Wednesday, August 29, 2018

3009. On the Labor of Non-Human Animals

By Dinesh Wasiwel, Progress in Political Economy, August 28, 2018
Chicken Harvestor: Automation of chicken slaughter. 
The place of animals in relation to left movements has been highly uncertain. On one hand, there has been at least some historical ambivalence from the organised left around animal welfare as essentially a bourgeois pursuit, something that was reflected in Marx’s brief comments on the issue in Capital, Vol.1 (also on this see Gunderson 2011). There has also been a deeper problem in how the left has conceptualised animals within capitalism, particularly the question of whether animals labour, and how this is understood. Again, this problem has some fundamental roots within Marx’s philosophy: it is well known that the 1844 Manuscripts very clearly articulate a supposed fundamental difference between how humans and animals labour, attributing a capacity for conscious creative work only to humans.
A number of scholars have made admirable attempts to both challenge Marx’s anthropocentricism and imagine animals as labouring subjects, including Ted BentonDonna Haraway,  Jocelyne Porcher and Kendra Coulter. I believe much of this work is in sympathy with recent green scholarship which has attempted to understand the relations between capitalism and nonhuman natures, such as the recent work of Jason W. Moore.
What strikes me as curious in surveying the small but growing work on animals, labour and their relation to capital, is the lack of analysis of the specific value-role of animals, not merely as commodities but as producers of value (i.e. labourers). I should say that I am less interested in the question “Do animals labour?” From my view this question misses something fundamental. The point of Marx’s analysis is to understand the value-role of labour within the context of capitalism. In other words, the important question is “What is the value of animal labour power?” Indeed, as Brian Whitener has recently pointed out, there is a need for a developed “animal labour theory of value”.
In my recent article in South Atlantic Quarterly I attempt precisely this sort of analysis of how animals might function as producers of value. While it may be tempting to begin this analysis by examining animals who are deployed within production as instruments of traction – such as the continued use of draught animals within small hold farming globally – my object of analysis is the much more complicated problem of human utilisation of animals for food.
It may be disorienting to imagine food animals as labourers. For example, how might we conceptualise a chicken kept in a small cage, intensively fed, and ultimately destined to be slaughtered for food, as a “worker”? However, recent theoretical developments in conceptualising labour offer some useful tools for thinking about this problem. Scholars such as Melinda Cooper and Les Beldo have theorised the body and its metabolism as sources of surplus. In addition, feminist labour theorists have explored how a work on one’s own body within reproductive labour functions within circuits of capital: for example Amrita Pande’s analysis of commercial surrogacy.
Building on this work, my argument is that we can understand the labour of food animals by comprehending the unique way capital positions these animals as neither just a raw commodity to be worked on, nor as purely a source of labour, but as a combination of both. That is, a combination of constant and variable capital. Understanding animals as this hybrid allows us to gain a fuller picture of what these animals mean to capitalism: they are a special  raw material that circulates (that enters production as one commodity and leaves as another) and can be relied upon to labour upon themselves through their own metabolic processes and thus produce value within production processes.
Thinking about animals as a hybrid of constant and variable capital gives us some useful insights into the lives of animals within capitalist production.  At least one promising aspect of this analysis is that it allows us to re-narrate the transformations in industrial agriculture that we have seen in the twentieth-century and beyond from the standpoint of both human and animal labour. The implications for human labour of the arrival of the factory farm are reasonably clear from the standpoint of Marx’s theory. Intensification of production and the increasing deployment of automated processes, aim at displacing human labour – that is increasing relative surplus value by reducing human labour time. But this story of the arrival of the factory farm requires more nuance if we are understand animals as labourers. While the industrialisation of animal agriculture aimed at a relative reduction in human labour time, it simultaneously expanded animal labour on a massive scale, since then an explosion in the production of animal products was necessary (on this expansion, see Weis). In this way, labour time was reoriented between species – human labour time is reduced, animal labour increases as animal products massively expand.
However the same drives towards expanding surplus value, whether in an absolute or relative sense, informed the transformation of animal labour that has been seen over the last century. Recently Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore have pointed out the specific history of poultry in industrial agriculture, and the success of producers in using selective breeding to reducing growing time and increase bird weight. We could understand these developments in industrial agriculture as driven by the need to reduce human labour time in production or reduce the costs of food for human workers (that reduces the cost of the means of human labour reproduction). However, a focus on animal labour shows us that capital seeks to seize all labour (human and non human) and increase its relative efficiency. For human labour this has often meant the deployment of technologies to reduce labour time, sometimes completely replacing human labour with automated processes. But the dynamics are different for animals as their labour is essential since they are also the product. They cannot be replaced. Instead, lives have been shortened in order to reduce the costs of animal labour and selective breeding has been used to increase the meat that can be yielded. The animal that used to be slaughtered at 12 weeks old now can be slaughtered at 6 weeks, and now weighs more than it ever did before, producing more meat for consumption.
A particular interest for me is trying to understand how animals as labourers resist and exert agency, and how this in turn shapes what production processes looks like. The expansion of constant capital, including machines, in intensive agriculture has displaced many human workers. However, it has created a different relationship between technologies and animals within agriculture. This is because human labour in animal agriculture was often about dominating and coercing animals to make them work (think of stockmen and stockwomen, whip in hand, herding cattle). New technologies which replaced humans would need to take over this specific coercive role. Thus the drive to improve the efficiency of human labour has informed attempts to create replacement technologies that must coerce animals and must deal with animal resistance. An example of such a technology is the chicken harvesting machine, which aims to “save” human workers (often highly exploited and precarious workers) the job of trying to catch chickens before they are sent to slaughter. This work is usually dangerous, since chickens do not want to be caught (see Quandt et al). The “harvesting machines” which are replacing human labour are designed to confront and deal with animal resistance to being caught. In a sense this tells us something about the unique structural position of animals under capitalism – they produce under conditions of domination, and efficiencies in production will aim not necessarily to replace them, but instead to more effectively counter their resistance in order to make them more productive.
In my view asking how animals are positioned within capitalism is useful for thinking about what the left project is and who it represents. A stronger analysis of the structural position of animals within capitalism may elucidate the links between human and non human labour and open up opportunities for a broader understanding of labour struggle that includes recognition of animals and the violence we expose them to. Certainly my hope is that we can produce a politics which challenges the way capital has come to dominate all life, human and non human.
* Thanks owed to Adam Morton for the edits on this piece and the continuing encouragement; the Past & Present Reading Group at the University of Sydney that has provided a wonderful space to think through ideas; and ex-political economy honours student Eliza Littleton, for many chats over the years.
Dinesh Wadiwel is a senior lecturer in human rights and socio-legal studies at the University of Sydney, with a background in social and political theory. He is the author of the monograph The War against Animals (Brill, 2015) and co-editor with Matthew Chrulew of the collection Foucault and Animals (Brill, 2016). Dinesh is co-convener of the Human Animal Research Network (HARN) at the University of Sydney:

3008. A Rejuvenated Science for the People to Advance Scientists and Technologists Activism

By Rebecca Onion, Slate, August 29, 2018

Advocates of science are in a bad place right now. Some days, in this Second Year of Trump, scientism—a blanket defense of science as a virtuous and almost holy exercise of objectivity and rationality—feels like the only natural response to the rising darkness. But, tempting as it might be, cheerleading for capital-S “Science” can’t be the answer. Science—as historians of science and practitioners of science and technology studies readily argue—is not an objective refuge; it’s shaped by politics just like any other human endeavor. How can we acknowledge that fact while still arguing for science’s authority and value?

From 1969 through 1989, the group Science for the People tried to do just that. Its members took “science has a politics” as a philosophical starting point and then used that understanding to push for radical change. Early on, the group protested weapons labs. Members worked with the Black Panther Party, helping with their free health clinics, and with the Young Lords Organization, assisting them in offering free lead-poisoning testing services. They sent equipment to Vietnamese scientists and helped Midwestern farmworkers identify signs of pesticide poisoning. They publicly combatted advocates of socio-biology. The group also ran a Science for the People magazine during this time, and its back issues are a treasure trove of conversation between left-wing scientists about the relationship of their work to capitalism, racism, sexism, and imperialism.

And now, at this desperate time, Science for the People is back, as an activist organization and a magazine—this time, published online, with a possible print revival in its future. The new magazine’s first issue is on geoengineering, and the organization has working groups focusing on topics like militarism, labor, and nuclear disarmament. A delegation went to Puerto Rico recently to work on agriculture and energy; the group has been helping tech workers who want to convince their companies to cancel contracts with ICE. Members I spoke with reported that the group is largely comprised of a younger generation of scientists and engineers, working in academia and the private sector, complemented by smaller numbers of science-curious progressives and the old guard who had worked with the group in its first incarnation. The question is whether and how the group’s philosophy, which embraces the possibilities of science while critiquing the way it’s directed and funded, could animate a new generation of socially committed scientist-activists.

Reading about the work the first Science for the People once did, from our vantage in 2018, can be heartbreaking. In the short documentary produced by the group to announce its relaunch, Fern MacDougal, a graduate student in conservation ecology, described the experience of talking to SftP’s original members before the new generation decided to go ahead and begin again: “My immediate reaction was one of intense loss.” MacDougal didn’t elaborate, but for me, all the abundant hopefulness of the original Science for the People’s work is what’s so sad. In some areas—climate, reproductive justice—our situation has become even more perilous now than it was then. Biological determinism has a stubborn way of cropping up again and again in public discourse—a phenomenon that Katherine Yih, a biologist and epidemiologist who was in the Science for the People chapter in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the late 1970s and is working with the group again in 2018, calls “old wine in new bottles.”

Then there’s the sad reality that the very basic 20th-century concept that science is helpful in public life because it helps us make evidence-based decisions is increasingly threatened under Trump. “It feels as though we’re fighting like heck to defend what would have been ridiculous to think we had to defend, back in those old days,” Yih said. “It was just so obvious that science has that capability to improve the quality of life for people, even if it was often being used for militaristic purposes and so forth. But the notion that we had to defend science against our government was just—it wouldn’t have been imaginable, I think.”

The late-’60s origin story of the group also illustrates how comparatively challenged new left-wing groups are today at organizing—even with the structural advantage of the internet. “Science for the People grew out of the left at a historic height, and position of influence,” Christopher Dols, a civil engineer and the organization’s elected publisher, said. The original group, he pointed out, had the advantage of a natural wellspring: the radical caucuses in several scientific professional associations, born from a general public climate of activism and building on decades of intergenerational debate between scientists over the ethics of participation in weapons research.

In 2018, on the other hand, the group doesn’t have the same kind of natural constituency. If scientists were publicly mulling international politics during the Cold War, their present-day counterparts are writing letters to the New York Times making painfully basic arguments for their political relevance. Dols added that young scientists today may feel that there are more obstacles inherent in taking the risks of political activism. Academic precarity is very real for early-career researchers, as are the threats of government surveillance or the potential loss of funding from corporate sources.

But even with all of these challenges ahead of it, the group feels like something totally fresh and vital. For nonscientists who are STEM-friendly and progressive-curious, the updated magazine represents a departure in science communication—a way of writing about science and social problems that doesn’t just assume that more knowledge about what science is doing is all we need. Sigrid Schmalzer, Daniel Chard, and Alyssa Botelho, editors of a collection of documents from the original movement (key pieces from the magazine, pamphlets by members, the FBI’s report on the group), describe the distinction between the first SftP’s approach to public communication and the way other scientific advocacy groups saw it: “While SftP members promoted science education, they did not see public ignorance as the primary constraint on science’s capacity to fully benefit humanity.” In other words, ignorance was not an individual’s “fault,” a gap to be filled up by knowledge. “Rather,” Schmalzer and her co-editors continued, “they critiqued the power structures … that benefited from public ignorance and impeded the production, circulation, and application of socially beneficial scientific knowledge.”

And for the scientist-activists in the group, the idea that science has a politics has become a focus of study. Although I will admit to some despair at the prospect of trying to rally people to support science without leaning on the rah-rah rhetoric of scientism, Christopher Dols thinks the philosophical question of science’s relationship to politics is actually “the best organizing opportunity” when approaching potential members who are scientists. “Many people are actually infinitely liberated by the idea that, yeah, OK, I can be political,” Dols said. “The conflation of scientific neutrality into political neutrality of the scientist as a citizen is actually a trick by mainstream liberal ideology that we’re helping people break with. And those who break join us, and often join us quite enthusiastically, and they are our target core audience and our base.” In 2018, nobody’s work is politically neutral; the more scientists who see that, the better.

Monday, August 27, 2018

3007. Red Light At Night: A Potentially Fatal Attraction to Migratory Bats

By Science Daily, August 26, 2018

Night time light pollution is rapidly increasing across the world. Nocturnal animals are likely to be especially affected but how they respond to artificial light is still largely unknown. In a new study, scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) in Berlin, Germany, tested the response of European bats to red and white light sources during their seasonal migration.

Soprano pipistrelles (Pipistrellus pygmaeus) and, to a lesser degree, Nathusius' pipistrelles (Pipistrellus nathusii) were recorded more frequently near red LED light, indicating that the animals might be attracted to red light during their migration. In contrast, the scientists did not observe such behaviour near white LED lights. The wavelength of the experimental red LED lights was similar to that of red safety lights used for indicating the presence of wind turbines or tall buildings to aircraft pilots. Warning lights such as these might therefore lure migrating bats precisely towards the danger which the lights help people to avoid. Switching to more bat friendly lights or deploying on-demand lighting -- which only turns on if an airplane approaches -- would most likely reduce bat collisions and bat casualties at wind power stations.

The study has just been published in the scientific journal Ecology and Evolution.

Each year, light pollution increases by around six per cent worldwide. In particular, energy efficient and cheap LEDs are more and more used. Light is an important cue for orientation used by many animals, and also influences their diurnal rhythms and behaviour. It is well established that bats are sensitive to light while hunting at night. While some species are attracted to artificial light sources because of the insects nearby, most bat species generally avoid artificial light. Most previous studies examined the response of bats to artificial light during non-migratory periods. It is already well-known that artificial light causes disorientation in birds that migrate at night. Does the same apply to bats? Many bat species also travel for several hundred or even thousand kilometres during their annual migration, yet we know virtually nothing about their response to artificial light.

During late summer, thousands of bats migrate along the coastline of the Baltic Sea in Latvia, through Pape Nature Reserve. Nights are starlit and largely devoid of light pollution as there are only a few human settlements in the area. Here, the scientists installed an eight metre high pole near the shoreline. A plastic board fixed to the pole was lit-up in 10-minute intervals alternating with darkness. The LED lights illuminating the board switched between red or white LED light. By using ultrasonic microphones the scientists recorded the echolocation calls of bats coming close in order to identify both the species and the number of bats passing by the unlit or lit experimental site.

Soprano pipistrelles (Pipistrellus pygmaeus) and, to a lesser degree, Nathusius' pipistrelles (Pipistrellus nathusii) were recorded more frequently at the experimental site during the red light phase than during darkness. However, bats did not use the artificial light to hunt insects, since the number of hunting echolocation calls remained approximately constant during the light-on periods. "We assume that bats forage for insects early in the night before they continue with their long-distance flight," explains Christian Voigt, lead author of the study. "Also, insects are generally more attracted to short-wave light -- such as ultraviolet light -- than to long-wave red light. Therefore, the displayed light was not attractive for insects." During the white illumination phases, no increase in the number of bats passing the board was observed.

"Bats are at a higher collision risk at wind power stations during their autumn migration. Our study indicates that the use of red light signals could have fatal consequences for them as this appears to attract them to operating wind turbines," explains Oliver Lindecke, co-author of the study. Technological solutions already available could help: "Existing light signals could easily be replaced by bat friendly alternatives, or context-dependent illumination could be deployed which is only activated if planes or helicopters are approaching a wind power plant."

Exactly why bats are attracted to red light sources is unclear. "Bats have excellent eyesight and can even detect wavelengths invisible to us. Some red light sources might potentially blind and disorient them. Whether they then respond by flying towards the source of light with the highest intensity requires further research. It is also absolutely crucial to understand the long-term impact of increasing light pollution on populations of nocturnal animals," explains Christian Voigt. "Many bat species already struggle in our current anthropogenic landscapes characterised by intensive agriculture and high densities of wind turbines. Light pollution is likely to increase pressure on them even further. From a conservation perspective, it is highly advisable that we limit the use of artificial light sources at night to cover only the most pressing and essential human needs. And if there is such an essential need, then bat suitable light sources should be used."

Journal Reference:

  1. Christian C. Voigt, Katharina Rehnig, Oliver Lindecke, Gunārs Pētersons. Migratory bats are attracted by red light but not by warm-white light: Implications for the protection of nocturnal migrantsEcology and Evolution, 2018; DOI: 10.1002/ece3.4400

Sunday, August 26, 2018

3006. Geoengineering and Environmental Capitalism

By Linda Schneider, Science for the People, Summer 2018

“If, as history shows, fantasies of weather and climate control have chiefly served commercial and military interests, why should we expect the future to be different?”—James Fleming, Fixing the Sky1
After decades of lurking in the shadows of secretive military research, geoengineering has recently resurfaced in conversations about climate change and crept into the mainstream of international climate policy.2 A small group of climate scientists, elite policy advisers and industry representatives from high-polluting countries in the Global North are increasingly vocal about their support for geoengineering—large-scale technological interventions in the climate system—as a means to weaken or suppress some of the symptoms of climate change.
There are two basic categories of geoengineering technologies. The first is a suite of technologies that aim to reduce the amount of incoming sunlight to artificially cool the climate, Solar Radiation Management (SRM). Proposed SRM projects include shooting aerosols into the stratosphere and brightening clouds or ocean surfaces to reflect sunlight back into space.
SRM has thus far only been simulated in computer models, but it could leave the lab as early as 2018. Backed by a multimillion geoengineering fund provided by Bill Gates, Harvard University scientist David Keith, and colleagues working on the high profile Stratospheric Aerosol Injection (SAI) project known as “SCoPEx” plan to run first field experiments in Tucson, Arizona, this year. Hardware-testing of the Marine Cloud Brightening Project, a research project with financial and professional connections to SCoPEx, is slated to take place in Monterey Bay, California, on Indigenous territory. Ice911, a self-proclaimed “Silicon Valley moonshot,” is already testing their geoengineering solution to lower global temperatures by restoring ice in the Arctic.
The second category of geoengineering interventions in the Earth system fall under the umbrella of Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR). CDR aims to suck CO2 from the atmosphere at a global scale and bury it underground or in the oceans.3 While pilot-scale facilities on land filter CO2 from ambient air, they are so far unable to permanently remove CO2 from the atmosphere. David Keith’s Carbon Engineering company, for example, produces synthetic fuel from captured CO2. Climeworks in Switzerland lists food and beverage, agriculture, and automotive manufacturing as (potential) industries for their product. In all cases, the captured CO2 sooner or later returns to the atmosphere when the products made from it are combusted, consumed, or otherwise disposed of.
Carbon Dioxide Removal schemes are not limited to land. As one of the most prominent marine geoengineering technologies, Ocean Fertilization applies iron or other nutrients in large oceanic areas to stimulate phytoplankton growth that sequesters atmospheric CO2. The phytoplankton eventually sink to the ocean bed when they die, supposedly taking the sequestered CO2 along. Thisidea has been tested a dozen times — with meager results for the technology’s efficacy (much of the sequestered CO2 was released again via the marine food chain), but with detrimental impacts on the marine environment.
Across the two basic categories of SRM and CDR, geoengineering aims to intervene in the world’s oceans, soils, ecosystems and atmosphere. Most geoengineering technologies are largely hypothetical, and major uncertainties remain as to whether they could ever work at all.

A Climate “Technofix”

Geoengineering is an attempt to solve the problem of climate changea social, political, and ecological crisisthrough large-scale technological projects. This “technofix“ mentality lends itself to a systematic disregard of risk, adverse impacts, and unintended side-effects associated with unproven technologies. Side effects are particularly threatening to strained natural ecosystems and economically or ecologically vulnerable populations.
Some consequences are fairly straightforward: the technological system known as BECCS is meant to couple bioenergy production with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies that bury CO2 underground. If rolled out at a climate-relevant scale, BECCS would lead to fierce competition over land and resources, widespread land grabs and forced displacement, and sharp increases in global food prices.
Computer simulations have predicted other possible impacts of geoengineering schemes on the natural world. Injecting aerosols in the stratosphere could suppress rainfall and potentially interfere with monsoon patterns. Carbon farm monocultures threaten to destroy natural ecosystems at a massive scale. Given that natural processes and systems are complex, non-linear, and in some measure chaotic and unpredictable, the overwhelming majority of effects that will ripple through our global ecosystems might only become apparent after geoengineering technologies are actually deployed.
The systematic dominance of physical science and engineering perspectives in geoengineering research encourages a neglect of social and environmental impacts. This negligence is characteristic of an approach that addresses symptoms but leaves the underlying conditions that spawned the problem in place. Yet the sociopolitical and socioeconomic implications of large-scale technological schemes to “fix” the climate are profound: under existing global power relations, geoengineering is bound to be exploited for corporate and strategic interest.

The perfect excuse for continuing business-as-usual

Finding a technological shortcut to climate change is in the interest of those responsible for the bulk of the problem. Were the international community to address the root causes of environmental destruction, major pollutants would bear the political and economic costs. It is therefore no surprise that fossil fuel companies and their representatives often draw on geoengineering as part of the solution to climate change.4 If pollution can be cleaned up after the fact and global warming and other symptoms of climate change can be technologically suppressed, then the industries responsible for environmental crisis can continue business as usual.
Oil industry moguls and their representatives, such as Haroon Kheshgi at ExxonMobil, have been at the forefront of developing geoengineering technologies, particularly to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.5 Kheshgi is also an author of the upcoming IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C, which for a broad range of over one hundred international civil society organizations constitutes a flagrant conflict of interest.6
In many cases, there is direct overlap between oil industry interests and geoengineering projects branded as environmental solutions. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), an important enabling technology for Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR), was originally developed by the oil industry as Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR), a technique to flush out the final drops of oil from nearly-depleted wells and reservoirs. Both fossil CCS and CCS coupled with bioenergy (BECCS) or CO2 from the atmosphere (Direct Air Capture and CCS, or DACCS) are now touted as contributions to climate change mitigation.
For a long time, geoengineering was too controversial for big corporations to publicly endorse. Yet as Steve Horn revealed in his DeSmog Blog article, “How the Biochar Industry Pushed for Offsets, Tar Sands, and Fracking Reclamation Using Unsettled Science,” powerful industries have lobbied extensively for geoengineering initiatives like biochar.
Much remains to be uncovered about the entanglements of the fossil fuel industry and geoengineering initiatives, but as geoengineering becomes less taboo, corporate interests are increasingly apparent. Business magnates such as Bill Gates and Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, have openly donated large sums of money toward geoengineering research and technology.7 Private and corporate investments contribute to the highly undemocratic and unaccountable nature of the field of geoengineering research and development.
Fossil fuel industries have much to lose from the socioecological transformation and restructuring that our economies and societies urgently need. An entire mode of productionhighly polluting, highly exploitative of humans and natureis utterly indefensible in the face of climate change and the global social injustice environmental degradation perpetuates. In treating some of the symptoms of climate change but not tackling the root causes, geoengineering can be understood as a desperate attempt to maintain a failed economic status quo.

New industries for engineering the planet

Geoengineering schemes aim to intervene in natural ecosystems at a global scale. Current climate mitigation scenarios include the possibility of several hundred to more than one thousand gigatons (Gt) of CO2 being removed from the atmosphere over the course of the twenty-first century and stored underground or in the oceans.8 In 2017, global CO2 emissions stood at around 40 Gt. This amounts to a staggering amount of ten to twenty-five times of the current global emissions per year that would need to be sucked from the atmosphere.
Given the magnitude and scale at which the proposed geoengineering initiatives would need to be rolled out to be “climate-significant,” their implementation would consume enormous amounts of energy, land, water, minerals, and other natural resources. They would depend on the establishment of new transnational, large-scale extractive industries.
BECCS, for example, requires cultivating, harvesting, and transporting fast-growing, usually water- and fertilizer-intensive biomass, burning biomass in bioenergy plants, sequestering the carbon dioxide that arises in the combustion process, and transporting CO2 to sites of final disposal. In other words, implementing BECCS means developing cross-border and industrial-scale infrastructure, processing plants, pipes and tubes, roads and railways, and storage facilities. And who is better equipped to erect and maintain such industrial infrastructures than existing transnational industries currently engaged in mining, transportation, fossil fuel production, and conventional agriculture?
Other CDR technologies come with similar costs. Global-scale Enhanced Weathering (EW) involves distributing finely ground rock material (olivine or basalt) several millimeters thick on agricultural fieldsand not just some agricultural fields, but the largest part of the tropics. A 2010 study estimated that Enhanced Weathering could require olivine mining at the scale of present-day global coal mining.9
The additional emissions that arise throughout the entire life cyclefrom industrial-scale mining to processing, transportation, and distribution—cast doubt on the ability of proposed CDR technologies to ever effectively remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Moreover, extractive industries have a recognized, long-standing track record of human rights abuses and environmental destruction. The political economy behind geoengineering schemes threatens to further entrench industry power and marginalize the rights of local communities and the integrity of their ecosystems.

Engineering the climate for profit

Geoengineering schemes are not only in the interest of fossil fuel producers and extractive industries. They also promise market expansion, commercial gains and greater power for new and emerging economic actors and corporations. The recent increase in registered geoengineering patents and burgeoning commercial interest in geoengineering technologies make clear that tech entrepreneurs expect to profit from “fixing” the climate crisis.10
In the current absence of a significant carbon price or government regulation, it is incumbent upon “carbon geoengineers” to come up with commercially viable products made from the CO2 they capture. Strategies to make CDR commercially viable include attempts to use captured CO2 for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) or, in the case of David Keith’s direct air capture company, for synthetic fuels for the transport sector.11 These commercial goods might eventually be profitable, but certainly have no climatic benefit.

Convergence of new and emerging technologies

Virtually any geoengineering scheme, for technical or political and governance reasons, would require a globe-spanning grid of measuring sites to monitor and control climatic and weather parameters. This is especially true for SRM technologies such as Stratospheric Aerosol Injection (SAI) and Marine Cloud Brightening that maintain artificial cooling by constantly recharging the climate with substances such as sulfur dioxide. Once such an intervention was implemented, halting it would trigger a “termination shock,” unleashing a sudden uptick in temperature, with rates of climatic change well beyond to what many species, including humans, could adapt.12
Similarly, permanent monitoring, reporting, and verification of carbon sequestration and storage in soils, biomass, the oceans, and underground would demand the extraction of massive amounts of data. Deploying such technologies and maintaining them over centuries is infeasible without constant universal surveillance of the climate and other Earth systems. Big Data has much to gain from reshaping and controlling the climate system. Beyond Big Data, we can trace tenuous connections to other new and emerging technologies, such as synthetic biology and genetic engineering. Trans-industrial proposals include genetically redesigning crop leaves to make them more reflective, engineering fast-growing tree species for afforestation and bioenergy plantations, and reconfiguring carbon-sequestering microorganisms for algal geoengineering schemes.
Finally, even the emerging Artificial Intelligence market has a potential stake in geoengineering. A late 2017 paper found that the deployment of a specialized algorithm and machine learning led to better results in fine-tuning injection sites and optimal dosages of sulfur dioxide in solar geoengineering deployment than depending on human intelligence.
These large-scale, transindustrial geoengineering proposals not only share technologies, but are also motivated by common underlying economic interests and corporate power. Public accountability and democratic governance of research and development recedes into the distance in the face of such powerful, globe-spanning, and planet-altering projects.
The Cool War: Hacking the planet for strategic interest
Besides commercial and industrial appetite, there are also serious military and security implications around the deployment and potential weaponization of geoengineering.
Even under the ideal deployment conditions that SRM computer simulations assume, impacts and side effectsan overall suppression of rainfall, regional droughts, hurricanes, and floods—will be unevenly distributed, resulting in regional winners and losers. This has significant ramifications for international peace and security. Industrial CDR infrastructure would place excessive demand on water, energy, minerals, and other resources. These are bound to give rise to a new wave of conflict over precisely these resources.
Geoengineering will produce adverse impacts and side-effects for some regions and populations, rendering it difficult to imagine establishing consensus around deployment. Who would voluntarily accept the potentially devastating consequences of such technologies? As geoengineering expands outside the realm of labs and computer models into the real world, political conflict risks being exacerbated by a systematic bias toward powerful nations more readily positioned to develop and deploy geoengineering in their favor.
This situation is exacerbated by global leaders’ sustained inability to agree on meaningful and mandatory climate action. Under conditions of unreliable multilateralism and fragile accountability, the international community lacks reliable mechanisms for holding potential geoengineering interventions responsible for liabilities. Geoengineering is essentially impossible to govern democratically on the international level.
David Keith, one of the most prominent supporters of climate engineering, and his co-authors in a recent article are surprisingly frank about the weaponization potential of certain geoengineering technologies. The global security threats posed by unilateral or mini-lateral SRM deployment, they argue, necessitate counter-measures or “counter-geoengineering” as a tactical device to deter other states from unilaterally deploying the technologies to their advantage.
According to Keith and co-authors, “counter-geoengineering” could be effected through “counterveiling with a warming agent, i.e. injecting even more GHG into the atmosphere, and neutralising impacts with a physical disruption.”13
Counter-geoengineering represents the final step towards climate militarization and borrows directly from Cold War deterrence thinking. The authors are unfazed by this explicitly militaristic dimension: “Military action to stop SRM deployment by a powerful state would likely only be launched by another powerful state or states, potentially triggering a systemic war.”14
It is no coincidence that in the United States, geoengineering is supported by individuals and think tanks with ties to the military.15 At the end of 2017, a bill was introduced into Congress, which, if approved, would develop a strategic research agenda for Solar Radiation Management.16
The upshot of the US officially pursuing a geoengineering research agenda while simultaneously withdrawing from the Paris Agreement might be a strategic intensification of existing geoengineering research elsewhere, such as the government-led research programs in China and Russia.17 It is not only the deployment of geoengineering that has high-stakes geopolitical and security implications, but also the current pursuit of strategic technology development.

Power, profits, and authoritarian control: Petrifying the status quo

High-risk and global-impact technologies are inherently difficult to govern democratically. Under real-world political conditions, they are likely to privilege powerful states, granting marginalized populations little say in the newly engineered climate regime.
The infrastructure required by geoengineering also limits the autonomy of less powerful countries and independent actors. Although small states and rogue climate hackers could theoretically develop and carry out a one-time SRM intervention, as David Keith and his co-authors concede, “contrary to the common assumption that the ability to engage in solar geoengineering would be widely distributed among states, practical requirements related to delivery infrastructure, technical capacity, and ability to withstand external pressure would likely mean that SRM capabilities would be limited to major powers or coalitions.”18
Authoritarian regimes could readily exploit geoengineering technologies. Imaginary global climate control is itself an authoritarian fantasy on the part of a small technocratic elite. Measures to artificially cool down the planet as envisioned by Solar Radiation Management only suppress certain symptoms of climate change. The looming threat of consequences such as “termination shock” would demand constant control and surveillance over the global thermostat over the course of decades, centuries, or possibly millennia.

A deeper crisis

Despite attempts to present a neutral facade, geoengineering schemes are far from apolitical, “last resort” stopgaps for the environment. Not only is geoengineering not a remedy to the looming climate crisis, it is likely to worsen environmental issues in the long term.
Geoengineering is clearly opposed to the interest of the general public, from the risks posed to human communities and natural ecosystems to the ease with which it could be appropriated to serve extractive industry and military interests. Geoengineering is about more than just the climate: it is an attempt to uphold the failed status quo of fossil fuel and extractive industry powerIt is a project amenable to authoritarianism, militarization, and weaponization. Increased private sector and military investment in climate engineering technologies and research represent an attempt to thwart the deep socio-ecological transformation our societies and economies urgently need.
The world does not need more technological quick fixes. We need a rapid phaseout of global coal, oil, and gas production and a rapid deconstruction of fossil fuel infrastructure. We need a shift to one hundred percent decentralised renewable energy production and supply from solar and wind. We have exciting, sustainable alternatives to the current status quo: a global transition towards peasant agroecology would produce significantly lower emissions than conventional industrial agriculture and simultaneously pave the way for food sovereignty.19
We can reduce the absolute energy and resources consumed by the global economy by adopting an agroeconomic model that does not depend on endless growth. We must redistribute global wealth and income, both between and within countries, to reduce socioeconomic inequality and increase climate resilience. Our solutions to the climate crisis, in reality a socioecological crisis, must be climate-just. The problem ahead is not an engineering problem—it is a problem of power and the vested interests of global industry in preventing real environmental justice.


  1. James R. Fleming, Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control. Columbia University Press.
  2. See Earth‘s Future 2016 issue “Crutzen +10: Reflecting upon 10 years of geoengineering research.” Link:
  3. For more information on geoengineering technologies and their impacts, key actors and supporters, political developments and international civil society opposition to geoengineering see GeoengineeringMonitor, a civil society-run information hub.
  4. Shell, “Sky. Meeting the Goals of the Paris Agreement,” Shell Scenarios, 2018,; ETC Group, Biofuelwatch, Heinrich Böll Foundation, “The Big Bad Fix. The Case Against Climate Engineering,“ 2017, pp. 40ff. Link:
  5. Haroon S. Khesghi, „Sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxideby increasing ocean alkalinity,“ Energy, Vol. 20, No. 9, 1995, pp. 915-922. Link:
  6. GeoengineeringMonitor, Civil Society: „Oil Companies Should Not Author IPCC Report“, May15, 2017. Link:
  7. ETC Group, Biofuelwatch, Heinrich Böll Foundation, “The Big Bad Fix,“ p. 40.
  8. Jan Minx et al., “Negative emissions – Part 1: Research landscape and synthesis,“ Environmental Research Letters, Vol. 13, No. 6, 2018. Link:
  9. Peter Köhler et al., “The geoengineering potential of artificially enhanced silicate weathering of olivine,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 107, 2010, pp. 20228-20233.
  10. ETC Group, Biofuelwatch, Heinrich Böll Foundation, “The Big Bad Fix,“ p. 41.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Trisos, C. H. et al., „Potentially dangerous consequences for biodiversity of solar geoengineering implementation and termination,“ Nature Ecology & Evolution 2, pp. 475-482, 2018. Link:
  13. Parker, Horton, Keith, „Stopping Solar Geoengineering Through Technical Means“, 2018. Highly recommendable is a video produced to go along with the research paper, in which David Keith, Peter Irvine and Joshua Horton discuss the notion of counter-geoengineering and reflect on their new research:
  14. Ibid.
  15. ETC Group, Biofuelwatch, Heinrich Böll Foundation, ”The Big Bad Fix,“ p. 43.
  17. ETC Group, Biofuelwatch, Heinrich Böll Foundation, The Big Bad Fix,“ p. 38ff
  18. Andy Parker, Joshua Horton, and David Keith, “Stopping Solar Geoengineering Through Technical Means: A Preliminary Assessment of Counter-Geoengineering.” Earth’s Future, 2018.
  19. ETC Group, “Who Will Feed Us?“, 2017. Link: