications if anything went wrong. And there are many possibilities for this to happen – wars, terrorist attacks, mechanical failures. Plus, if this technology mimics the effects of a massive volcanic eruption, what will happen if a real-life volcanic eruption doubled-down on this whilst the technology is in use? We can’t know the answer to that, but it could be catastrophic
- It could reap dystopian-level realities – it might prevent astronomers from viewing space, which is hardly dystopian, but the possibility of a permanent chemical haze canvassing the Earth and making blue skies a forgotten thing of the past certainly is
Some scientists call for greater legislation and laws in order to try to control geoengineering experimentation, and avoid the worst risks. Currently, any country could decide to employ the technology if they wanted to (or if they were desperate enough to avoid further-raised temperatures), without doing adequate research first. However, if a country did employ the technology, it would affect the entire planet, not just their nation. So, controlling geoengineering to prevent it being used prematurely and irresponsibly is the bare minimum of what is needed.
Yet, considering that this technology does nothing to alter the pollution levels that are poisoning us and the environment, and that such high risks are involved, suggests that this shouldn’t be merely controlled. It should be outright banned.
We do not need geoengineering to save ourselves from climate change. We simply need the political will to use the technology we have already created to make totally beneficial transformations to society, and to hold polluters accountable. Given that this is the case, we do not need billionaires investing all of their money into time-wasters and useless projects. This money would be better employed in improving energy-efficiency of homes, building renewable electricity generation, and providing decent but free public transport services. It’s almost as if appropriately and fairly taxing the rich could really solve all of our problems!
But no, the rich are given a free pass when it comes to pouring money into their own vanity projects and risky ideas. It’s either ironic or telling that the same rich, white men who want to “save the planet” (Bezos, Branson, Gates, Musk) seem to be very interested in exploring the possibility of living in space. Why do people who can afford to inhabit private islands and luxurious mansions want to live in an empty, black cavern? We can only hope that those who are in power and contributing to the complete destruction of our environment aren’t planning to completely abandon it, because they certainly don’t care about saving anything.
We need to rapidly and drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. We also need to take some of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere back out (through carbon capture, which can be done through natural solutions such as rewilding). But we don’t need billionaires for this, and we certainly don’t need to block out the sun. The sun is not the problem; capital greed is.
2. Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate”