Explores the relationship between humans and the cosmos. Defends the idea that the human species has a special place in the cosmos and that this is deeply related to human-induced global warming. A synthesis of the philosophical, the environmental & the spiritual.
Here are links to my books (a brief outline of each book can be found at the bottom of this page):
I am writing this post in the midst of
what many people are calling ‘extreme weather events’ in the UK. It has
certainly been very stormy, with the highest amount of rainfall in the period
since records began. Strong winds and abnormally high rainfall has led to
coastal flooding and damage, and to many rivers bursting their banks. Many
homes in the Somerset Levels have been flooded for over a month and there is
currently no railway connection from Devon and Cornwall to the rest of the UK
due to extensive storm damage to the railway infrastructure.
You won’t be surprised to learn that many people are
wondering whether there is a link between these extreme weather events and human
activities on the planet. To be more precise, the question of importance is
whether there is a link between these extreme weather events and global warming
(the aggregate of non-human induced global warming and human-induced global
warming). The mainstream view seems to be that these extreme weather events are probably caused by, or at least made
more severe by, global warming, but that this cannot be known for sure. It
certainly seems to be a fact that a warmer atmosphere will cause a change in
the climate in various parts of the Earth, and that this change will include
weather events which people consider to be ‘extreme’ compared to what came
before. However, when it comes to the current weather events in the UK, one
cannot conclude with certainty that the atmospheric temperature has already
recently risen to such an extent that this is the cause of these events. So, we
are left with the mainstream view that the causal link is a ‘probable’ one.
Saying that something is ‘probable’, as is widely done with
regards to this possible causal link, isn’t particularly satisfactory. This
could mean that the degree of certainty in the causal link is 50.1 per cent, or
it could mean that the degree of certainty in the causal link is 99.9 per cent.
Can we make any progress in thinking about the nature of this causal link?
The first thing to consider is timescales. People inevitably
have a very short-term memory, because in the bigger scheme of things people
don’t live very long. The climate in the UK, and the associated nature of the
weather events (extreme or mild) in particular locations, has varied immensely
in the past. Over medium to long timescales big changes in the weather is
normal; such change is inevitable; such change is to be expected. When
‘extreme’ weather events occur they are typically labelled as such because
people cannot recall many, if any, similar events in the handful of decades
that they have been alive. Our cumulative weather records themselves only go
back a few hundred years. Considerations such as these seem to lend weight to
the idea that ‘extreme’ weather events are normal and that they are not caused
by global warming.
However, this conclusion doesn’t immediately follow. For,
global warming has been a phenomenon affecting the climate of the Earth since
the Earth was formed. The history of the Earth can be seen from the perspective
of the interplay between non-human-induced global warming (the increasing
output of the Sun) and responses to this phenomenon made on the Earth (changes
which lead to homeostatic regulation of the atmospheric temperature). This
interplay has inevitably been one of the factors changing the climate, and the
nature of the weather events, in particular parts of the Earth, over hundreds
of years, thousands of years and millions of years. So, we cannot think of extreme
weather events as ‘normal’, as divorced from global warming.
The second thing to consider is that we are currently living
through the epoch of technological birthing. As we have already explored, this
entails the coming of a point at which the human species comes to realise the extent of the perturbationsthat it has made to the Earth. This
point is followed by the realisation that
the human species needs to technologically regulate the atmospheric temperature
of the Earth, the realisation that this is a wonderful thing for the
totality that is life on Earth, and the realisation that such regulation is the
purpose of the human species. There is a gap between the initial realisation –
the realisation of the extent of the perturbations – and the later
realisations. We are currently in this gap. Within this gap there is confusion
about our place on the planet and our relationship to non-human life-forms. Within
this gap there are forces at play which seek to stimulate our progression to
the later realisations. One of these forces is the enhanced number and severity
of extreme weather events. There are two factors of importance here:
1 The increase in the
number and the severity of extreme weather events caused by the reality of the
perturbations caused to the biogeochemical cycles of the Earth by human
activities in tandem with non-human-induced global warming.
2Human concern that
particular extreme weather events are caused by human activities.
Either, or both, of these factors can stimulate our
progression to the later realisations. The second of these factors is in play
in the UK at the moment. The extreme weather currently affecting the UK could
have no causal link to human activities, yet this isn’t important, the concern
itself can be a catalyst to the later realisations. The concern might or might
not be reflected in reality. However, one thing seems to be certain. If the
human species is ‘slow on the uptake’, if it does not move speedily to the
later realisations, if it ignores the concerns, if it doesn’t push ahead with
the technological regulation of the atmospheric temperature, then the first of
these two factors will become more severe and pronounced until we get the
message. In other words, the longer we delay technologically regulating the
atmospheric temperature, the more extreme weather events we will be letting
occur; we will effectively be ‘inviting’ them to occur.
Today I would like to
elucidate the relationship between technology and the environmental crisis. I
will outline the three stages of the technological birthing process. I will
then explain why there are two categories of environmental problems, which are
delineated by the role that technology plays in solving environmental problems.
In my philosophy I refer to technology as a ‘package deal’.
When life on a planet becomes technological it gains immense benefits but it
also has to endure a painful period of technological birthing in which
technology brings a great number of harms. These harms are the ‘price to pay’ for
the much greater immense benefits which technology brings. We can think of the
technological birthing process as having three stages.
In the first stage
technology brings both widespread benefits and harms which affect both humans
and non-human life. These are very varied; the benefits include medical
technologies which can save the lives of human and non-human life-forms and
telecommunications technologies which enable humans to communicate more
efficiently; the harms include illness caused by technological pollution and
the deaths of multitudes of human and non-life-forms due to the operations of,
and accidents involved in, the use of cars, buses, airplanes and a plethora of
other technologies. In this stage it is not clear whether overall technology is
‘good’ or ‘bad’.
In the second stage the technological birthing process
reaches its fruition and the immense benefits of technology for planetary life
manifest themselves. It is now clear that overall technology has immense
In the third stage the harms caused by technology are reduced
as humans learn to reign in the dangers of various technologies through greater
understanding, better design and wiser deployment. These three stages can be
thought of as the unfolding of the technological ‘package deal’.
The environmental problems that constitute the environmental
crisis can also be thought of as a ‘package deal’. This is because when life becomes
technological a vast array of environmental problems will arise, and these
problems have the same (technological) cause. However, there is a widespread
tendency to mentally package all environmental issues into a single category
and assume that they all have the same kind of solution. At one extreme there
are a great many people who believe that, when it comes to environmental issues,
technology and human intervention are both wholly bad; for these people the
solution to all environmental
problems involves reducing technological deployment/human intervention. You
will hear these people say things like: “How could the solution to a problem
possibly be more of what caused the problem?!” At the other extreme are those
who believe that technology provides the solution to all environmental problems; for these people the solution to all
environmental problems is more of what caused the problem in the first place.
I am convinced that these two extreme views,
which are surprisingly common and widespread, are both wrong. We shouldn’t put
all environmental problems into a single category and then adopt a blanket view
concerning whether or not technology is the solution. The first thing that we
need to do is to create two categories of environmental problems. The first
category contains human-induced global warming. The second category contains
all of the other environmental problems. This division is a central part of my
philosophy. The basis of this division is that the only solution to the first category problem is a technological
solution. In contrast, all of the second category environmental problems could
have either a technological or a non-technological solution. In this category
there is scope for choice; we can ponder: “Shall we aim for a technological
solution, a non-technological solution, or a mixture of the two, for this
particular environmental problem?” We have no such choice when it comes to the
realm of global warming – the environmental problem that is human-induced
global warming in tandem with non-human induced global warming. To this
problem, there is ultimately, at the end of the day, only a technological
When people come across my philosophical worldview for the first time they often get the wrong impression. The reason for this seems to be that they interpret what I am saying from within the confines of an alternative worldview, a worldview which is narrow and flawed. To get the right impression these people need to start afresh and free themselves from the constrictions which have shaped their previous thought processes. In order to aid this 'freeing' it is useful for these people to pose questions and objections which I can answer. Here are some such questions and objections:
Objector: Humans are obviously a destructive force on the planet. Just look around you, there is human destruction everywhere. We are on the brink of initiating another mass extinction of life on the planet. How can you possibly say that we are the saviours of life?
NPC: The history of human thought concerning how humans relate to the wider cosmos has been pervaded by two extremes – either humans have a uniquely special and joyous place in the cosmos, or humans exist in a ‘fallen’ state (as in the Garden of Eden interpretation of the human condition). These two extremes have their own contemporary incarnations relating to the environmental crisis. At one extreme, humanity is the saviour of life on Earth (this would be a Noah’s Ark ‘technological’ interpretation of the place of humanity in an evolving cosmos); at the other extreme, humans are the destroyers of life on Earth. This long-standing dichotomy of ‘two extremes’ can be transcended. Due to being the bringers forth of technology humans are the destroyers of some of the life-forms of the Earth. Yet, simultaneously, humans are ultimately, and most fundamentally, the saviours of life on Earth. Far from the simple either/or dichotomy, the reality of the situation is both/and. Humans destroy in order to save.
Objector: People who actually care about Life on Earth are not wrapped up in narcissistic fantasies of human conquest; they are against geoengineering.
NPC: This is wholly unhelpful. Lots of people with very diverse views about what course of action we should take actually care about Life on Earth. The real issue is not caring; it is the realisation that the survival of complex life on Earth requires the geoengineering of the temperature of the atmosphere. A planet can be wholly populated by individuals who care about life on that planet, yet because these individuals lack this realisation their actions can lead to that life becoming decimated.
Objector: I believe that all species and all cosmological processes are in a state of becoming the next stage of creative evolution, creating the next opportunity for the next cosmological leap. Why should I believe that the human species is the end point of planetary evolution?
NPC: To see that the human species is the zenith of the evolutionary progression of life on any life-bearing planet one needs to have an adequate conceptualisation of what the human species is. For me, the human species is the bringer forth of technology; which means that it is also that part of a planet which considers itself to be not natural (this is a requirement for developing technology). In other words, the zenith of the evolution of life is to bring forth technology to ensure the continuation of that life. Once this zenith has been reached evolution will continue; species will go extinct and new species will evolve. To appreciate that there is a zenith to the evolutionary progression of life on Earth isn’t to believe that evolution will simply stop when the zenith has been reached. Indeed, it is precisely the attainment of the zenith itself that enables evolution to continue.
Objector: Is the purpose of human life "geoengineering"? No. From the perspective of modern evolutionary theory, life, including human life, is accidental and without purpose -- of any kind. "Life" (whatever that may be) just is and happens. Any presumed human "purpose" is purely arbitrary and is a social construction, it can be argued for but it cannot be established as THE, or even A, purpose.
NPC: The view that human life is accidental and without purpose is itself a social construction. Modern evolutionary theory is not wholly false, but it is a woefully incomplete picture of the way that the universe, and the part of the universe that is life, evolves through time. What we really need is a more comprehensive view of the plethora of forces that are involved in the evolutionary process. You are right that establishing that the human species has a purpose is not easy, but that does not mean that such a claim is not true.
Objector: You place humans at the peak of creation, when the reality is that this is not the case; humans exist in a relationship of interdependence with all that is.
NPC: This is a simple false dichotomy. It makes perfect sense to be at the peak of an interdependent planetary life/planet/cosmos.
Objector: The human species needs to give up its compulsion to dominate and control.
NPC: No it doesn’t. It needs to accept that it is the peak of creation; it needs to accept that its purpose is to technologically control the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere; it needs to accept that it is the saviour of life on Earth. If your ‘giving up’ wish came true, then we would have given up on life on Earth and the future would be dreadfully bleak.
Objector: You seem to believe that humans are the only valuable life-form on the planet!
NPC: No. I believe that all of life is exceptionally valuable in itself; in other words, the value of a life-form has nothing to do with human valuation and interests. The very fact that a life-form exists means that a precious thing exists. However, I believe that there are different levels of value within life-forms. I believe that sensations and feelings pervade the universe, existing in both the living and the non-living. In the realm of the living are plants which contain feelings but do not contain any awareness of these feelings. There is a slightly fuzzy boundary between plants and animals, and there may be a few exceptions to the rule, but animals can be thought of as life-forms which have awareness of their feelings. This awareness means that animals can suffer, whereas plants cannot suffer. For me, this means that animals are more valuable life-forms than plants; they are more deserving of our respect than are plants. Within the realm of animals there is a division between the human species and all other animals on the Earth; the human species is the most valuable life-form on the Earth. The reason for this is that the human species is that part of life which has become technological, and therefore it is the only life-form which can save the totality that is ‘life on Earth’ from extinction.
Some people believe that if one accepts that all life is valuable then it immediately follows that the human species should ‘rein in’ its involvement with the Earth, that it should reduce its population size and its resource use; that humans should use less technology, stop modifying habitats and ‘leave things to nature’. This does not immediately follow. Having respect for all life-forms, valuing all life-forms, does not in itself lead straight to a particular conclusion concerning the appropriate way that humans should interact with the Earth.
Objector: Do you think that we have a responsibility to ‘future generations’?
NPC: I prefer to think of the ‘future existence of planetary life’, rather than of ‘future generations’. However, I will answer your question in terms of ‘future generations’. The answer is: Yes. If we ignore ‘future generations’ of humans and non-human life-forms, if we focus solely on the interests of the life-forms that are currently alive on the Earth, then we can consider what the most appropriate course of action would be. Given that there are uncertainties and risks in the realm of geoengineering, and given that the serious time-lag effects resulting from previous actions don’t start until around the end of this century, there would be a strong case for not geoengineering the temperature of the atmosphere. In other words, if we are wholly selfish, and are only concerned about our own existence (the existence of life-forms currently in existence), then the optimal course of action seems to be to avoid all possible risks to our own existence.
However, as soon as we bring ‘future generations’ into consideration then everything changes. If we care about the future existence of life on Earth then we need to take responsibility for the future. We need to accept the risks and uncertainties arising from geoengineering in our own lifetimes in order to enable the existence of ‘future generations’. In short, we owe it to ‘future generations’ to geoengineer the temperature of the atmosphere. To not do so would be extremely selfish.
In the July/August 2013 edition of the Resurgence &
Ecologist magazine Charles Eisenstein outlines his view concerning the
relationship between environmental problems, technology and the healing of the
planet (Latent Healing, pp. 36-8).
Eisenstein has many interesting things to say; however, the central premise of
his view is fundamentally flawed. In this post my aim is two-fold. Firstly,
I will explain why the central premise of Eisenstein’s view is grounded in a
false dichotomy. Secondly, I will comment on the positive aspects of
Eisenstein’s view and relate it to the more comprehensive philosophical
worldview that I have been developing over the past decade. My hope is to show
that Eisenstein’s view is valuable and insightful, yet also partial and
So, let us start by identifying the false dichotomy that
exists at the heart of Eisenstein’s view. Eisenstein states that:
We can assume that by now the
environmentally conscious person has seen through the delusion of applying
technology to remedy the problems that have been caused by previous technology.
The technological fix addresses the
symptom while ignoring the illness, because it cannot see an integral entity
that can become ill. I don’t want to gloss over the profundity of the paradigm
shift we are accepting if we are to see Nature as intelligent and purposive (p.
Furthermore, Eisenstein claims that anyone who believes in a
“technological fix” to environmental problems is constrained by a “mythology”
which causes them to exist in a “disconnected state of being that is blind to
the indwelling purpose and intelligence of Nature” (p. 37).
Whereas, according to Eisenstein, he isn’t stuck in such a
“mythology”. Apparently he has “seen through this delusion” and is therefore an
“environmentally conscious person” who can see that we live in “an inherently
purposeful universe”. He claims that: “The technological fix is based on linear
thinking. The alternative is to develop sensitivity to the emergent order and
intelligence that wants to unfold, so that we might bow into its service.”
So, in short, Eisenstein attempts to
persuade us that these two things are sharply antithetical:
purposeful intelligent universe
technological fix to environmental problems
He really seems to believe that this is so. However, this is
completely and utterly wrong; he has simply set up a false dichotomy based on his own mythology. The question of whether
there is a technological fix to environmental problems is very plausibly influenced by the question of whether the
universe is purposeful and intelligent. However, it is just as plausible to
believe that it is precisely because
the universe is purposeful and intelligent that an environmental ‘technological
fix’ is required. Eisenstein doesn’t even appear to realise that this is a
possibility. So, it will surely be helpful if I relate what Eisenstein has to
say to the philosophical worldview which I have been developing over the past
decade. There are some interesting commonalities between Eisenstein’s view and
my philosophical worldview. However, I believe my view to be deeper and more
comprehensive.In other words,
Eisenstein is on the right track but he hasn’t had the deeper insight which
would have enabled him to put the pieces of the jigsaw together to form a more
complete cosmic picture (he is missing several pieces).
Both Eisenstein and I support the
idea of a purposeful intelligent universe, the unfolding of which includes the
bringing forth of the human species. The main difference in our views is that I
have seen how technology, and in particular the application of human technology
in the environmental arena, is a fundamental part of a purposeful intelligent
unfolding universe. Indeed, it is obvious to me that our purpose as a species
is to utilise technology in order to regulate the temperature of the
atmosphere; this outcome being for the benefit not just of humans, but for life
on Earth. Eisenstein hasn’t come to appreciate this, but unlike most people, he
is pondering closely related questions, such as (p. 38):
What is the purpose of technology on a healed planet?
What is the purpose of this unique species [humans] to which
Gaia has given birth?
The first question Eisenstein poses actually makes no sense
to me because it is obvious to me that the purpose of technology is to heal the
planet; it would have no purpose on a healed planet. Of course, technology
would have uses on a healed planet, but uses and cosmic purpose are two very
A central component of my philosophical worldview, a
component that is lacking in Eisenstein’s view, is the realisation that the
planet was ill/required healing before
it gave birth to humans. In other words, it is not the case that technology created a problem (and that even more
technology cannot provide the solution to this problem). Einstein’s view is
seemingly grounded in the belief that if technology creates a problem then it
cannot simultaneously solve that problem. This seems highly dubious to me as a
blanket view, but even if it were true then it doesn’t apply to what we are
talking about here. For, the need for technological regulation of the
temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere is ultimately a non-technological
problem; a non-technological problem to which technology is the solution. Of
course, this simplifies what is a complex situation, because the deployment of
human technology has exacerbated the pre-existing problem/illness. The key point
to realise is that humans, and human technology, are not the cause of planetary
illness. Exacerbating a pre-existing illness is a very different kettle of fish
from creating an illness. Indeed, exacerbating a pre-existing illness can be a
necessity if that illness is to be cured.
I presume that you can see what I am saying here. For the
sake of argument, let us grant Eisenstein his claim that technology cannot be
the solution to a problem created by technology. This means that all of the
environmental problems which have been caused by human technology will have no
technological solution. Nevertheless, if there is an environmental problem
which has its roots in a non-human pre-human cause then, even if human
technology exacerbates that problem, it can still be the solution to that
problem. Indeed, the exacerbation can be the sign that the cure is imminent. In
the rest of the article I am hoping to get you to see that the stability of the
temperature of the atmosphere is such a problem, and that human technology is
At the heart of Gaia Theory is a vision of the Earth as a
self-regulating but ageing whole. Another way of putting this is to say that
the Earth attempts to maintain the conditions suitable for life despite the
ageing of the Earth-Solar System. The Earth needs to maintain a Global Mean
Surface Temperature (GMST) which is neither too cold nor too hot if complex
life (plants and animals) is to exist; this ‘habitable’ temperature range is
between 10oC and 20oC. The Earth has managed to achieve
this GMST throughout the history of life on Earth despite an increase in
incoming solar radiation of 25% since life arose. As Sir James Lovelock puts
We may at first think that there is
nothing particularly odd about this picture of a stable climate over the past
three and a half eons [3,500 million years]… Yet it is odd, and for this
reason: our sun, being a typical star, has evolved according to a standard and
well established pattern. A consequence of this is that during the three and a half
aeons of life’s existence on the Earth, the sun’s output of energy will have
increased by twenty-five per cent.
(Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth,
OUP, 2000, p. 18)
As the Earth-Solar System ages a forever increasing amount of
solar radiation is sent from the Sun to the Earth; this is obviously a force
for global atmospheric warming. The Earth-Solar System is now at the age where
the Earth is struggling to maintain its atmospheric temperature within a range
in which complex life can survive. The increasing solar radiation is putting
immense upwards pressure on the Earth’s atmospheric temperature which could
lead to an increase to a level which is too hot for complex life to survive.
This struggle is a sign of planetary illness. Lovelock has realised this:
The brief interglacials, like now,
are, I think, examples of temporary failures of ice-age regulation.
(The Revenge of Gaia, Penguin Books Ltd,
2006, p. 45)
[Gaia] is old and has not very long
to live. As the sun grows ever hotter it will, in Gaia’s terms, soon become too
hot for animals and plants and many of the microbial forms of life.
(The Revenge of Gaia, Penguin
Books Ltd., 2006, p. 46)
So, the transitions between ice ages and interglacial periods
are an indication of planetary illness which is caused by the increasing output
of the Sun. We are now approaching the time when the Earth requires
technological regulation of the temperature of its atmosphere. The Sun will
continue to send more and more solar radiation to the Earth; the deployment of
technology is the only way that the temperature of the atmosphere can be kept
suitably low for complex life to survive. Such a use of technology is the only
way that the Earth can be healed.
In other words, the Earth has brought forth a technological
species precisely at the moment in its evolution when it requires technological
regulation of its atmosphere. This is surely a sign that we live in a purposeful
unfolding universe; a universe which contains humans as the healers of the
Earth. What a wonderful vision. The development of the healing technology is
itself a painful process, it entails the bringing forth of a range of
environmental problems and also the transitory human exacerbation of the
illness for which human technology is the cure. However, this era of human
separation, of suffering, of environmental problems, of technological
development, is a transitory era which results in the healing of the Earth and
ultimately the healing of humanity too.
So, in contradiction to what Eisenstein claims, a purposeful
intelligent universe can be one in which there is a need for technological
geoengineering of the atmosphere (Eisenstein rejects this and claims that it
“will likely cause horrific unanticipated consequences”, p. 36). Whilst
Eisenstein is wrong when he denies that a purposeful intelligent universe can
entail the need for geoengineering, he is surely right to assert that many of
the environmental problems that we face are caused by technology and have no
The vision I have presented of humans as the technological
healers of the Earth clearly does not deny that humans have caused
environmental problems which need to be addressed. Technology has caused many
environmental problems and I believe that there is a space for both
technological and non-technological solutions to these problems. The human role
as technological healers of the Earth is a specific role: regulating the
temperature of the atmosphere to keep the planet habitable for life despite the
increasing output of the Sun.
In my last post I considered the most recent wave of realisation concerning the need for geoengineering. Two weeks after this post was published an article appeared in the New Scientist which outlines the specific types of geoengineering that will be required; the article also specifies the locations on the planet where each of these types can be implemented. Here is a taste of the article:
"THIS is howwe will hold off disaster. To help us avoid dangerous climate change, we will need to create the largest industryin history: to suck greenhouse gases out of the air on a giant scale. For the first time, we can sketch outthis future industry – known as geoengineering – and identify where it would operate.
The bottom line is that CO2-suckers are essential, but we also need to ditch fossil fuels quickly. It's that or climate havoc."
Terraforming Earth: Geoengineering megaplan starts now
09 October 2013 by Michael Marshall
I am glad to see that concrete plans are being made concerning how the technological regulation of the atmospheric temperature will be achieved. What we really need to see, in tandem with this, is a growing realisation that not only is this is an inevitable outcome, but that it is also a positive outcome.
The current widespread conceptual framing of geoengineering as a 'weapon of last resort' leads to inevitable resistance to the phenomenon. There even seem to be a great many people who are so opposed to geoengineering that they would rather see a massive jump in the atmospheric temperature of the Earth which instantaneously wipes out a plethora of human and non-human life forms, than they would see geoengineering deployed to stabilise the atmospheric temperature for the benefit of all these life-forms.
Such a view is irrational and potentially harmful, and its existence is one reason why I believe that it is helpful to move to a different conceptual framing of the phenomenon. We can adopt a philosophical worldview which entails that the life that has arisen on the Earth is currently giving birth to the technological armour - via the human species - that will protect it for the foreseeable future.
It is this philosophical worldview that I have been outlining in my blog posts and in my books.
If the effect [rising atmospheric
carbon dioxide/temperature leading to climate
change] is strong, and the world consequently seems on a rapidly warming
trajectory into dangerous territory, there may be a pressure for 'panic
measures'... These would have to involve a 'Plan B' – being fatalistic about
continuing dependence on fossil fuels, but combating its effects by some form
There are some more reasonable Russian voices talking about
geoengineering, including a handful of scientists modeling the impacts of
sulphate aerosol spraying. However, they argue that geoengineering is
inevitable because carbon emissions are growing by more than the IPCC’s most pessimistic
projections: "Therefore, humankind will be forced to apply geoengineering
to counter the unwanted consequences of global warming."
I also came across another
Guardian article by Professor Hamilton from March of this year (Why geoengineering has immediate appeal to China). In this article he cites the scientific
evidence that the human perturbation of the atmosphere is currently
accelerating rather than declining, levelling off, or declining:
Yet neither China's
efforts nor those of other countries over the next two or three decades are likely
to do much to slow the warming of the globe, nor halt the climate disruption
that will follow. Global emissions have not been declining or even slowing. In
fact, global emissions are accelerating.
include mention of geoengineering, and its supporting "evidence" in a
statement of scientific consensus, no matter how layered with caveats, is
extraordinary. If I were one of the imagined policymakers reading this summary,
sitting in a country whose politicians were unwilling to dramatically cut
greenhouse gas emissions (ie any country), I would have reached that paragraph
and seen a chink of light just large enough to make me forget all the dark data
about how screwed up the planet is. And that scares me.
that underpins all of these opinions expressed in the various Guardian articles
is the assumption that the technological regulation of the temperature of the
atmosphere should be seen as a 'weapon of last resort'; it should be seen as
something that we do only because we are incapable of sufficiently reducing our
emissions of greenhouse gases. I have commented on this very widespread view of
geoengineering as a 'weapon of last resort' in previous posts. All of the
advocates of geoengineering that I have ever come across (except for me!)
stress that they are only reluctantly advocating the measure as a regretful
'weapon of last resort'; in other words, if human greenhouse gas emissions
could be magically slashed overnight this would be preferable to
One of the
most important conclusions that falls out of my philosophical worldview is that
the technological regulation of the temperature of the Earth's atmosphere is a
joyous event which should be actively and vigorously pursued. Such an activity
is required for the continued existence and flourishing of the life that has
arisen on the Earth. Such an activity is in the interests of life. If humans
were not to carry out geoengineering then they would be condemning the Earth to
a barren and lifeless existence.
On my view
we are likely to technologically regulate the temperature of the atmosphere in
the belief that this is a 'weapon of last resort' in response to irresponsible
human activities; and then, at a future date, we will come to realise that such
an activity was actually a positive joyous event. We may even widely come to
appreciate that the carrying out of such an activity was actually the reason
that we came into existence as a species. However, it is at least possible that
the collective awareness of our place on the planet will reach such a level that
the joyous and positive nature of geoengineering will be realised before we carry
out the activity.
As I have said before, such a realisation would have many
benefits, including saving billions upon billions of £/$ which are spent on
futile schemes which attempt to avoid the need for geoengineering. Such money
could be spent much more wisely on other environmental and developmental
projects. So, the recognition of geoengineering in the latest IPCC report is a
very small step in the right direction.
On the front page of The
Daily Telegraph yesterday was an article which reveals the one-sided,
mentally-straightjacketed way that contemporary religious authorities have come
to view environmental issues. The article in question is “Fracking risks God’s creation, says Church” by James Kirkup.
According to the article a leaflet published by the Church
of England Diocese of Blackburn states that “Fracking causes a range of
environmental problems” and that believers should consider their Christian duty
to act as “stewards of the Earth” in order to protect “God’s glorious creation”
from fracking. The leaflet also states that “succeeding generations” will
suffer if “the Church remain[s] uninformed and silent” on the issue.
I had, perhaps naively, believed that religions such as the
Church of England were “informed” by God, and/or religious texts, and/or great
spiritual leaders, and/or the wisdom of divinely-revealed Creation itself. However,
when it comes to the aspect of the human relationship to the Earth that is ‘the
environment’ it seems that this isn’t the case. In this case “being informed” seems
to mean listening to what scientists and activists/protesters are saying.
If one approaches environmental issues not from the
scientific/activist approach, but from the theological/religious approach, then
one can see things differently. However, the vast majority of contemporary religions
seem happy to simply (unthinkingly, unreflectively) go along with the
scientific/activist approach. In other words, they simply accept that human environmental perturbations and human stewardship of the planet are
polar opposites rather than complementary.
If you look at many religious texts from the perspective of
environmental issues then the key phrase is “human stewardship of the Earth” / “human
dominion over the non-human life-forms of the Earth”. The scientific/activist interpretation of
stewardship is that human technology is an evil, an encroachment on nature, an
offence to (God’s) creation/life. Contemporary religious authorities seem to have
simply bought into this view. However, they need not.
The same religious texts offer a more compelling view of “human
stewardship”; a view according to which human technology is a “gift from God”.
Indeed, on this view, technology is the most precious part of God’s creation,
and humans as the bringers forth of technology, are the most precious part of
the Earth. God is the original creator, the bringer forth of the universe; on
Earth humans are the creators, the bringers forth of technology. So, humans
have a special relationship with God and a special place on the planet.
If you look at the Bible, you will find that humans are
special because of their technological abilities. When you read about Noah’s
Ark you will realise that the human technological ability to create, to bring
forth The Ark, was a wondrous event which enabled humans to save the
non-technological life-forms of the Earth. Technology is the saviour of life. I
believe Noah’s Ark to be a prophetic account. The human purpose on the Earth is
to develop technology for the benefit of life on Earth. This is what ‘human
What this means is that the development and deployment of
technology is a fundamental part of human stewardship. Only certain technologies
are required to fulfil God’s purpose, but when the technological genie is
released its development leads into all sorts of creations (nuclear power,
fracking, airplanes, cars, submarines). Environmental problems are simply a
deleterious side-effect of this purpose, this greater good, this bringing
forth, this epoch of foretold human stewardship. In other words, environmental
problems are a fundamental part of the human stewardship of the Earth; they are
not antithetical to it.
I would urge religious authorities to consider the various
interpretations of ‘human stewardship’ that exist; I would urge them to find
the support for the view I have just outlined in their religious texts. This
would be much more fruitful than getting informed through the very limited ‘mental
straightjacket’ of the scientific/activist view of the human-planet