Geopolitics

The international community has found it difficult to agree on strong collective measures to reduce emissions. Country circumstances are diverse and impacts uncertain. Against this climate engineering is cheap, immediately effective and, most importantly, can be undertaken by a single nation. Among the feasible contenders for unilateral intervention, David Victor names China, the United States, the European Union, Russia, India, Japan and Australia.77 This is where the politics of geoengineering become disquieting. The situation might be compared to one in which seven people live together in a centrally heated house, each with their own thermostat and each with a different ideal temperature. China will be severely affected by warming, but Russia might prefer the globe to be a couple of degrees warmer. If there is no international agreement an impatient nation suffering the effects of climate disruption may decide to act alone. It is not out of the question that in three decades the climate of the Earth could be determined by a handful of Communist Party officials in Beijing. Or the government of an Australia crippled by permanent drought, collapsing agriculture and ferocious bushfires could risk the wrath of the world by embarking on a climate-control project.

Two of the earliest and most aggressive advocates of planetary engineering were Edward Teller and Lowell Wood. Teller was the co-founder and director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in San Francisco, said to have a 'near-mythological status as the dark heart of weapons research'.78 He is often described as the 'father of the hydrogen bomb' and was the inspiration for Dr Strangelove, the wheelchair-bound mad scientist prone to Nazi salutes in Stanley Kubrick's 1964 film of that name.79 In 1979 Teller blamed Jane Fonda for a heart attack, writing in a full-page advertisement he took out in the New York Times that it was brought on by his frenetic efforts to counter anti-nuclear propaganda after the Three Mile Island accident.

Lowell Wood was recruited by Teller to the Lawrence Liver-more National Laboratory and became his protégé. For decades Wood was one of the Pentagon's foremost 'weaponeers', leading him to be christened 'Dr Evil' by critics. He led the group tasked with developing the technology for Ronald Reagan's ill-fated Star Wars missile shield, which included plans for an array of orbiting X-ray lasers powered by nuclear reactors. Since 1998 Wood and Teller have been promoting aerosol spraying into the stratosphere as a simple and cheap counter to global warming. A fleet of 747s could do the job. Or, they suggest, the Earth's surface could be linked to the stratosphere by a 15-mile Kevlar tube not much wider than a garden hose and held in place by a high-altitude blimp.80 Sulphur pollution would be made on the ground and pumped to the top of the pipe.

Teller and Wood epitomise the school of physicists represented by the trio we met in Chapter 4 who established the George C. Marshall Institute to resist the peace and environment movements. Like fellow members of the scientific elite that provided the brainpower for the military-industrial complex in the post-war decades, Teller and Wood believe it is man's duty to exert supremacy over nature. Indeed, Wood is listed as an expert with the Marshall Institute whose first campaign was to promote the Star Wars initiative, for which Teller and Wood were perhaps the most fervent scientific advocates. Wood is better known as a visiting fellow at the right-wing Hoover Institution, a centre of climate scepticism partly funded by ExxonMobil and host to Thomas Gale Moore, the author of Climate of Fear: Why We Shouldn't Worry About Global Warming.81 Edward Teller, who died in 2003, was also affiliated with the Hoover Institution. In addition to sharing personnel, in 2003 the Marshall Institute and Hoover Institution jointly released a book titled Politicizing Science: The Alchemy of Policymaking that contained laments on the suppression of 'sound science' from well-known climate sceptics Patrick Michaels and Fred Singer.82

Geoengineering is being promoted enthusiastically by a number of right-wing think tanks that are active in climate denialism. In addition to the Marshall Institute and the Hoover Institution, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heartland Institute support geo-engineering. This is strange. Why would activists who deny warming is occurring and oppose all measures to reduce emissions support the development of a technology aimed at countering global warming? Of course, geoengineering protects their supporters and financiers in the fossil industries because it can be a substitute for abatement and a justification for delay,83 but I think a deeper explanation lies in their beliefs about the relationship of humans to the natural world. Pursuing abatement is an admission that industrial society has harmed nature while engineering the Earth's climate would be confirmation of our mastery over it, final proof that, whatever minor errors made on the way, human ingenuity and faith in our own abilities will always triumph. Geo-engineering promises to turn failure into triumph.

In its 2009 report, the Royal Society argues that there is insufficient evidence to say whether geoengineering would represent a 'moral hazard', that is, undermine efforts to reduce emissions.84 This goes to the question of whether it is seen or would be seen as a substitute for mitigation or a complement to it. Wood and Teller, and the right-wing think tanks that promote climate manipulation, are unequivocal. Not only should it be pursued instead of reducing emissions, but geoengineering plus rising carbon dioxide concentrations would in fact be a superior outcome compared to a situation in which there was no global warming to worry about.85 In a reprise of Harrison Brown's belief they argue that food production would be stimulated by 'air fertilization', except that Brown can be forgiven because the enhanced greenhouse effect was not understood in the 1950s. Fossil fuel corporations are currently unwilling to support geoengineering in public for fear of being accused of shirking their responsibilities, but once the approach becomes part of the mainstream debate and gains political traction we can expect to see the commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions diluted. The promise of geoengi-neering is the perfect excuse for decades of delay. If, as the Stern report says, climate change is the biggest market failure we have ever faced, geoengineering is the most serious moral hazard we have ever faced.

Lowell Wood believes that climate engineering is inevitable; it's just a matter of time before the 'political elites' wake up to its cheapness and effectiveness. In a statement that could serve as Earth's epitaph, he declared: 'We've engineered every other environment we live in—why not the planet?'86 Wood wrote a paper with Teller arguing that the costs of sulphur injections to offset warming would amount to only 1 per cent of the cost of reducing emissions. And, if needed, the technique could be reversed to prevent a new ice age.87 The paper presents global warming as a problem of pure physics, divorced from the biosphere and with no recognition of the complexities of the carbon cycle or feedback effects. The term 'manifest destiny' was originally used to justify the nineteenth-century conquest of the American west; in the twentieth century it came to be interpreted by conservatives as the civilising mission of the United States around the world. Wood wonders why we must stop at Earth. Why not 'terraform' other planets? 'It is the manifest destiny of the human race!' he told a meeting of the Mars Society. 'In this country we are the builders of new worlds. In this country we took a raw wilderness and turned it into the shining city on the hill of our world.'88

Wood is contemptuous of the ability of world leaders to reduce emissions—which he dubs 'the bureaucratic suppression of CO2'89—and of their ability to reach a consensus on trialling geoengineering. In Jeff Goodell's words, Wood predicts popular resistance to the idea of 'toying with the integrity of the Earth's climate just so Americans don't have to give up their SUVs'.90 So Wood speculates about getting private funding from a billionaire for an experiment. 'As far as I can determine, there is no law that prohibits doing something like this.'91 Wood is right: there is no law against a private individual attempting to tinker with the Earth's climate. That is, unless they are doing so with hostile intent. For a long time military leaders have dreamed of turning the weather into a weapon. The Cold War saw extensive efforts to control the weather for both aggressive and peaceful purposes. It met with little success, although the US military claims it used weather-modification techniques to impede the flow of soldiers and matériel along the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Vietnam War.

In 1976 the nations of the world outlawed military manipulation of the weather by adopting the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (ENMOD), which has been ratified by the major powers, including China. But the convention does not cover unilateral climate engineering for the 'peaceful' purpose of protecting us from climate chaos. The history of international treaties shows that it is far easier to reach agreement when the stakes are lower. It is unlikely the 1959 Antarctic Treaty—which declares 'in the interests of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord'— would have been possible with today's commercial pressures. The Moon Treaty, an international accord governing human use of the moon, was developed to assign jurisdiction over the moon to the world community, thereby preventing annexation and limiting development. However, it was defeated after vigorous lobbying by US groups determined to keep open the option of private ownership and commercial exploitation. This suggests that the world community should urgently pursue an agreement that would prevent the unilateral deployment of all geoengineer-ing techniques, perhaps by expanding the terms of ENMOD.

For Teller and Wood the answer to the nuclear arms race was not a negotiated scaling down of the threat but the development of superior technology in order to prevail, to find the 'killer app'. They and their climate sceptic colleagues in conservative think tanks want to respond to climate peril with a grand technological intervention, nothing less than seizing control of the climate system of the globe. It is breathtaking in its audacity and astonishing in its arrogance. The attitude of these planetary engineers is so out of sync with contemporary climate science and so at odds with modern attitudes to the natural world that they appear as throwbacks from another era, perhaps the one captured by Arthur Conan Doyle in his fictional character Professor George Edward Challenger—a mad and pugnacious scientist blessed with a supreme faith in his own intellectual capabilities. In a short story first published in 1928 Conan Doyle has Professor Challenger seized by a Lovelockian insight—that 'the world upon which we live is itself a living organism, endowed . . . with a circulation, a respiration, and a nervous system of its own'.92 Deducing that this sentient Earth must be oblivious to the presence of Lilliputian creatures crawling over its outer rind, the professor resolves to 'let the earth know that there is at least one person, George Edward Challenger, who calls for attention—who, indeed, insists upon attention'. So in the Sussex countryside he orders a shaft dug through the crust eight miles deep. When the pit reaches the soft, heaving body of the giant organism he orders a sharp, hundred-

foot drill to be suspended just above it. When all is ready, including the assembly up above of a bevy of dignitaries and a throng of curious members of the public, the iron dart is 'shot into the nerve ganglion of old Mother Earth'. The effect? 'It was a howl in which pain, anger, menace, and the outraged majesty of Nature all blended into one hideous shriek.' The Earth trembled and the great pit closed over like a wound being healed. As the tumult settled and the multitude gathered their wits, all eyes turned to Challenger as 'the mighty achievement, the huge sweep of the conception, the genius and wonder of the execution, broke upon their minds'. The triumphant professor bowed to their acclaim. 'Challenger the super scientist, Challenger the arch pioneer, Challenger the first man whom Mother Earth had been compelled to recognize.'

Chapter 7

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