This New Yorker piece on solar #geoengineering by Bill McKibben really irritated me, not because I disagree with it (although I do) but because of the fatuous way it expresses itself.…
His argument is that the Scopex experiment looking at stratospheric aerosol injection should not go ahead now, because over the next decade all of humankind's effort needs to go into emissions reduction and Scopex would be a distraction which bad actors would exploit.
(Scopex background can be found here
As I said, I disagree with that analysis. But it's the way it is expressed that infuriates me.
Mr McKibben writes: 'If we want to, as a civilization, we can devote the next decade to an all-out effort to transform our energy system.'
What 'we' is this? How does it act as a civilisation? As Mr McKibben knows well, getting the world to act as one is hard enough; how to get it to think as one, to devote itself as one?
What of the people who have no power to do this, but are still part of human civilisation?
He goes on: 'If we don’t meet [the target of a 45% emissions reduction] by 2030, then we need to have a serious talk as a species and start assessing our options.'
So now 'we' are having a conversation with ourselves as a species? Whose voices are expressing whose interests in this conversation?
He goes on: 'It seems clear that the thing we need to test first is not aerosol-spewing balloons but our ability as a species to rein ourselves in'
That's not what species do; there is no 'we' of the human species which can act
To cap it all: 'If we fail, then perhaps we deserve to stare pathetically at a white sky.'
By which he apparently means: then is the time to hastily deploy solar geoengineering, having done nothing in the meantime to understand or reduce its risks.
To unpack this, de-we'd: 'if actors with the power to drastically reduce emissions fail (first use of 'we') those with no such power (constituent of much of the referent in the second use of 'we') deserve what they get, pathetic losers'
I know Mr McKibben to be a compassionate man; but by abusing 'we' and neglecting power relations he enters the realm of collective punishment on a global scale.
As a few colleagues and readers know, I have a thing about the abuse of the word 'we' which I expressed in this passage from my book 'The Planet Remade'
This piece leads me to double down on my distrust of this slippery little word.
Geoengineering deserves serious discussion and serious disagreement, and this piece is not that.
PS I should probably declare an interest, lest people think this is simply sour grapes/jealousy. I agree with Mr McKibben that Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book, “Under a White Sky", is very good. It is timely, well reported and synthesises a powerful, disquieting whole.
I do not, though, agree that the 45 or so pages it devotes to solar geoengineering provide 'the fullest account yet' of the subject.

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More from @Eaterofsun

20 Feb
A geeky sidebar on #Wandavision, and the fact that the TV signal from Westview is encoded in the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR)
I wonder if this is at some level a reference to the fact that some of the CMBR is indeed on old broadcast TV wavelengths. I think it was dear @cgseife who first told me that about 1% of the noise seen as static on old TVs was in fact the long-wavelength tail of the CMBR
A fact which completely fucking blew my mind.
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8 Nov 20
So, there was a 10-minute discussion on @BBCRadio4 #TheWorldThisWeekend between three eminent foreign policy commentators & Ed Stourton on Biden and the world, and unless it was very brief and coincided with a moment of distraction there was no mention at all of #climate change
This seems a serious omission on the part of Mr Stourton and his producers, what with climate change being a critical issue and one in which the USA has fallen profoundly out of step.
Their decision to run the discussion as one that could be arranged on a regional basis may perhaps have made it hard to slot climate change in.
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8 Oct 18
The #IPCC #SR15 report says very little about solar #geoengineering, which is the main, but not only subject, of my book #ThePlanetRemade beyond saying that there is high agreement that a particular form of it could keep temperatures below 1.5C (Cross chapter box 10 in Chapter 4)
If the IPCC not going into this more seems an odd omission, given the topic, I think it is because a) the scientific understanding on solar #geoengineering, which obviously will never be complete, is still pretty sketchy in many respects (though not as sketchy as some may think)
b) the structure that the IPCC chose for the report (which was forced on it in part by the UNFCCC's mandate to it) did not allow it o assess solar #geoengineering's potential contribution in any of its scenarios
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1 Dec 17…
Today @carbonbrief has a big interview with @BillHareClimate of It covers many topics, some fascinatingly. But I want to take issue with some things he says about solar #geoengineering, aka #SRM or #SolarRadiationManagement 1/
Dr Hare tells @LeoHickman that, “along with...most physicists who have looked at” solar geoengineering, he thinks it is “a very dangerous technology”. There are forms of solar #geoengineering which could indeed be very dangerous. Two points to make about this: 2/
One: as @jack_stilgoe, @rose_cairns, Steve Rayner and others point out, geoengineering is not yet a technology; it is poorly defined conceptual space where a technology might be – a “technological imaginary”, as social scientists sometimes say 3/
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