"The odd thing here is that this is a democratizing technology,’’ Nathan Myhrvold told me. “Rich, powerful countries might have invented much of it, but it will be there for anyone to use. People get themselves all balled up into knots over whether this can be done unilaterally or by one group or one nation. Well, guess what. We decide to do much worse than this every day, and we decide unilaterally. We are polluting the earth unilaterally. Whether it’s life-taking decisions, like wars, or something like a trade embargo, the world is about people taking action, not agreeing to take action. And, frankly, the Maldives could say, ‘Fuck you all—we want to stay alive.’ Would you blame them? Wouldn’t any reasonable country do the same?First of all "geo-engineering" isn't a technology because it does not actually exist to be anything. There is no there there to be judged, or maintained, or made available for use. Just because futurologists can make cartoons about mirror archipelagos in orbit, or mile-high undersea cathedrals of pipes sucking cold deep-sea water to warming surfaces, or vast fleets of airships spraying pseudo-volcanic sulfur into cloud banks doesn't make these fancies "technologies."
Geo-engineering proposals do not share technical commonalities, the demonstration that dumping tons of iron filings into the sea is an amazingly terrible idea doesn't immediately lead one to reject or approve other futurological fancies that happen to be described as "geo-engineering." What essentially characterizes "geo-engineering" as a phenomenon is not ultimately technical, it is discursive: "geo-engineering" is a characteristic way of talking about environmental issues that has nothing to do with the technical merits of any of the proposals subsumed within it. And when one observes the actual discourse in play, what quickly becomes evident is that "geo-engineering" is advocated by people who disdain public educational, regulatory, incentivizing approaches to climate remediation -- you know, actual environmentalism -- it is advocated by people who want the same extractive-industrial corporate-military actors that have profited from pollution and waste to continue to profit from promises of remediation, usually through the very same kinds of brute-force industrial-scaled enterprises that did the damage, it is advocated by people who believe that governance is absolutely unequal to the crises of climate change but who somehow believe that mega-scale infrastructure projects that would ultimately depend on governance for their funding, regulation, maintenance are the answer.
It is palpably ridiculous to hear someone who belligerently insists that "the world is about people taking action, not agreeing to take action" go on to declare his pet techno-utopian wet dream is "democratizing" because he imagines "geo-engingeers" as Randroidal sooper-men saying "Fuck you all" to the statists and relativists and then seriously kicking eco-ass for mega-profit. Dude, we all know that incumbent elites have been raking in cash while destroying the planet for generations and have essentially been saying "Fuck you all" the whole time. Indeed, corporations that profit from pollution and waste have proved more than happy to spend millions saying "Fuck you all" to the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists about the reality of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change. One is hardly surprised to find advocates of "geo-engineering" boondoggles sympathizing with such attitudes. But… I don't think that word "democracy" means what you think it means, guy.
Of course, libertopian futurology is deeply enamored of this sort of techno-utopian market based "gotcha" rhetoric. Cypherpunks thought crypto-anarchy was inevitable because people would profit from implementing it whether it was legal or not and once built it could not be stopped and nations would evaporate into the cyberspatial sprawl. Sure, financial fraudsters used digital networks to junk the planetary economy for plutocratic gain, but libertopia? Didn't happen. You guys can apologize later. Transhumanists thought and still think clone-armies of "enhanced" designer babies are inevitable for much the same reasons. They were and are and will ever remain wrong. Quite apart from the hilarity of suggesting that "anyone [can] use" the so-called "geo-engineering" rich countries invented (setting aside the whole difficulty of "using" non-existing stuff), when clearly only rich countries could hope to indulge in these sorts of pharaonic mega-whimsies and when the poor and not the rich would disproportionately suffer the negative climate externalities created by these interventions if any of them were ever to go past the toothy futurological fraudster peddling his Powerpoint presentation stage just as they have suffered disproportionately from the wasteful extractive polluting excesses of rich countries in the first place, one expects liber-techians to feel the "market" as a "spontaneous order" will inevitably be on their side on this.
It doesn't matter that market orders are actually never "natural" or "spontaneous" orders but are historically constituted by laws, customs, values, infrastructural affordances, and it doesn't matter that history is never driven by the socially indifferent accumulation of neutrally empowering technologies but by the struggles of the diversity of stakeholders to change to the distribution of costs, risks, and benefits of that change: techno-utopian ideologues rationalizing elite incumbent interests by pretending they will deliver transcendence of political quandaries in which they have in fact a specific political stake will never stop talking this way. This is what they are paid to do (a few for money and more for attention). But those of us who know better must not let them get away with this. Environmental activists and advocates of good accountable government must be aware that "geo-engineering" is absolutely an anti-governmental discourse, and to the extent that any serious environmental politics will involve government education about shared planetary problems, government regulation of polluters, government incentivization of sustainable practices, and government investment in ecological commons and public goods like reforestation, mass transit, and renewable energy to be anti-government is to be anti-environmentalist even if one is insisting their corporate-military science fictional magical thinking is really truly somehow a kind of green discourse. I don't care what Tyler Cowen says, his support of "geo-engineering" is robotically predictable. But shame on Wonkblog for linking uncritically to this anarcho-crapitalist earth-alienated pseudo-scientific clap trap.