We are facing a period when society must make decisions on a planetary scale. ... Whereas in the recent past a whole continent could have been submerged, decimated by plague, or ravaged by earthquakes and the rest of the world remain untouched and unnoticing, today's natural catastrophes and environmental interventions affect the whole of human society, interconnected as it is in reality though not yet politically capable of acting in concert.
As such, manmade interventions depend upon the application of science to technology; scientists become doubly responsible, both for the immediate uses made of their discoveies and for the well-being of their fellow citizens. Whether they be citizens of a free enterprise state, a socialist state, a dictatorship or a hereditary monarchy, they need inforation to make decisions, either for an intelligent choice among alternatives or for guidance in carrying out decrees by their ruling group. Even in the most arbitrary and authoritarian forms of government, a comprehension on the part of the leadership and an understanding on the part of the people are both essential. Unless the peoples of the world can begin to understand the immense and long-term consequences of what appear to be small immediate choices - to drill a well, open a road, build a large airplane, make a nuclear test, install a liquid fast breeder reactor, release chemicals which diffuse through the atmosphere, or discharge waste in concentrated amounts into the sea - the whole planet may become endangered.
What we need from scientists are estimates, presented with sufficient conservatism and plausibility but at the same time as free as possible from internal disagreements that can be exploited by political interests, that will allow us to start building a system of artificial but effective warnings, warnings which will parallel the instincts of animals who flee before the hurricane, pile up a larger store of nuts or grow thicker coats before a severe winter.
Scientists themselves may value making a fine point against a rival more than the possible consequences of the intra-scientific battle; or be extremely cautious so as to protect their reputations (among scientists) which is a modern equivalent of fiddling while Rome burns. Or they may simply despair of ever connecting effectively the nature of science, with its built-in requirement for validation by other scientists, into the political bureaucracies of the world.
Scientists' instincts will be to plunge into developing the technology. That would be a mistake. If experiments begin without consultation and debate, protesters will argue that the technology is being foisted upon us.
To be a workable plan B, geoengineering will first have to gain public acceptance. That will be a tough sell. Faced with new technologies, people invariably ask: is it safe? Who will govern it? Who will benefit? With a technology powerful enough to alter the climate, those questions are likely to be asked more loudly than ever. It is easy to envisage debates about the necessity of such a scheme, worries about its consequences or rumours that it is a front for scientists or businesses to cash in on the global warming "hoax".
How can the public be wooed? Consultation is obviously part of the answer. If people feel they have had their say and have been listened to, they are more likely to accept and trust geoengineering. There are signs that scientific organisations are aware of this. ...
It's a good start, but a much broader process of consultation will be needed if people worldwide, particularly environmental groups and those representing citizens in the developing world, are to have their say. This consultation needs to be high-profile so that geoengineering, a concept that few people have currently heard of, becomes part of mainstream debate. And it must start soon.
Labels: Carbon Cult
Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.