Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Geoengineering is the ultimate business as usual

You may have read Naomi Klein’s recent Salon interview in which she posits that "Green groups may be more damaging than climate change deniers", and Joe Romm’s noticeably shrill response on ClimateProgress. In my view Romm was honor-bound to give the critique he gave. The one thing he can’t allow Klein or anyone else to say is that the fix is in, i.e. that fossil fuel corporations have captured government, because that would make his chirpy "better living through green technology" spiel irrelevant, if not duplicitous. Yet the latest IEA numbers clearly show that the global plan is to extract and burn more fossil fuel, not less, while simultaneously testing and deploying a mixed bag of geoengineering methods ("all of the above"). Research into both CDR (Carbon Dioxide Removal) and SRM (Solar Radiation Management) is already well underway in many countries, thanks to major funding from the usual suspects.

The remaining fossil fuels and their corresponding infrastructure are the most valuable assets ever to exist in human history, by far, but they’re also the largest sunk costs ever to exist. In economic theory, sunk costs aren’t supposed to influence decisions, but observed behavior is frequently less than ideal. To suppose that fossil fuel corporations and their equivalent state actors would willingly abandon such monumental investments, by writing them off as stranded assets, is naive. On the contrary, their business model assumes that the remaining fossil fuels will not only be sold, but sold at ever-increasing prices, i.e. their plan is to profit from scarcity. Geoengineering is seen as just another cost of doing business, its risks quantifiable and subject to standard depreciation.

Between now and 2040, humanity will emit another teraton of CO2, because the alternative is collapse of the ultimate scam, AKA the global economy, which operates by looting posterity. China is already the world’s largest consumer of automobiles, and is busily constructing an interstate highway system three times the size of America’s. We’re reduced to helping them: the Alberta tar sands are destined for them, not us. This is not only because the fossil fuel dynasties seek to preserve their advantages, but more deeply because geoengineering epitomizes humanity’s exceptionalist narrative, which claims that our success flows directly from our specialness, heroism, and ingenuity. The possibility that our success was merely a predictable consequence of the fossil fuel windfall, and therefore temporary and doomed from the start, is as unthinkable as comparing humanity to yeast in a bottle (cf. William R. Catton and many others).

Klein might argue that a sufficiently militant and widespread popular revolution could delay or even prevent this grim development, but I wouldn’t count on it. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not a religious person, but if I were, I would pray that geoengineering works.