cwbeijer@gmail.com / About / Archive / Other media
A few points on geoengineering - 10/16/18
1. Consensus opposition to geoengineering appears to be eroding.

Just ten years ago, journalist Gwynne Dyer - having interviewed scientists, policymakers, and government officials from around the world - reported "a very broad consensus that we should not even discuss geo-engineering techniques".1 This position has also been popular among liberal-left institutions such as Greenpeace, for example, which argues that the mere "concept creates a 'moral hazard' that we will not take the safest and most sustainable options...if faced with the promise" of geoengineering.2

A lot has changed since then. By 2012, one study reported "a range of perspectives within [the scientific] community" about geoengineering, "from enthusiastic supporters of research to cautionary and oppositional voices."3 Today, a typical article observes that "Interest in governing experiments to alter Earth’s climate is growing as scientists increasingly look at geoengineering to slow global warming."4  And a typical illustration of this shift could be seen at the Climate Engineering Conference 2017 organized by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, which featured lively debate among scientists and stakeholders from all over the world.5


2. The discourse on geoengineering is not being driven by ignorance of the risks.

Some standard caveats from advocates for geo-engineering research:
  • "Geoengineering of the Earth’s climate is very likely to be technically possible. However...there are major uncertainties regarding its effectiveness, costs, and environmental impacts." - The Royal Society
  • "[Solar radiation management] exists in the modelling world...there's so much we don't know." - Dr. Ben Kravitz
  • Geoengineering may "cause environmental harm or worsen policy failures—for example, undermining emissions cuts or triggering international conflict. Research is needed to develop capabilities and assess effectiveness and risks (field research as well as model and laboratory studies), but geoengineering requires competent, prudent, and legitimate governance." - Edward A. Parson and David W. Keith 6
Online, meanwhile, discussions of geoengineering are driven not by a disregard of risk, but by the exact opposite: extreme paranoia. One study noted for example that
Conspiratorial views have accounted for ~ 60% of geoengineering discourse on social media over the past decade. Of that, Twitter has accounted for >90%... 7
Overwhelmingly, skepticism of geoengineering is driven by anti-government paranoia and scientific illiteracy. Leftists should bear this in mind, and avoid playing on right-wing tropes about government overreach and scientists who are "playing god" in their critique.


3. Geoengineering complements the fight for a sustainable economy.

No one argues that, say, investments in public transportation will distract from the fight for sustainable energy, or that we have to choose between reducing our consumption of meat or reforesting initiatives. In cases like these, everyone is perfectly capable of understanding that the fight against climate change will certainly involve a wide range of changes and investments, that none of them can solve the problem alone, and that we have to fight for all of them at once. So it remains, for me, unconvincing that when it comes to geoengineering, civilization can no longer walk and chew gum at the same time, and will inevitably opt for its proposals at the expense of the broader agenda. There's a lot that needs to be done, and we need to do all of it.





1. Dyer, Gwynne. Climate Wars. (loc 131)
2. Greenpeace. Responses to calls for evidence, Part VI. Geoengineering the climate: Science, governance and uncertainty.
3. Corner, Adam, Nick Pidgeon and Karen Parkhill. Perceptions of geoengineering: public attitudes, stakeholder perspectives, and the challenge of ‘upstream’ engagement.
4. Harvey, Chelsea. World Needs to Set Rules for Geoengineering Experiments, Experts Say. Scientific American.
5. Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Conference Report.
6. Edward A. Parson and David W. Keith. End the Deadlock on Governance of Geoengineering Research. Science. 
7. Tingley, Dustin and Gernot Wagner. Solar geoengineering and the chemtrails conspiracy on social media. 
"Honor" is not why liberals liked John McCain - 10/1/18
John McCain's reputation as "honorable" emerged in 2000 in contrast to the politic, smooth-talking candidacy of George W. Bush. He maintained the posture of a gadfly throughout Bush's presidency, and Democrats opportunistically praised him for it because they hated the president.

As Bush's time in office came to an end and McCain emerged as the Republican nominee, his numbers among Democrats began to drop dramatically. They challenged his status as a maverick, criticized his military service, and accused him of selling out to the right by selecting Sarah Palin. A typical assessment:
Obama and his supporters decried McCain’s tactics. Yet some of the strongest criticism came from people whom McCain revered or who had long revered him...It was about the very nature of John McCain. In their eyes, at least, their hero was losing not only an election but his reputation—or, as one prominent backer put it, “his soul.”
As readily as they declared McCain honorable, Democrats retracted the compliment. Because he was their opponent, McCain's numbers were miserable for most of Obama's presidency, hovering at 42% by 2013.

It was only in the Trump era, after his sensational vote against an Obamacare repeal bill, that McCain won back a majority of Democrats, with numbers surging to 71%. Once again, Democrats declared him a man of honor and principle; once again, it just so happened that McCain was perceived as a foil to a Republican president.


Samuel Farber, writing for Jacobin, argues that "It was that sense of honor that many liberals found admirable, making them willing to overlook McCain’s hard-right politics and praise him upon his death."

The truth, however, is probably much more mundane. When it was in their partisan interest to do so, liberals praised McCain as an honorable man - and when it was against their partisan interest to call him honorable, liberals attacked him as a dishonorable sellout. Republicans, of course, behaved identically. There is not very much evidence that "honor" acted as some kind of of deeply-rooted cultural force that either impeded or enhanced John McCain's power; as far as I can tell, it was just a vacuous rhetoric that people used to articulate the predictable preferences of partisan politics.