9. Whiz-Bang Solutions

We’ve made amazing advances in technology; don’t you think science is a safer fix than socialism?

We desperately need to believe we’ll be ok; the psychological terror of contemplating our imminent extinction is just too great for many of us to withstand. I grant this, and I can understand those who desperately hold out hope for some miraculous solution. Who wouldn’t? But it’s scary how blithely people shrug off the climate science, how lightly they say, “Science is extraordinary and it will save us” — even though the greatest advancements in science from the industrial age to the nuclear age to the invention of plastic have often done more to doom our planet than their architects ever imagined they could (cf. Klein 277-8).

Klein writes, “While it is true that renewable technologies hold tremendous promise to lower emissions, the kinds of measures that would do so on the scale we need involve building vast new electricity grids and transportation systems, often from the ground up. Even if we started construction tomorrow, it would realistically take many years, perhaps decades, before the new systems were up and running. Moreover, since we don’t yet have economies powered by clean energy, all that green construction would have to burn a lot of fossil fuels in the interim — a necessary process, but one that wouldn’t lower our emissions fast enough. Deep emission cuts in the wealthy nations have to start immediately. That means that if we wait for what [Alice] Bows-Larkin describes as the ‘whiz-bang technologies’ to come online ‘it will be too little too late’” (90).

We aren’t really in need of too many new technologies; we have the basic technologies necessary to transition to a sustainable future. What we lack is time and political will. Given that both of these things are in short supply, we find ourselves in an increasingly desperate situation, and the more desperate the situation, the more desperate the technologies that are being proposed. The most hotly debated “terraforming” or “geoengineering” idea at real-life mad scientist conventions is called Solar Radiation Management (SRM), dimming the sun through gigantic space mirrors or by spraying massive amounts of seawater (the droplets acting like “tiny, light-scattering mirrors”) into the air (259). Never mind that approaches like this are completely untestable and must simply be attempted, at a vast scale, in order to see if they work (this is the plot of the extraordinary disaster movie Snowpiercer); one can already imagine the unintended consequences: a world without sunlight or skies (including the inability to use solar power), the further trapping of atmospheric carbon (leading to suffocating air and an even more rapid acidification of the seas), the trapping of solar heat above the cloud layer such that if it ever burst through it would hit us in a tremendous blast to which we’ll have had no time to adapt, and so on. “Nothing on earth would be outside the reach of humanity’s fallible machines…We would have a roof, not a sky — a milky, geoengineered ceiling gazing down on a dying, acidified sea” (269). It’s not very pleasant to contemplate the other kinds of technologies that our human race (which Mark Lynas calls, in an affront to common decency, “The God Species”) might concoct: “some noxious brew of mixed-up techno-fixes” (279). 

Yet — these ideas are debated at conferences all the time. We’ve gotten that desperate. And another reality that arises at these conferences is that because of the mysterious interconnectedness of our planetary ecosystems, a geoengineered solution meant to benefit one region might very well doom another. One 2013 study concluded “that the African Sahel could be devastated by SRM done in the Northern Hemisphere” (275). These kinds of sci-fi scenarios lend credence to what Mary Ann Lucille Sering has already come to believe: “I am beginning to feel like we are negotiating on who is to live and who is to die” (276). There are other solutions for which we have “only the briefest window” — “like taking far larger shares of the profits from the rogue corporations most responsible for waging war on the climate…or reversing energy privatizations to regain control over our grids” — but “to fail to exercise those options — which is exactly what we are collectively doing — knowing full well that eventually the failure could force government to rationalize ‘risking’ turning whole nations, even subcontinents, into sacrifice zones, is a decision our children may judge as humanity’s single most immoral act” (284).

Read on for more.