Posted: Jun 21, 2013
The climate crisis demands our immediate attention. Climate change could devastate thousands of at-risk communities beyond repair and leave the face of the earth scarred. We cannot be alarmist enough about continued climate change and the threat it poses to life on this planet. This is the first time in the history of this planet that a species altered global climate to such a degree. The future of life on this planet is entering a period of extreme risk and few are offering rational solutions.
Leftists and environmentalists are correct to confront this issue with great urgency. Climate change grows exponentially as powerful elites continue to pursue a course dominated by the consumption of fossil fuels. Social movements continue to challenge the power of states throughout the globe to continue this destructive course. These movements are large, powerful, and often diverse. They face a very strong opponent, however, and have yet to really land a blow against the powerful capitalist elites that seek to profit from climate change rather than prevent it.
Right-wingers, namely represented by the Republican and Democratic parties in the United States, work hard to combat and control the climate change narrative. Climate scientists have overwhelmingly and to the greatest degree possible proven the human impact on climate and the growing crisis over the course of forty or so years. Republicans have largely worked to challenge the legitimacy of climate science using spurious logic and over-exaggerating incidents like “ClimateGate”, encouraging many to outright ignore the human impact on climate. Former President George W. Bush largely ignored global summits and climate accords.
President Obama and many other Democratic Party leaders intervene on a regular basis in global climate summits and discussions intent on controlling the trajectory of discussion. The US under President Obama acts to control the impact of climate talks on US business interests, often preventing any agreement that could begin to chip away at cascading climate change. This was certainly the case in Copenhagen, Cancun, Durban, Doha, and likely will be the case at the conference in Warsaw in November.i
The interventions of both parties on behalf of the US ruling class form a policy of Climate Imperialism. The US exploits its power over other nations (military, economic, and political) to disrupt climate talks, spread a spurious narrative about climate change, and ignore their responsibility to change as the largest contributor to the crisis. Democrats and Republicans both contribute to this policy and neither seems to have a serious interest in stopping cascade climate change.
The left has a much more sound approach to the crisis. The left – anarchists, marxists, socialists, and anti-capitalists of various types – focus on transforming society to alter the means and mode of production to further integrate working people with each other and with the world around them and prevent further contributions to climate change. The left is not without its contradictions and problems, however, specifically when it comes to the use of technology.
Anti-capitalists often criticize technology on the basis that it is used to harm people and the environment. Technology is not inherently negative despite this use, however. Those with the most power in society determine how technologies are used. Ruling classes dominate power structures under capitalism. They are most responsible for the use of technology in society and as such are the most responsible for the negative hurtful impacts of technology on society. Technology is not altogether bad or entirely harmful. It can also bring some incredible, life-supporting benefits.ii
The left’s criticism of technology is not unwarranted. The oppressive history of technology and science deserves to be criticized and routinely dismantled. Science and Technology are not inherently objective, positive, or good for humanity. Technology and science have been used numerous times by those in power throughout history to cause harm to people in oppressive ways. This does not mean that all technology is bad, that the scientific progress and understanding we’ve gained is all used to oppress and cause harm. Criticism from the left rarely sees this complexity and often rejects technology wholesale, throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Technology can be used in positive, constructive ways, especially when it comes to climate change, medical health, and numerous other non-military applications.
There are a few critics of geoengineering, some louder than others. Websites specifically against geoengineering are fairly few. iii They lack any real criticisms beyond simple conjecture and conspiracy theory. GeoengineeringWatchiv reads more like an Alex Jones spinoff than anything reputable. This particular site seems largely devoted to the “Chemtrails” conspiracy theory. This website presents an argument for a behind-the-scenes collaboration between the state and the airlines to spread atmosphere altering chemicals via jet exhaust. These “Chemtrails” are really just pictures of what is totally normal jet exhaust. Conspiracy theories are designed to ignore evidence from the start, so it is no surprise, in this case, that the evidence is overtly misrepresented and false. I would encourage people to visit this site and notice that they are exploiting the fanatic commitment they create by exploiting ignorance in order to sell things to site visitors. This is no different than any other conspiracy site. It is all an act to make profit and offers no serious or real criticism that could help address critical problems of climate change.
Climate change is a caused by human activity and first must be addressed by changing human behaviors and systems. Leftists tend to stop at this point, however, either out of ignorance of technology or outright rejection. Climate change will continue to be a crisis for decades even if we completely stopped consuming fossil fuels today. Geoengineering technologies can be used to curb or reduce this time-span or residual climate change effects, especially for communities most at-risk.
Proposing that crucial technologies could be provided to those who need it most under capitalism is largely arrogant, however. Geoengineering technologies are more likely to be used to preserve the lifestyles of the rich and privileged. The elite would argue that they must preserve their wealth and protect themselves first because their wealth is what drives the economy, creates jobs, and provides stability in the market. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Capitalism is a class-based system and this argument is a political argument of the ruling class to protect their political interests. They will never concede that this system created this problem in the first place. The ruling class will never do something, no matter how necessary, without a return in kind – whether it is financial or otherwise. They will certainly not give freely of their wealth in order to save the poor.
A serious handling of the climate crisis requires a ruthless criticism of the causal role capitalism plays in it. This allows us to think of how we could use geoengineering technologies in a post-capitalist society. It will certainly require a revolutionary transformation of human systems in order to adequately address the climate crisis. It is hard to think of a situation where capitalism will survive such a radical transformation as those who suffer the most under climate change have long been the targets of capitalist aggression. It is not out of bounds to think about technology under a different system, in fact it may be a requirement if we aim to adequately address the crisis.
Geoengineering could be extremely beneficial in a post-capitalist society based on socialistic principles. Socialistic principles would distribute wealth according to need. This would require a drastic redistribution of wealth to communities most at-risk due to climate change. Geoengineering technologies could be one form of wealth redistribution. Geoengineering technologies could be used as a form of climate reparations, providing much needed air treatment systems based on algae, agricultural regrowth and stimulation using low tech methods, and in the most dire situations high-tech methods to protect communities and coastlines from erosion during periods of recovery while greenhouse gases are being captured.
Geoengineering and other innovative technologies can and should be used to help curb the impacts of various crises created by humans and human systems. We need to understand that these technologies will be most effective when they are supplements to a much larger change in human societies, namely in the advanced capitalist world that creates the greatest amount of greenhouse gases. Revolutionary change is needed to transform society from a system that monetizes environment for the benefit of the wealthy few to a society that recognizes the inherent value of human integration with natural systems and the value created from maintaining a balance with systems that have evolved over millions of years. These systems surely provide more stability than geoengineering technologies can.
We can use geoengineering to restore these systems. We can’t rely on geoengineering to solve a problem created by human systems and behavior. We must be willing to transform our societies towards socialistic principles of solidarity, democracy, and freedom. We also should be critical of how we use geoengineering technologies and search out solutions that facilitate a transition to a stable-self-sustaining ecosystem. Technologies that are meant to replace natural systems are counter-productive and will only contribute to further environmental destruction and greater instability. We must transform society and use technologies that facilitate rehabilitation of original systems to prevent further environmental devastation at the hands of failed equipment, political battles, and “market corrections”.
We must be willing to take responsibility for our roles in this crisis, specifically on the systemic level. “System Change not Climate Change” is not just a popular slogan among environmentalists. It is a motto that we should strive to live by. We must confront capitalism for what it is, a system of exploitation, environmental destruction, and drastic inequality. We need a socialist society so that we can use geoengineering and a vast number of other advanced technologies and sciences to provide for those most in need, as opposed to serving the profit interests of those who already have plenty. Climate change is a symptom. Capitalism is the crisis.
ii Ruling classes are those who own or operate businesses for themselves or others and retain power to determine the future of work in their industry on any level from firing individual workers to reshaping an entire industry.
iii This may be in part because geoengineering has not been a huge part of the public discourse on climate change.
Wesley Strong studied sociology at Central Connecticut State University, where he graduated from in 2008 with honors. Wes was awarded the C. Wright Mills Award for Excellence in Public Discourse.