In a recent set of revelations, it turns out that the Canadian government is actually concerned about climate change, but not the way that you might expect. Travis Lupick, a reporter for the Vancouver weekly The Georgia Straight writes:
Newly declassified documents suggest Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is taking climate change more seriously than many critics have alleged. However, environmental advocates say its approach remains troubling.
On June 5, 2012, then–Environment Canada deputy minister Paul Boothe convened a meeting to discuss geoengineering, according to documents posted online by Mike de Souza, a Postmedia national political reporter.
Geoengineering, which has been advocated by Straight columnist Gwynne Dyer in the past, was defined as “the intentional, large-scale intervention in Earth’s environmental systems”. The list of invitees included the deputy minister of defence, the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and the national security adviser to the prime minister.
Slides for the meeting acknowledge that the Earth’s climate is warming as a result of human activity, and warn that even a rapid implementation of emissions-reduction measures may not prevent a temperature rise of more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels by mid century. A graph projects a global mean temperature increase of 6° C by 2100, a change that scientists warn would likely be catastrophic.
Two classifications of geoengineering are presented as options to reduce future warming: carbon-dioxide removal (CDR) and solar-radiation management (SRM). CDR methods include afforestation, ocean fertilization, and the direct extraction of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the slides explain. One example of an SRM approach is to install “space-based orbiting mirrors” that would “reduce solar input”. Another is to continually inject sulphur aerosols into the atmosphere “to mimic the effect of volcanoes”.
While Charles Taylor and I do not see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, in the first of his Massey Lectures of 1991 (later published as The Malaise of Modernity, Anansi Press, 1991), he identified what he saw as the three main phenomena that contribute to the malaise of which he is speaking, and I have found this to be a useful approach. The second of these phenomena is what he calls ‘instrumental reason’, defined as ‘the kind of rationality we draw on when we calculate the most economical application of means to a given end. Maximum efficiency, the best cost-output ratio, is its measure of success’ (p. 5).
The current global predicament is incredibly frightening—our last century of planetary rapaciousness is catching up to us with alarming speed, and generations that had nothing to do with setting the patterns of incremental destruction in motion are nevertheless implicated in their outcome and attempts at redressing the damage. This has the effect of the Catholic conception of original sin, except without a white knight riding in to save things.
But. We’re pretty addicted to the idea of the white knight. Whether it’s the tendency of western religion or something broader than this, salvation is a pretty nice way out of unwinable situations.
The patterns that led us into our predicament are global, embedded and hard to tease out. It’s easy to see the effects that our behaviour over the last century has had. Melting ice sheets and deforestation are highly visible and easy to understand (for most), but it’s a lot harder to see why these things are taking place, or, to be more blunt, to accept the dramatic change in behaviours that may actually have a chance of staving off the consequences in which we are, every day, more and more implicated.
How deeply unsurprising, then, that, instead of embracing such change, or even accepting the inevitable dissolution of the rapacious pattern that led us to this point, we instead start talking about orbiting mirrors and fake volcanoes. The cost-benefit analysis of actual, long-term change in our behaviours leads to a balance sheet that severly challenges our way of being as a species. Capitalism as a system is like a cancer that controls both disease vector and chemo-therapy clinic, but the host has reached a breaking point. As Deleuze and Guattari state, ‘Capitalism, which is always ready to expand its interior limits, remains threatened by an exterior limit that stands a greater chance of coming to it and cleaving it from within, in proportion as the interior limits expand’ (Anti-Oedipus, p. 376).
There are a lot of good, long-term solutions being proposed, but the hard truth is that the systematic process of capitalism on a global scale has blinded us to the reality that we can not declare bankruptcy for the planet. There is no Chapter 11 protection from what we have done. The party is over. If we are willing to accept this, and change how we act globally, then we may stand a chance.
No more white knight thinking.