The Emperor’s New Climate

Geoengineering as 21st century fairytale

The idea of re-engineering the entire planet (geoengineering) used to be the stuff of science fiction, but in the past few years a small group of geoengineering enthusiasts has worked hard to give it a veneer of respectability. On 1st September, they will have succeeded in getting the world’s oldest scientific academy, the UK’s Royal Society, to legitimize dangerous planet-tinkering schemes with minimal transparency and even less public participation.

170 years after Hans Christian Andersen penned his tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes, an analogous tale is being woven around an event in his homeland that will affect the entire planet: the global climate change negotiations this December in Copenhagen. This time, it’s not a naked emperor making the people squirm, but the equally indecent posturing of world leaders preparing to meet to agree on a post-2012 climate treaty that can reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions enough to slow global warming.

The Royal Society will play an important role in this performance by offering a prestigious platform and global microphone to some modern-day tricksters. The emperor in the children’s fable, encouraged by dishonest tailors, pretends he can see the invisible threads of his fancy new clothes just as the political establishment, aided by scientists, will pretend that technology will save us from the climate crisis. In order to get us all to have faith in this fallacy, they need first to engineer momentum and then get us to believe in fairy tales.

ETC Group opposes geoengineering and warns that devoting resources for research and experimentation will put us on a dangerous path. Seen alongside the full set of possible and urgent responses to anthropogenic climate change, we regard geoengineering as the wrong avenue, towards which further political will and resources will only be squandered. Our research shows that all geoengineering technologies, by virtue of being large-scale, highly centralized and having commercial applications as well as latent military uses, will always deliver inequitable outcomes. We further believe that the illusion of a “techno-fix” serves as an all too convenient excuse for the powerful to drag their heels and further refrain from making the urgent changes required to reverse the climate’s trajectory. In a sane and sensible world, the geoengineering option would not be on the table at all, and nobody in their right mind would be agitating for experiments.


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