March 21, 2009

Geoengineering and the Carbon Shock

Filed under: Climate Crisis, Disaster Capitalism — Tags: , , , , — Russ @ 10:23 am


As the climate crisis sets in, through ongoing, intensifying weather phenomena as well as a political fact, there’s increasing buzz around seeking a solution, not through mitigation and decreased consumption, but through building the technological Tower of Babel higher. As with energy and the economy, so with the environment mankind remains aggressively delusional. We refuse to recognize that the exponential growth civilizational model is both the source of all our problems and is unsustainable in any event.
We refuse to see that the solution, the adaptation to all our predicaments, can only be an organized devolution. Just as they say the finance industry needs to unwind $500 trillion paper worth of derivatives (what they’re actually doing is another matter) in order to become stable, so a ponderously top-heavy civilization must unwind its systemic economic, energy, and environmental positions.
But people don’t want to do this. So just as when AIG got in trouble it doubled down with toxic mortgage derivatives, so global civilization seeks to double down on its toxic technological assaults on the environment.
Geoengineering is tailor-made for disaster capitalism, which is the only reason I fear that, as crazy and reckless as it is, it might actually be attempted even as all civilian infrastructure rots and the food crisis reaches pandemic levels.
With things like agrofuel mandates, the offset industry, and advocacy for alleged cap-and-trade which in practice would fail to impose the cap but which would use the “trade” to try to inflate a carbon bubble, we’re starting to see the outlines of a campaign to enlist climate change policy for profit.
So it’s all too plausible that after years of denying, delaying, and obstructing all rational carbon policy, once the climate crisis really becomes branded in the public consciousness by way of permanent drought and ever more frequent extreme weather events, the same cadres who fought sound policy will then take the lead in calling for geoengineering boondoggles.
These will never work and won’t be meant to work by their political advocates. They probably won’t be meant to even be completed.
But they will be meant to receive massive public funding, almost all of which will be funnelled directly to private profit.
That’s what the real purpose of geoengineering would be, if it were ever to be seriously attempted. Just like the vaunted “nuclear renaissance” and the until-recently looming CCS deployment, it would be a corporatist boondoggle, a vehicle for disaster capitalist plunder, this time leeching off the biggest self-created disaster of them all, the climate crisis.
Given the way things are going nowadays, where clearly the only way to temporarily prop up the corpse of the debt economy is to reflate the old bubble or find a new one to inflate, whenever I look at any large-scale idea I can’t help asking, Can they turn this into a bubble?
There’s already the well-established fear of cap-and-trade being used this way. Perhaps the geoengineering concept can be put to the same purpose.
For example, I haven’t yet heard the suggestion that geoengineering expenditure, even at the think tank level, should qualify as an “offset”, but I have no doubt that’s coming. Once the people are sufficiently convinced of the climate peril that we do get an intensive policy, which will no doubt center on trading in carbon permits, offsets, IPOs from tech startups touting every imaginable climate fix from free energy to swaddling the earth in space panels, and in derivatives of all these pieces of paper, we’ll then be all set for a new kind of CDS: climate disaster swaps.
(This picture is still hazy for now, but we can see the outlines of the carbon bubble. Policy advocates say all this can be easily prevented. I hope so, but we’ve seen how well regulation worked in the past.)
The environmental objection to geoengineering is the same as it’s always been: the precautionary principle. The geoengineering boosters themselves acknowledge the obvious dangers. Just the concept of atmospheric sulphate injections threatens to eradicate the ozone layer and create fallout as health-crushing acid rain. Other ideas hold the menace of generating oceanic dead zones. Then there’s the fear of addicting the climate system to an artificial fix which could never be withdrawn without triggering a cataclysmic heating spike (though to some of these engineers the sheer artificiality of this enslavement probably sounds cool).
And yet we still have no idea that these wouldn’t be just the tip of the iceberg. On the contrary, given the historical record of environmental reverberations, precaution forces us to assume the unforeseen effects of such an intervention in the global ecosystem would dwarf the foreseeable ones, which are horrific enough.
We are basically in a species civil war over two ways of conceiving and acting upon our gaiacidal rapacity. One is to repent, pull back from the brink, devolve consumption and the machine, and learn to seek happiness and love rather than gluttony and violence.
The other is to continue the onslaught. This includes all Tower of Babel technofixes which try to have it all, rampant consumption bathed in a “green” gaslight.
Agrofuels, GMOs, geoengineering. Three (engineered) peas in a pod. These are three absolute threats to the ecological and human future.
Just as with agrofuels and GMOs the green and humanitarian talk is just talk, so it is with geoengineering. The real projects will of course be so large and require so much up-front capitalization that massive public monies will be needed to get them off the ground. (If, as their advocates claim, sulphate injections or cloud-brightening are actually relatively inexpensive, then you can bet they’ll either be massively porked up, or they won’t become the projects of choice. Instead policy-makers will choose to fund a solar panel girdle around the earth or some such nonsense. There’s a reason Detroit favored SUVs over small sedans, and it wasn’t because SUVs ever served any practical purpose.)
Then there’s the likelihood that geoengineering research will be co-opted for military ends. Indeed, the War Department is currently involved in such research. Wanting to use weather modification for military purposes has been the main driver of all government meteorological research funding since the fifties. Deep down all they’ve ever wanted to do is build a weather machine.
So here as elsewhere we see the carbon shock taking shape: the crisis will be used to prop up the zombie debt civilization with new derivatives and startup bubbles, as a pretext for the redistribution of wealth from the public to large private structures, and for the development of new weapons.
Geoengineering is an idea with this future, if it has any future at all.
Having said all that, I’ll try to end on an optimistic note. Luckily, the scheme is so top-heavy, requires such a large fossil fuel platform, and would require such extravagant initial capital outlays, that with the world economy steadily eroding and Peak Oil at the door, it might not be physically or economically possible to make any real attempt at it.   

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