Pop-Ethicists Wade into Haida Gwaii Geoengineering Fracas

I have an ambiguous relationship to Naomi Klein’s writing, I enjoy some of her writing, but often find myself wondering if my positive responses aren’t prompted by a certain ideological sympathy. I read her opinion piece in the NYT Sunday Review this past weekend and was left with a sense of disatisfaction.

You may or may not be aware that Russ George engaged in an act of ocean doping a few weeks back in order to try to stimulate a decimated salmon stock and restore a formerly thriving fishing economy off Haida Gwaii.

Klein’s conclusions about Mr. George’s experiment are perhaps correct in so far as his bid is an opportunity to debate the merits of such projects. She’s also correct that the silence from policy makers on this kind of project is worrying.

Where I disagree with Klein is the attempt to characterize what is happening as something other than business as usual for the human race. And her conclusion that we shouldn’t be “tinkering with the earth’s thermostat” and that we’re taking “our influence to a new level” are frankly not convincing given her prefacing statments about the impact we’ve had triggering climate change in the first place.

Human beings have been screwing with their natural environment since they could first bash rocks together. Australia’s desert and semi-desert bush biome is probably the direct result of early humans clearing the continent with fire. We don’t hear many complaints when people talk about reforestation — which incidentally is the sylvan equivalent of Mr. George’s attempt to create an algae bloom.

The Dutch practice of claiming farm land from the sea? I might add that without this practice the current use of windmills to generate electricity might never have been dreamt of. But it too has significant ecological impacts (not least for the muskrat – which is hunted to extinction in Holland due to its burrowing habits and the consequences for dykes).

I don’t want to condone what happened in Haida Gwaii, but I also don’t want to defend the kind of sloppy thinking perpetrated by Klein. Klein claims that the iron doping solution provides an excuse for us to continue burning fossil fuels. She misses the point. The fossil fuels are going to be burned regardless. That genie is out of the bottle. America’s oil addiction has been shared with too many developing economies for it to end in time to avert disaster. We need to try experiments like this in order to see what works in small scale batches before scaling up for some kind of ecological moon shot. We have acted as a species in ways that have fundamentally altered the global climate. This was true long before Klein’s ancestors or mine walked the earth. It is perhaps gratifying that we are now trying to fix some of these impacts. And it may well be that the whole attempt is folly. We may have lost the moment to recover the climate. But I’d much rather see us try, than to allow what time we have to be frittered away on trying to curb behaviours which frankly have too much momentum behind them to change fast enough.


Geoengineering – Testing the Waters – NYTimes.com



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