The Heart of Green Economy is Technology

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The Technology Economy panel at the ISEE 2012 Conference – Ecological Economics and Rio+20 discussed the urgent need of a governing body for technology assessment specifically focused on geoengineering.  The panel discussed the potential for the UN to adopt an international institute to assess and monitor the safety of new and existing technology using the precautionary principle. Panelist Pat Mooney, Right Livelihood Award winner (Alternative Nobel Prize), and  ETC Group founder, said that the global governance of geoengineering technologies is the key to improving knowledge exchange on technological adoptions.

According to the 2012 New Oxford English dictionary, geoegineering is defined as “the deliberate large-scale manipulation of an environmental process that affects the earth’s climate, in an attempt to counteract the effects of global warming.” Basically, it has a technological approach that does not include the change in consumption patterns or the promotion of low-tech organic agriculture. These technologies are controversial, ethically questionable and currently do not assess their risks over the long term.

One example of geoengineering as a way to cool the climate is solar radiation management. This technology reflects the sun back into space using spaceshuttle reflectors.

Another example of geoengineering is putting iron into ocean water to promote phytoplankton blooms, which cools surface water temperatures and captures CO2 from the atmosphere. This method has a severe effect on the oceanographic ecosystem and marine life, which is already heavily impacted by anthropological activities. During the Days of Dialouge the UN did not reach an agreement on the issue of ocean fertilization known as “Oceans 11” hopefully in the last few days of delegating they will reach an agreement stating the need to monitor the technologies used to remove CO2.

The most controversial of geoengineering strategies is the implementation of weather modification, which really gets to the punch of developing technology to change our planet. This science is still pending on patents, including hurricane suppression or redirection.

This is serious stuff with great technological advancements, but why fumble with science we still don’t understand? In the absence of political will to implement reduced carbon targets and behavioral changes, geoengineering provides a viable solution. However, it provides a series of risks as mentioned above. I support Mr. Mooney on his advocacy for global governance of geoengineering, as well as the evaluation of other new and emerging technologies, like genetic engineering, that may pose grave threats to the environment and hundreds of millions of people who depend on healthy livelihoods.

If being exposed to modified food which make us ill we have now reverted  back to organic, locally produced food.  Imagine, modifying the earth’s ecosystem? If there is a problem, reverting it won’t be easy. It doesn’t seem to be a rational way to kick start a healthy environment.


4 thoughts on “The Heart of Green Economy is Technology

  1. That’s indeed a very controversial and intriguing topic!

    Other examples of this type of interventions I’ve heard about are:
    to counter greenhouse effect – spraying sulphur compounds into the high atmosphere to reflect sunlight away from earth (simulation of volcanic eruptions, well known for their cooling effect!),
    or to decrease the sea temperature – installing in the ocean a number of floating funnels that draw nutrient-rich cold water from the deep.

    From my perspective the main challenge and threat of geoengineering is that its approach seems to be focused on solving a given problem while treating, ceteris paribus, all the other factors unchanged. And the complexity and interdependencies of various elements of natural environment shouldn’t be treated lightly…
    Still, apart from human arrogance and unknown side-effect I find geoengineering very dangerous as it may simply weaken the resolve to reduce national carbon emissions.

    Above that, if such climate control is really possible, then anyway I just can’t imagine the world reaching an agreement with regard to the ideal, global temperature. Who would regulate or govern that? Or worse, what if e.g. China or Russia, having such technology at their disposal, would start playing with it for their individual sake?

    Definitely that’s a very risky thing, but I cannot get one thought out of my head… maybe we should have solutions like that at hand in case we reach an absolute emergency situation?
    I personally hope we’d rather avoid a scenario of this sort…

  2. Santos Dumont, the Brazilian co-inventor of airplanes, committed suicide because his invention was turned into a war machine. Santos Dumont was a peace advocate, he believed airplanes were going to unite people into a global peaceful community. After he saw the uses of airplanes in World War I he fell into depression. He said “I use a knife to cut the cheese, but it can also be used to stab someone. I was a fool in thinking only about the cheese.”

    His last words before hanging himself after seeing his São Paulo bombarded by airplanes were: “what have I done.” Of course we cannot ignore technology, but we have to assume it inherently can be used for good and evil. Technology cannot solve any of the world’s problems, but it can create new ones.

  3. Indeed, Dawid, everything you’ve just mentioned is exactly what inspired me to write this post. I feel like a lot of the discussions currently taking place in Rio are discussing ways in governing over governments and business’s crazy technology initiatives. I am really looking forward to hearing the results post Rio+20.

    I also think that the technologies that you’ve suggested are great alternatives but definitely I think the precautionary principle is holistically required at all stages of any new emerging technology.

  4. ‘governing over the governments’ – that reminds me of the speech delivered by Bernd Kolb during the last edition of oikos Winter School ( He was claiming the need of an international government, mainly prompted by the necessity of environmental protection.
    But then he proved to be quite inconsistent as at some point, at the beginning of his presentation talking about ‘mimicry of nature’, he put forward an example of human brain (central governing unit 🙂 that simply cannot control all the processes in human body (that e.g. occur on the cell level), because it would melt down within a second…

    Of course that’s another topic that can easily trigger inspired discussions.

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