March 2013

Arts & Letters

‘Earthmasters’ by Clive Hamilton

By David Ritter

In July last year an operation headed by American businessman Russ George dumped 100 tonnes of iron sulphate into the Pacific Ocean. The objective was to stimulate the growth of phytoplankton, which would be used to sequester carbon. Acting unilaterally, George claimed his intentions were noble, and not merely aimed at making a buck on the carbon-offset market. Diplomats and lawyers expressed their outrage, but the entrepreneur was upbeat, proclaiming, “good news, all around, for the planet”. As ethicist Clive Hamilton writes in his new book, Earthmasters: Playing God with the climate, the “era in which judgements must be made about geoengineering has begun”.

Hamilton defines geoengineering as “large-scale intervention in the climate system designed to counter global warming or offset some of its effects”. The two prominent ideas so far are “ocean fertilisation” (as illustrated by George’s maverick effort) and the proposal to pump sulphur into the atmosphere to ward off the sun’s heat. Hamilton’s informed, if lay, assessments of both are scathing, as neither appears to him to be much easier than cutting emissions, and each comes with calamitous risks and unknown consequences. Hamilton believes geoengineering exemplifies the Promethean urge to dominate nature, and prefers a cautionary Soterian ethic (Soteria being the Greek personification of safety and preservation), implying renewed commitment to conventional proposals for reducing carbon emissions.

Hamilton nimbly sets out the personal and institutional connections among prominent geoengineering advocates. Paradoxically, doubters of global warming are among the most enthusiastic supporters of extreme intervention in the world’s climate. He explains the apparent contradiction by suggesting that both positions stem from a deeper belief in the mastery of humankind over nature. The critical analysis of players and proposals is undertaken with Hamilton’s characteristic lucidity and directness, yet at times the debunking may have been better served by greater stylistic restraint. Hamilton also elects to embed his repudiation of the promise of geoengineering within a wider critique of contemporary consumer capitalism, when the linkage is not necessarily intrinsic.

The brute background to Earthmasters is Hamilton’s conclusion that “dramatic and long-lasting changes in the Earth’s climate now seem unavoidable”. There is a gulf between the emissions cuts that are necessary and the global commitments that are currently on the table – and the time for bridging is slight. Hamilton disentangles the grave and urgent question of whether there is any feasible “plan B” to cutting emissions from the “utopian techno enthusiasm” that geoengineering presents “good news all around”. In the face of dire projections, it is indelibly human to crave easy solutions or magical deliverance; Hamilton’s warning is that we must be resolutely careful of what we wish for. 

David Ritter
David Ritter is the CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific and a columnist for Global Policy. @David_Ritter

‘Earthmasters’ by Clive Hamilton, Allen and Unwin; $24.99
Cover: March 2013

March 2013

From the front page

Gladslide?

The Coalition’s win in NSW was hardly emphatic

The right reverts to form after Christchurch

Insisting that both sides are to blame does nothing to arrest far-right extremism

Image of ‘The Seventies’ by Michelle Arrow

Making the private public: ‘The Seventies’ by Michelle Arrow

This new history traces how the decade’s redefined politics shaped modern Australia

Image from ‘Destroyer’

Hell hath no fury: Karyn Kusama’s ‘Destroyer’

Nicole Kidman confronts in this LA crime thriller


In This Issue

‘Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott’ by David Marr, Black Inc, 256pp; $19.95

Political Animal

The Making of Tony Abbott

Quarterly Essay 49, ‘Not Dead Yet: Labor's Post-Left Future’ by Mark Latham, Black Inc, 101pp; $19.95

The Rise of the New Right

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Pemulwuy & Black Caesar

© Karen Kasmauski / National Geographic Stock

Fat City: What can stop obesity?


More in Arts & Letters

Image of Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, 2010

Rats, heroes and Kevin Rudd’s ‘The PM Years’

This memoir answers some questions about his deposal and return but raises others

Image of Gerald Murnane

Tracking time: Gerald Murnane’s ‘A Season on Earth’

Forty years on, the author’s second novel is reunited with its lost half

Image of Matmos

Clicks, plinks, hoots and thuds: Matmos’s ‘Plastic Anniversary’

The American experimental duo embrace the ‘sounds’ of a ubiquitous material

A French Western? Jacques Audiard on ‘The Sisters Brothers’

The celebrated director explains how he made a Hollywood staple his own


More in Noted

‘Exploded View’ by Carrie Tiffany

This new novel is most striking in how it diverges from its predecessors

‘Zebra and Other Stories’ by Debra Adelaide

Difficult-to-grasp characters populate this new collection

The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at QAGOMA

Politics, culture and colour collide in Brisbane

Still from The Cry

ABC TV’s ‘The Cry’

This Scottish–Australian drama successfully subverts the missing-child genre


Read on

The right reverts to form after Christchurch

Insisting that both sides are to blame does nothing to arrest far-right extremism

Image of ‘The Seventies’ by Michelle Arrow

Making the private public: ‘The Seventies’ by Michelle Arrow

This new history traces how the decade’s redefined politics shaped modern Australia

Image from ‘Destroyer’

Hell hath no fury: Karyn Kusama’s ‘Destroyer’

Nicole Kidman confronts in this LA crime thriller

Image from Hobart’s school strike for climate

The kids are alright

Climate-striking students have every right to protest


×
×