That industrial societies have run Mother Earth ragged is no secret round these parts.
Whether climate change, depleted fresh water, build-up of toxins, collapse of ecosystems or accelerating species extinction, this way of living on the Earth has become unsustainable and common sense says we must act fast to build a fairer civilisation that treads more lightly on the planet. Unfortunately common sense isn't the only option on the table.
A group of increasingly influential scientists, corporations and thinktanks, backed by some of the governments that carry the largest climate debt, have recently begun proposing a different path out of this crisis: a Plan B.
Rather than changing harmful production and consumption patterns, they want to massively re-engineer our planet so that it can withstand the ravages of our industrial carbon binge. Their proposals to 'fix' global warming range from changing the chemistry of the oceans to polluting the upper atmosphere with sulphur particles. Instead of reducing emissions, the thinking goes, artificial plankton can soak up our excess carbon. Seeding the skies with sulphur can reflect excess heat back into outer space.
Sounds risky and dangerous - of course it is. Seductive to policymakers? Yes that too. With little or no public awareness, geoengineering has become a multi-million dollar gambit and is now poised to gobble up the climate debate. Private companies and well-known individuals are now jockeying to test out their theories on an unsuspecting planet. The US Congress and UK House of Commons have just completed a round of hearings to determine how much money they should allocate to the first tranche of real world geoengineering experiments. If you are in any doubt as to how seriously the parliamentarians are swallowing these pie-in-the-sky proposals just read their report: 'We may need geoengineering as a “Plan B” if, in the event of the failure of “Plan A” we are faced with highly disruptive climate change,' explain the UK MPs, reading straight from the geoengineers' playbook.
Gentlemen's code... for planet hacking
In March 2010, almost 200 geoengineers met in Asilomar, California, to draw up voluntary codes of conduct for manipulating the planet. In Russia, a team of scientists led by controversial climatologist Yuri Izrael has already begun seeding the skies with sulphur and is promising more. A team of geoengineers with funds from Bill Gates is promising to start altering the whiteness of clouds in just a few years time. Backing for plan B is coming from such unlikely allies as Bjorn Lomborg, the self-styled skeptical environmentalist and the industry-friendly American Enterprise Institute. The reason? As billionaire airline tycoon Richard Branson baldly told the press last year, 'If we could come up with a geoengineering answer to this problem, then Copenhagen wouldn't be neccesary. We could carry on flying our planes and driving our cars.'
But on the eve of this year’s UN-designated International Mother Earth Day, over 60 national and international organisations launched Hands Off Mother Earth (H.O.M.E.). The global campaign, now supported by the Ecologist, includes a website (handsoffmotherearth.org) where signatories upload photos of themselves with their hands up in a 'stop' gesture.
'We want to remind governments that their bottom line should be NO geoengineering experiments,' says Silvia Ribeiro of the ETC Group, a campaign organiser. 'The planet is our home and not a laboratory - there are real people with real faces (and hands!) who care about this.'
Know your rights
The campaign insists that a halt be placed on geoengineering experiments and that the 'rights' of Planet Earth be respected. 'Not just human beings have rights, but the planet has rights,' asserts Evo Morales, Bolivian president and host of the recently concluded Cochabamba Climate Change Conference in Bolivia. The first right, he says, is 'the right for no ecosystem to be eliminated'. The second, 'for Mother Earth to live without contamination'. The final statement by the 35,000 people attending Cochabamba called out geoengineering as a false solution to the climate problem.
Since its launch the campaign has been joined by leading luminaries of the global environmental justice movement. Vandana Shiva, David Suzuki, Naomi Klein, Herman Daly, Wes Jackson and Frances Moore Lappe are just a few of the names helping this pushback against geoengineering. They join hundreds of individuals adding their hands to a photo petition that will be brought to a United Nations scientific meeting In Nairobi next month.
As Ricardo Navarro, of Friends of the Earth International, explains, 'the same countries and companies that have neglected climate change for decades are now proposing very risky geoengineering technologies that could further disrupt the weather, peoples and ecosystems'.
The worldviews of Evo Morales, the world’s first indigenous Amerindian leader, and Richard Branson, the brash, jet-setting, empire-building Brit, are hardly compatible nor, in a power sense, equal. The H.O.M.E. campaign hopes to level the playing field as well as ensure that when it comes to playing games with nature, Mother Earth does not come out the loser.
'Geoengineering is insane,' says Canadian scientist and H.O.M.E. supporter David Suzuki. Hard to argue with that kind of science.
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