I want to be clear that I do not pre-emptively oppose every single technical proposal that is promoted under the notion "geo-engineering" (though most of them do seem to me to be highly reckless and expensive and dubious in the extreme), but I am enormously perplexed about the way the term and discourse "geo-engineering" function, what they subsume and what they exclude and what effect these exclusions have when "geo-engineering" is treated as a kind of "futurological environmentalism."
Mooney accepts my "rhetorical nit-picking" that his definition of geo-engineering was too broad and in a way that might confuse discussion of the issue at hand. That issue is, surely, whether this or that particular vast unknowably consequential expensive centralized for-profit-or-pork corporate-military mega-engineering project is something worth trying or not. But then Mooney proposes to specify his definition simply by adding the word "large" which, neither actually specifies it much nor explains why geo-engineers seem to disdain the plenty-large aggregate effects of good regulation and the design and lifestyle changes arising from more mainstream environmental education, agitation, organization, and legislation.
It is the latter which makes one wonder if "geo-engineering" isn't just another silly boys-n-toys techno-utopian futurological exercise in handwaving too unserious to waste the time of people claiming to be serious about the serious trouble we are in due to catastrophic ongoing anthropogenic climate change, but amounts instead, as I said, to a kind of "greenwashing" effort to distract attention from the dangers at hand, from the bad extractive-industrial actors involved, and even enable some of those very bad actors to profit still more from flashy faux-remediation boondoggles.
But rather more worrisome for me are Mooney's final questions, which are, after all, eerily familiar ones:
[W]hat if it is completely accurate and realistic to question whether we seem capable of an adequate response to climate change? To doubt this capacity makes us–us here includes many top scientists–into denialists? That’s just weird.
Of course, what is crucial here is that little pronoun "we." Mooney's premise is that the "we" that "includes many top scientists" (but, more to the point, includes many corporate-military think-tank scenarists and corporate CEOs and their flunkies) are capable of solving the problem of global warming, when the "we" of "we, the people" fails to do so. Given the role of many such think-tanks and CEO flunkies in misinformation campaigns that keep conventional environmental discourse from educating and organizing to combat the shared threats of global warming, topsoil and freshwater and species loss, toxic pollution and the rest, one wonders just where Mooney's confidence is coming from here. I am far from denigrating scientists in saying this, as I hope a quick glance at my blogroll will attest, but I think "geo-engineering" is like so many futurological discourses, in that it is a superficially selective application of some science inflated via hyperbolic extrapolations and exaggerations to "sell" something to the rubes rather than to discover truths or enable the solution of shared problems in a way equal both to the demands of the problem and to the demands of the diversity of stakeholders to that problem.
Democracy is the idea that people should have a say in the decisions that affect them. Scientists are citizens, as are CEOs, and they, too, should have a say in such decisions -- but no more than anybody else. Of course, scientists are indispensable in discovering many of the relevant facts at hand (I am not menacing the force of scientific consensus with scary elite effete aesthete humanities department relativism, never fear), but facts are not the only thing of relevance here, questions of cost, risk, benefit, significance, priority, trust are in play here, and stealthfully suffuse the pseudo-scientificity of "geo-engineering" proposals.
You'll forgive me if I suggest that the scientists and technocrats who detonated an atomic device while entertaining the possibility that they would ignite the atmosphere and destroy all life on earth might have found useful the perspectives of their fellow-citizens who shared that precarized earth when that decision was being made, you'll forgive me if I suggest that CEOs who fill the airwaves with "safe-cigarette" "boundlessly resourceful earth" "no oilspill in the Gulf is logically possible" nonsense to protect their profits, come what may, might be usefully supplemented by the perspectives of citizens from other points of view when public decisions are being made by them.
As I said before, I believe "geo-engineering" is functionally a denial that mainstream environmental politics implemented through democratic institutions can work and the proposal that corporate-military incumbent-elites can solve all our problems for us by declaring War! on them with techno-utopian techno-fixes. Yes, I do say that this is a form of denialism. It is democracy-denialism. And I am not "weird" to suggest this, and Mooney is not "weird" in deriding it. The attitude is far too commonplace to be declared weird. The word for geo-engineering discourse is oligarchic.
As I have said before, I am a big fan of much of Mooney's work apart from this, one hopes, futurological tangent of his, especially of his exposure of christianist and corporatist debasements of good government accountable both to constituents and facts. I will continue to recommend his books to my students. And I appreciate very much that he took the time to respond to my obscure criticism.