January 20, 2009 | Graham

Environmental irony and a new Eden

Jennifer Marohasy links to a report of an attempt to pilot geo-engineering climate by dumping iron sulphate in the sea off Chile. On the basis that as more of us will take medication before we make lifestyle changes, geo-engineering would appear to be the only way that we are likely to reduce CO2 levels. Why should we expect humans collectively to do something they wouldn’t individually?
Interestingly Jennifer is open-minded on the experiment.
I think that it begs a number of questions. There can be no logical opposition to geo-engineering per se on the basis that we do it all the time. For example, geo-engineering is a consequence of our reliance on fossil fuels as we add significant increments of it to the atmosphere each year, thus eventually causing some degree of warming.
The issue has to do with our failure to recognise that humans are part of the natural system and have an effect on it, whether we will or no. This ability will increase along with population and wealth.
It also has to do with the ability of humans to act independently of each other.
It may make sense to geo-engineer, but it can’t be allowed to be done unilaterally on a world altering scale. But how you prevent this happening is another issue altogether, particularly as we’ve shown just how hard it is to get international agreement on the only large-scale geo-engineering problem we have at the moment – CO2 emissions.
Another issue is just what sort of world we might want to engineer. One of the questions yet to be even seriously considered in the climate change debate is just what temperature and conditions should prevail in the world. The greenhouse debate proceeds on the basis that CO2 levels of 200 years ago were optimal, but I’ve seen no serious argument as to why that should be the case.
It goes against my free market grain, but we will need to negotiate and regulate some of these things at a global level, which means we need to be very sure exactly what will and won’t work, and to only sanction it in cases of extreme necessity after balancing the risks and benefits of the proposed action against the risks and benefits of inaction.
The world was much easier to manage when large parts of it were wilderness, because it looked after itself. Now that it is again mostly Garden of Eden, issues of management become important, largely because, for the first time in history, we have, by dint of population and wealth, gained powers just a little more godlike than ever before.

Posted by Graham at 2:06 pm | Comments (6) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. Glad to see you’ve woken up at last, Graham.
    I am not sure that CO2 levels of 200 years ago are viewed as “optimum” – after all, major portions of Europe and Great Britain had already been de-forested by then – it’s rather that one must start *somewhere*, and the population explosion of the 1800’s was only just beginning (see ref. at http://www.popline.org/docs/0233/670980.html )
    Jennifer ought to be able to see that such proposals as hers are merely bandaids on a life-threatening haemorrhage.

    Comment by Lesley de Voil — January 20, 2009 @ 6:42 pm

  2. Lesley, the post reflects my long term position, so it’s not as though I’ve woken up. See this post from 4 years ago http://ambit-gambit.nationalforum.com.au/archives/000510.html.
    There’s no risk from the increase in CO2. Or rather, the risks are out-weighed many times by the benefits. A bigger problem is peak oil and peak coal. Although my generation will escape any major issues from them, I think. Not so sure about my youngest’s.

    Comment by Graham Young — January 20, 2009 @ 10:44 pm

  3. Graham, would you please append this comment to your archive of the blog on December 28, 2008; concerning weblogs and the mainstream media.
    I too read Marohasy’s claims of Sea Shepherd ramming a Whaling vessel; to which Graham refers here… powerful stuff. Her source for this stuff was the Institute of Cetacean Research, which incidently, also provided her with the “stuff” of 8 January 2006.
    I’ve now seen the damage to the Steve Irwin, done during the most recent skirmish with the Kaiko Maru, of the Japanese whaling fleet. I know which of the vessels was going the faster, and the likely cause of impact.
    Like the brouhaha of 2006, there’s nothing in it. I’d give the round to the MSM.

    Comment by clink — January 22, 2009 @ 1:41 pm

  4. Graham, my point was not about CO2 levels as such, rather your categorisation that they were ‘optimal’ 200 years ago. The use of those figures is merely as a baseline.
    Agree though that Peak Oil, Gas and Coal are indeed more pressing problems. OTOH, the faster we use them up, the less likely we will have suitable alternatives in place. The sooner we change towards sustainable alternatives, the better.

    Comment by Lesley de Voil — January 22, 2009 @ 8:27 pm

  5. Lesley, I wasn’t saying that CO2 levels were optimal 200 years ago. In fact I would argue that they weren’t. But everyone who wants to return us to those CO2 levels would prima facie appear to be arguing that they were.

    Comment by Graham Young — January 23, 2009 @ 9:41 pm

  6. Tim Flannery wanted to fire sulphur into the air a few months ago.

    Comment by Leigh — January 26, 2009 @ 7:50 pm

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