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What would a capitalist society and its Technophiliacs do to solve a problem of their own making, a problem caused by the burning of fossil fuels, overconsumption, urban sprawl, and our wasteful industrialized way-of-life? As one former oil executive put it, “Climate change is a waste management problem.” So instead of actually dealing with the problem head on, industrial civilization will try everything it can to circumnavigate the problem, allowing CO2 emissions and our unsustainable lifestyles to persist. This is where geoengineering becomes the tourniquet for our moribund society. Here’s what the pro-business right-wing think tank, American Enterprise Institute, has to say about tinkering with our damaged atmosphere:

…We can shrug off or deny the problem, as politicians, particularly in the US, often do. That’s reckless. But what if corporations shoulder more costs and lead the technological charge, all for a huge potential payoff? That could be a game changer. In a nutshell, that’s the realpolitik argument for geoengineering….

Let’s hope entrepreneurs do more than just smell profits. If visionary geoengineers are lucky enough to succeed, it’s going to cost big bucks over decades. If there is no business case for tackling climate change–no money to be made –it simply won’t happen. Let’s hope we are unleashing enlightened capitalist forces that just might drive the kind of technological innovation necessary to genuinely tackle climate change.

As long as there’s a dollar to be made, the enlightened self-interest of capitalism can keep the fires of climate chaos at bay. Now we can burn all those dirty unconventional oils without losing sleep. Only capitalism can manage to turn the prospect of self-extinction into a money-making venture.

In his essay “The Philosophy of Geoengineering“, Clive Hamilton tells how CO2 emissions since the industrial revolution have suppressed the next Ice Age that would have occurred in roughly 50,000 years and that with further anticipated CO2 build-up by modern man, we may well suppress future glaciation for the next 500,000 years.

Nothing humans have ever done approaches the momentousness of this fact. Our activities have so changed the climatic future that we have over-ruled one and perhaps several ice ages. The Earth will take tens of thousands of years to reach a new equilibrium following the pulse of carbon emissions sent into the atmosphere by humans in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Only then might the era of human-induced global warming approach an end.

It is for this reason that the Anthropocene represents not only a new epoch in geological history but a new epoch in human history, comparable only to the arrival of settled agriculture and the industrial revolution…

Thus the Anthropocene Age was coined to reflect the planet-altering force that modern man has become. Since 1950 and the “Great Acceleration”, mankind’s environmental impact tripled. Debate has been heated as to when exactly the Anthropocene Age began, with some scientists including the advent of farming 8,000 years ago, but not until the late 18th century when man’s industrial activities kicked into gear did humans begin to truly overshoot their environment on a planetary scale. By not recognizing this fact, industrial capitalism and consumerism of modern time are excused for their environmental destructiveness and unsustainable nature.

...The dispute is not merely academic. One implication of [William] Ruddiman‘s early Anthropocene‘ hypothesis is that if humans have been a planetary force since civilization emerged then there is nothing fundamentally new about the last couple of centuries of industrialism. In this view, it is in the nature of civilized humans to transform the Earth, and what is in the nature of the species cannot be resisted. By focusing attention on ‘humankind‘ in general rather than the forms of social organization that emerged more recently, the Anthropocene becomes in some sense natural. In this view, global warming is not the product of industrial rapaciousness, an unregulated market, human alienation from nature or excessive faith in technology; it is merely the result of humans doing what humans are meant to do, that is, using the powers Prometheus gave us to better our lot. This gives rise to a relaxed view about human impacts on the natural world; Ruddiman himself seems quite comfortable with the idea that over the next 200 years all economically accessible fossil fuels may be mined and burned…

The early Anthropocene hypothesis is interpreted as exonerating modern humans of blame for environmental decline…

…Perhaps the defenders of the ‘good Anthropocene’ intuitively understand that if the beginning of the new epoch is located at the end of the eighteenth century, with a step-change in the 1950s, then we must ask what was distinctive about those times. The answer of course is the inception of industrial capitalism and then the turbocharged era of industrial expansion that followed World War 2, a surge only intensified with the era of hyper-consumerism that washed over the rich world in the 1990s and 2000s. If free-market industrialism and ‘affluenza‘ are the source of the problem then perhaps they must be constrained, a suggestion that raises conservative hackles…

Thus we are mental and physical prisoners of a social system which treats everything on Earth as a commodity, reducing it to an object of exploitation for profit:

…The thinking that gives rise to geoengineering is the same thinking that first creates the world as an object suitable for technological manipulation. As a result, the only global warming escape routes that occur to us are technological ones, whether they be new forms of low-emission energy, carbon capture and storage or engineering the climate. So this view prompts the rhetorical question: How can we think our way out of a problem when the problem is the way we think? 

This morning the main topic on Democracy Now was goengineering:


2.16.11 Daraz Cartoon