Saturday 30 November 2013

Two scientists debate climate engineering, Parliament of Things

Climate scientists David Keith and Mike Hulme debate the possibility of climate engineering, particularly the injection of sulphur into the stratosphere(!).  Hulme argues, amongst other things, that:
The technology is ungovernable. Even the gradual deployment [of these measures] will have repercussions for all nations, all peoples and all species. All of these affected agents therefore need representation in any decisions made and over any regulatory bodies established. But given the lamentable state in which the conventional UN climate negotiations linger on, I find it hard to envisage any scenario in which the world's nations will agree to a thermostat in the sky.
Does this reinforce or undermine Latour's notion of a Parliament of Things?  Hulme is clearly sceptical of the possibility of any such political assembly—indeed, the implication is that it is absurd.  And yet Latour's grand narrative of ever increasing entanglement and the end of nature resulting in a need for such a thing seems awfully prescient.  Hulme goes on to say that:
Another argument against intentional solar climate engineering is that it will introduce another reason for antagonism between nations. There are those who claim that their models are good enough to precisely attribute specific local meteorological extremes—and ensuing human damages—to greenhouse gas emissions. There will be nations who will want to claim that any damaging weather extreme following sulphur injection was aerosol-caused rather than natural- or greenhouse gas-caused. The potential for liability and counter-liability claims between nations is endless. 
I am against solar climate engineering not because some violation of nature's integrity—the argument used by some. I am against it because my reading of scientific evidence and of collective human governance capabilities suggests to me that the risks of implementation greatly outweigh any benefits. There are surer ways of reducing the dangers of climate change.
All nations, all peoples, all species—no Nature in sight.

But there's more.  It's clear that the risk of outright war—and not just the ontological, metaphysical kind of 'war' that Latour so loves to tell us about—is a very real possibility in the not so distant future.  Wars of blood and terror, steel and explosives.  Wars that will make our petty debates over intercultural misunderstandings seem like a joke.

I'd draw two conclusions from this exchange: First, that Latour's political philosophy does have its finger on the pulse of world history inasmuch as these issues will be central to world politics in the coming decades.  Climate engineering is coming and the space mirrors won't save us.  Second, his political philosophy is largely incapable of adequately understanding or articulating these developments because it remains stuck at an extreme level of abstraction that wilfully ignores concrete political actualities, preferring to dissolve institutional and territorial realities into a shifting sea of 'issues' overseen by an airless metaphysical Parliament of Things that is conceptually underspecified to the point of being almost meaningless.

We need a political philosophy that can articulate realpolitik and dingpolitik rather than just substituting the latter for the former.  There can be no settlement of the earth-wars without a better understanding of the turf-wars that come with them.