13/03/2021

Governing (dominating) the climate

Whilst carbon dioxide levels are the highest they have been in human history, trust in institutional regimes to solve this global issue is at the lowest. Recent climate change models have warned that an increase of 1.5°C may already result by 2030. Solving the problem simply through mitigation strategies —changing habits, adopting renewable energy, etc— seems infeasible; we probably need stronger interventions.

Scientists started to investigate other means, besides mitigation approaches, to stabilize the climate and stay within the 2°C. Two solutions gained much attention: the production of bioenergy combined with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and sulphate aerosol geoengineering (SAG). Should we favor one of the two? It might help to answer this question first: would you be the slave of a nice slave-owner?

Firstly, we need a basic understanding of the technologies. BECCS combines carbon capture and storage technology with an electric plant fuelled with biomass, including crops and forests; biomass is both used to absorb carbon and replace the use of fossil fuels. In particular, this approach allows the reuse of the land where the biomass is grown and the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere as long as the biomass is harvested sustainably. The captured CO2 can be stored under the soil, for instance in the deep ocean.

BECCS diagram —Image PNA
SAG diagram —Image China Dialogue

SAG, on the other hand, works by introducing sulphate in the atmosphere. These injections will reflect a part of the radiation coming from the sun back to space and counterbalance the warming influence of greenhouse gasses (GHG). This approach mimics the effects of volcanic eruptions whose fine dust and sulphuric droplets help cooling the planet. Sulfate aerosol could be delivered by high-altitude balloons, artillery guns, high-level aircraft, tall towers, or space elevators. The cost of this technology is very limited compared to mitigation approaches and the results could be seen in a matter of decades. At first glance these technologies look promising, but a closer look shows their shortcomings.

Both technologies could cause enormous damage to humans and the environment in case they would not work. BECCS could lead to food and freshwater shortages since it will use portions of the land devoted to agriculture. SAG might disrupt precipitation patterns. Therefore, a great deal of discussion has accompanied the emergence of these technologies. Most of the concerns around these technologies focus upon implementation and technical issues: Many scientists judge these technologies morally impermissible due to the detrimental consequences that can derive from them. These judgments are important, but they might neglect an even more important aspect of the story.


Is technology neutral?

In this article, I want to assume that these technical and implementation issues had been solved and ask whether there is an inherent feature of the technology itself that should lead policymakers to prefer the adaption of either SAG or BEECS. Simply, if there were no issues with these technologies, is there some intrinsic aspect of the technology itself that should make us favor one over the other?

First of all, we need to understand how some aspects of technology could lead us to choose one over the other. Technology, differently from what you might believe is not neutral. In fact, certain technologies, in virtue of their design, uphold certain values. Technology can hold a specific value if, in its widespread usages, it tends to promote rather than violate that value. For instance, a gas-engine car can be used in many ways, but its central uses remain transportation. Consequently, when a gas-engine car is utilized certain consequences —for instance pollution— occur, which promotes or deters certain values —i.e. sustainability—. Every technology, thus, has certain embedded consequences manifested in their central uses. Apart from economic values, technology can systematically promote or deter cultural and moral values —democracy, justice, cultural practices, etc—. Does SAG or BECCS uphold or deter certain specific value due to their specific design/implementation mechanisms?

Some parts of the world are warmed the most by human action —Image NASA

The capacity to yield power

Under the assumption that both SAG and BECCS work fine, the latter is praised for its capacity to capture carbon and store it under the terrain with the possibility of reusing the captured carbon. On the other hand, SAG does not allow to capture CO2 from the air but only reflect solar radiation. Once SAG is employed the process should be continuous and accompanied by mitigation strategies. Halting the process of injection will lead to sudden warming of the climate, known as the ‘termination shock’. We cannot see SAG as a one-off strategy but rather as a temporally extended process. SAG imposes its long-term adaption. In this sense, it can be said that SAG has an inherent tendency to be dominating.

When we use the word domination, we generally refer to its descriptive meaning: someone who dominates someone else. Domination can have a normative meaning. In this sense, domination is not simply associated with superior power but rather with the capacity to exercise one’s superior power without any external constraints. To put it simply, a slave-owner, no matter how nice he treats his slaves remains still a slave-owner. The slaves have to live with the fear that one day he might change his mind and has the capacity to threaten them. With this meaning, domination inevitably clashes with the concept of freedom: the ability to choose one’s path. Specifically, how and towards who is SAG more dominating than BEECS in virtue of its design?


The subjects of domination

Firstly, SAG is dominating towards future generations. It is normal that humans dominate future generations since they are not present yet. SAG, however, increases the magnitude of current domination over future generations because its deployment will inevitably impact the entire globe. Furthermore, SAG changes the nature of this domination. SAG makes it possible for the current generation to escape external checks on their power over future generations. Whilst the deployment of BECCS is constrained by the fact that its implementation will forcedly harm the interests of the present generations, for instance by driving the price of food up or diminishing reserves of freshwater, the deployment of SAG will just benefit the current generation by lowering global temperatures. SAG, thus, lacks any intra-generational checks. Finally, SAG results inherently dominating toward future generations since it forces them in a specific direction. As we have said, in contrast to BECCS, SAG does not eliminate GHG from the atmosphere, it simply halts the process. This, thereby, imposes future generations to comply with the technology. But SAG is not only more dominating than BECCS towards future generations.

SAG, indeed, is even more dominating towards the natural environment and non-human species than BECCS. The implementation of SAG does not meet external constraints since, up to now, there is no evidence that there is an upper limit of sulphate that can be injected in the atmosphere. On the other hand, nature presents clear limits on where the biomass can be cultivated; besides, carbon can be stored safely only in particular conditions. Similar to the case of intergenerational domination, SAG does not seem to have external checks and thus it enlarges the scope of domination over the natural environment —we have to remember that domination is not simply associated with complete control but the capacity to yield greater power—. This, in turn, could raise the bar of artificial solutions humans can adopt to shape the environment. Furthermore, as we have seen, SAG cannot be a single-shot strategy but has to perennially maintained. This means that SAG would expand the timeframe of domination over nature.

It is clear that we are warming the planet. Can we do something to avoid it? The answer is yes, of course, we can —Image Unknown Author

Ye shall not dominate

As we have seen certain technologies hold specific political, cultural, and/or moral values that make it clear that once chosen certain consequences will be more likely to happen. Certain technologies, specifically, might change the way we see the world and/or change our cultural practices. For instance, when using the gas-fueled car we experience the world in a different way than when we walk or use the bike; we see the world proceeding fast. Seemingly, technologies can change our relationship with the environment. When trying to solve climate change, choosing among the current designs of SAG and BECCS may signify choosing a particular relationship we want to have with the natural world. Still, this does not mean that the current design of SAG must be a definite one. In considering future designs, however, we must be aware that specific designs embody different values, and that satisfying all of them at the same time is not feasible. When designing we inevitably make trade-offs between the values we find most important. In order to make an accurate choice, we must make sure that the value of non-domination enters into the dialogue; because no one wants to be a slave, of not even a nice slave owner.

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Un redactor de la revista Time le preguntó cuál era el hecho más asombroso que había encontrado en su estudio del Universo, y en este vídeo podemos ver su respuesta.Neil deGrasse Tyson is an American astrophysicist and science writer. Today is also the director of the Hayden Planetarium in the Rose Center for Earth and Space and a research associate in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. Since 2006 is the host of educational and scientific television program NOVA scienceNOW on PBS, and his name sounds hard to drive the sequel to the television series 'Cosmos: a personal journey', co-created and originally filed by Carl Sagan. An editor of Time magazine asked him what was the most amazing fact that he had found in his study of the universe, and in this video we see his response." 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No es que tal insensatez sea un fenómeno muy común entre los visitantes de la reserva, pero creo que en algún grado la desconexión general del ser humano con el medio biológico en el cual ha evolucionado le ha hecho perder un saber instintivo cuyo vacío ha sido ocupado por una estúpida visión paternalista hacia la naturaleza. Hasta los documentales emitidos por televisión sobre los animales tienen que montarse describiendo un pequeño argumento con final feliz para el destino del animal, que no hieran el bienestar moral del espectador. W_deleonesyhombres Da qué pensar esta poca identificación entre el hombre y la naturaleza. En Girona, alguien que sufrió una fuerte indigestión denunció al ayuntamiento por dejar crecer en un parque público el tipo de setas no comestibles que ingirió. El ayuntamiento tuvo que erradicarlas de sus parques. La domesticación deliberada de la naturaleza por el hombre oculta que integramos un sistema orgánico en el que el buen funcionamiento de una de sus células se corresponde con el buen funcionamiento de células de distintas clases, que son las que permiten a ésta optimizar su potencial. Recíprocamente ésta es la que con su buen funcionamiento facilita a su alrededor que el sistema prosiga reproduciéndose con estabilidad. Nuestras especiales facultades no deberían pervertirse con la desconsideración hacia otras especies vivas, extinguiéndolas o 'humanizándolas', pues son éstas las que despiertan en nuestro cuerpo el saber instintivo y vegetativo sobre el que nuestra cognición debe asentarse para poder navegar hacia su plenitud. La perversión del sistema, o enfermedad, se evidencia cuando destruimos a nuestro alrededor las manifestaciones naturales de la vida que nos protegen psíquicamente del adormecimiento mental, del cual se aprovechan los mandatarios para infundirnos esta falsa seguridad institucional que llevó al pobre desgraciado a creer que podía fotografiar al animal salvaje 'respetuoso' con los turistas que han hecho el costoso viaje hasta ahí.Not long ago, I read shocked that a person died devoured by a lion in front of their family, who watched the show terrified in the same car that the person had abandoned for photographing the animal. This folly is not very common phenomenon among visitors to the reserve, but I think to some degree the general disconnect between human beings and the biological environment in which it has evolved, has made him lose an instinctive knowledge whose vacuum has been filled for a stupid paternalistic view toward nature. Even on television documentaries about animals must be mounted describing a small argument with happy fate for the animal, which does not hurt the moral well-being of the viewer. W_deleonesyhombres Invites reflection this little identification between man and nature. In Girona, someone who suffered severe indigestion denounced the council for letting grow into a public park inedible mushrooms. The council of City Hall had to eradicate its parks this mushrooms. The deliberate domestication of nature by humans, hides that integrate an organic system in which the proper functioning of your cells corresponds to the proper functioning of cells of different types, which are those that allow it to optimize its potential. Reciprocally with their efficient operation, facilitates around the system continues playing with stability. Our special faculties should not be perverted with disregard the other species, extinguishing or humanizing species, because they are the responsible of awaken in our body the knowledge of our instinctive and vegetative body, the place where our cognition needs settle to sail to fullness. The perversion of the system, or disease, is evident when we destroy around our natural manifestations of life that protect us psychically mental numbness, which the rulers exploit to infuse this false institutional security that led to the unfortunate man to believe that he could photograph the wild animal 'friendly' with tourists who have made the expensive trip up there." 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He currently teaches at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics, and since 2006 vice president of the CMT —National Commission of the Telecommunications Market—, an independent public agency which regulates the Spanish markets for electronic communications and audiovisual services." 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Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan y Arthur C. Clarke hablaron sobre la gran teoría unificada de las leyes que gobiernan el Universo. Este singular documento, aunque anterior a descubrimientos hoy conocidos como la existencia de la energía oscura, aborda temas como la Teoría del Big Bang, la expansión del Universo, los agujeros negros, la vida extraterrestre, la existencia de Dios y los orígenes de la creatividad.Three major of the scientific outreach, each an expert in a different field, met for the first and unique time in the same television studio in 1988. Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke spoke of the grand unified theory of the laws that govern the Universe. This unusual document, although it's before today's known discoveries such as the existence of dark energy, addresses issues such as the Big Bang Theory, the expansion of the Universe, black holes, extraterrestrial life, the existence of God and the origins of creativity." 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