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A Debate on Geoengineering: Vandana Shiva vs. Gwynne Dyer

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Supporters of geoengineering have proposed radical ways to alter the planet to decrease the level of greenhouse gas emissions. Proposals include creating artificial volcanoes to pollute the atmosphere with sulfur particles, fertilizing the oceans and placing sun-deflecting aluminum foil in the sky. But opposition is growing to geoengineering. We host a debate between Indian environmentalist, scientist, philosopher and eco-feminist, Vandana Shiva, and geopolitical analyst and columnist, Gwynne Dyer. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are Gwynne Dyer — he’s author of Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats — and Vandana Shiva joins us, an Indian environmentalist, scientist, philosopher, global justice activist and eco-feminist, a longtime critic of genetically modified crops and the system of corporate-driven agriculture and neoliberal globalization that’s privatized natural resources and impoverished farming and indigenous communities across the Global South.

Well, we’re talking about geoengineering. You just came from giving a speech last night at St. John the Divine. What are your thoughts on geoengineering, Vandana Shiva?

VANDANA SHIVA: Well, three thoughts. The first is, it is the idea of being able to engineer our lives on this very fragile and complex and interrelated and interconnected planet that’s created the mess we are in. It’s an engineering paradigm that created the fossil fuel age, that gave us climate change. And Einstein warned us and said you can’t solve problems with the same mindset that created them. Geoengineering is trying to solve the problems with the same old mindset of controlling nature. And the phrase that was used, of cheating — let’s cheat — you can’t cheat nature. That’s something people should recognize by now. There is no cheating possible. Eventually, the laws of Gaia determine the final outcome.

But I think the second thing about geoengineering is, we’ve just had the volcano in Iceland, in — yes, it was Iceland. And look at the collapse of the economy. And here are scientists thinking that’s a solution? Because they’re thinking in a one-dimensional way. It’s linear, issue of global warming, anything to do global cooling. I work on ecological agriculture. We need that sunlight for photosynthesis. The geoengineers don’t realize, sunshine is not a curse on the planet. The sun is not the problem. The problem is the mess of pollution we are creating. So, again, we can’t cheat.

And the final issue is that these shortcuts that are attempted from places of power — and I would add, places of ignorance — of the ecological web of life, are then creating the war solution, because geoengineering becomes war on a planetary scale, with ignorance and blind spots, instead of taking the real path, which is helping communities adapt and become resilient. That’s the work we do in India. We save the seeds that will be able to deal with sea level rise or cyclones, so that we have salt-tolerant varieties. We distributed them after the tsunami. Last year we had a monsoon failure. But instead of sending armies out, we distributed seeds. And the farmers who had seeds of millets had a crop. The farmers who were waiting for the green revolution chemical cultivation had a crop failure. So building resilience and building adaptation is the human response. It’s the ecological response. And we don’t have to panic. The panic and fear is coming out of ignorance.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask you about the — something you’ve talked about quite often: the global land grab that is going on around the world by countries fearing the scarcity in terms of their food products, going out and grabbing other countries’ lands. Could you talk about that?

VANDANA SHIVA: Well, you know, my last book, Soil Not Oil, I talk about the fact that, you know, the oil culture has given us climate change. And if we continue on that same paradigm, the only next step is eco-imperialism: grab what remains of the resources of the poor and take it to create insularity and a false defense of security, because the planet is interconnected, our lives are interconnected. The rich cannot isolate themselves in islands of defense against a planetary instability. The other option is earth democracy, as I talk about it. Now, those who have power, those who have money, and those who are driven by greed and injustice, are now seeking to grab the lands of the poor. It’s happening on a very large scale in Africa. It’s happening in India. The World Bank is promoting it, because there’s this very false idea that large-scale farms will help us with food security, when all the detail is showing smaller farms produce more food, so if you have to be food secure, you’d better be small. Diversified farms can deal with climate change much better, because if one crop doesn’t do well, some other crop will do fine. And the monoculture of large farms will be more vulnerable to climate collapse. And, of course, the biggest issue is half the world farms, you can’t rob them of their livelihoods.

Forget the running out of water and climate wars related to water wars. You’re going to have — you already are having in India, as a result of the land grab, in this case more for mining and industry, what we are seeing is a war within. And Operation Green Hunt has been launched by the government in order to clean out the lands to be able to grab the lands on behalf of corporations. We talked about the Kashmir crisis and the shootouts. But those scenes are taking place in every remote tribal area today. And that issue of war for resources, that as long as you’re powerful, you have the right to grab anyone’s resources, and you have a right to use all kinds of illegitimate violence, that militarized mindset that I say comes from capitalist patriarchy, is really at the root of so many of our problems, which is why we need to feel at home with nature, and we need to recognize that the resources of the earth belong to all, have to be shared. And the land rights of the poor defenseless indigenous person and the peasant is the biggest peace initiative of today, and it’s the biggest climate insurance of today.

AMY GOODMAN: Gwynne Dyer, define and defend geoengineering, and tell us which governments are engaging in it.

GWYNNE DYER: Well, first of all, Vandana and I agree about 95 percent.

VANDANA SHIVA: We agree about the problem, that there is a problem.

GWYNNE DYER: Yeah, yeah. We agree about the problem, and I don’t disagree with any of her solutions. But I don’t think they’re going to happen in time, if we do not intervene directly, as well, to avoid a massive human dieback in population. We are heading for the brink very fast.

VANDANA SHIVA: But your solutions commit the planet to a massive dieback.

GWYNNE DYER: I don’t — I don’t agree with you. Holding the temperature down is an intervention. It’s an intervention that’s intended to be temporary. It wins you time to get your emissions down. The goal is still to get the emissions down. And many other goals that you and I would agree upon are attainable, but only with time. And we don’t have the time. We are going to be — the last report out of the Hadley Center suggested, on current track, we are four degrees Celsius hotter, average global temperature, by 2060. It’s only fifty years.

VANDANA SHIVA: But Gwynne, every one of your solutions is further disrupting the web of life, which is the problem. The problem is not warming and cooling. We can survive. The planet can survive that.

GWYNNE DYER: Oh, of course, it can. But not all of us.

VANDANA SHIVA: Yeah, but the problem —- not all of us, but the problem is the -— geoengineering is an experiment. It is not a solution.


VANDANA SHIVA: And you cannot experiment in such a violent way without full assessment of the impact. And as I said, just the simple thing of blocking the sun rays is a problem for the planet. It’s a problem for humanity.

GWYNNE DYER: You’re talking one percent. I mean, you’re talking about one percent of solar radiation.

VANDANA SHIVA: No, but the iron filings? Iron filings being thrown into the ocean?

GWYNNE DYER: I don’t like iron —- that’s ridiculous.

VANDANA SHIVA: Or reflectors in the sky, or artificial volcanoes. But that’s geoengineering. Every one of them, if the solution is looked at, all its spinoffs, in a full ecological way, and a full social impact of what does it mean. And the most important thing is, it’s undemocratic. I think the crisis of the climate is so serious that people need to be involved. The problem of geoengineering or genetic engineering is a bunch of experts sitting with a bunch of corporations saying, “We’ll decide on behalf of the people.”


VANDANA SHIVA: That’s part of the problem.


VANDANA SHIVA: And that’s why I really respect Evo Morales.

GWYNNE DYER: Well, I’m -—

VANDANA SHIVA: He called the people of the world after the collapse of Copenhagen, and so the people of the world will decide the solution.

GWYNNE DYER: OK, the people of the world will not decide. You know that, and I know that. This is not —-

VANDANA SHIVA: But they are deciding.

GWYNNE DYER: I haven’t noticed yet.

VANDANA SHIVA: Well, there’s a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth that came out of that amazing gathering, that we need to shift to an earth-centered paradigm -—

GWYNNE DYER: I’d love to believe this.

VANDANA SHIVA: — rather than an arrogant, narrow, reductionist, mechanistic, science expert-based paradigm.

GWYNNE DYER: Do you know what will happen? Do you know what will happen —-

AMY GOODMAN: I just want to interrupt for a second -—


AMY GOODMAN: — to say, Gwynne Dyer, if you can explain —- I don’t even think most people understand what geoengineering is.

GWYNNE DYER: OK. Geoengineering is short-term interventions to avoid a climate runaway disaster, in order to give us more time to get our emissions down, which, in themselves, will cause a runaway climate disaster if we simply allow them to go ahead. Without geoengineering, you hit that disaster in less than fifty years. And you probably need more than fifty years to get your emissions down. Now, first of all, obviously, you’ve got to do the experiments. You’ve got to figure out: Are there horrendous side effects you don’t want to do? But if you don’t do this, you know who dies first? It’s the people in the tropics and the subtropics. Not up here. We watch you die on television.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Can I ask you, in terms of geoengineering, what companies or what governments are now promoting this as a potential solution?

GWYNNE DYER: We still don’t have any official government commitment to it anywhere.

JUAN GONZALEZ: What companies are investing in it and developing it?

GWYNNE DYER: Companies are investing in a couple of marginal things that, frankly, I don’t believe have any credibility. Vandana mentioned iron filings chucked into the sea. Well, I don’t think that’s actually -—

AMY GOODMAN: What does that do?

GWYNNE DYER: Well, the idea was you cause blooms of algae, which will then die, and as their bodies drop to the seabed, embed carbon in the seabed, and take it out of the atmosphere.

AMY GOODMAN: And volcanoes, what are they?

GWYNNE DYER: Well, the volcano, the idea is that big volcanoes, when they explode, put sulfur dioxide, large amounts of it, into the stratosphere, where it stays for a couple of years, because it doesn’t rain up there. The particles stay, and they reflect enough sunlight to lower the temperature of the earth.

AMY GOODMAN: And seeding the clouds?

GWYNNE DYER: Seeding the clouds is make them more reflective, spray up some sea water into low-lying clouds, and they’ll reflect a little bit more incoming sunlight than they did before —-

AMY GOODMAN: And what else?

GWYNNE DYER: —- and lower the temprature. The other proposals — I mentioned, you know, paint the hollow roofs green —- or white, but I think that’s probably a one-time solution.

VANDANA SHIVA: And I wouldn’t object to that.

GWYNNE DYER: No, I wouldn’t object -—

VANDANA SHIVA: What color you paint, it doesn’t really matter.

GWYNNE DYER: Yeah, yeah. There’s a new one that’s come up recently. A fellow at Harvard suggested that you could actually begin with rivers and resevoirs, but put rather microscopic scale bubbbles into the water, which would whiten it. In other words, you know, it would reflect more sunlight than normal dark water does, without actually changing the quality of the water.

AMY GOODMAN: And as Juan asked, the corporations involved?

GWYNNE DYER: In none of these cases so far are there corporations involved. This is coming out of the scientific community. They’re looking for —-

AMY GOODMAN: Is it also coming out of the Pentagon?

GWYNNE DYER: —- links with both the Pentagon, I think, and the scientific community, and with corporate funding. But the initiatives are coming out of the scientific community. The scientific community is scared and desperate. I mean, there’s an undercurrent of panic in most of the interviews that I held with the scientists.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Vandana, Gwynne’s argument that there’s just not enough time to talk about the people-oriented solutions you’re talking about?

VANDANA SHIVA: Well, the first thing is, there’s never enough time, but you have to find the solutions. And to use the excuse of immediacy and urgency to take the wrong action is not a solution. In terms of time, we do orgaic farming, and again, in my book Soil Not Oil, we’ve shown that a localized ecological biodiverse system of farming could solve 40 percent of the climate problem, because 40 percent emissions are coming from food miles, nitrogen oxide emissions, cutting down the Amazon forest, all linked to a globalized industrialized food system. Tomorrow we can do that. In three years’ time, all of the world’s farming could be ecological, absorbing the carbon dioxide and putting fertility back in the soil. It’s not a fifty-year experiment. It’s an assured, guaranteed path that has been shown to work.

And it does three things for you. It reduces emissions, while increasing food security and food productivity and increasing water security, because soils rich in carbon and organic matter are the best reservoir of water. But I want to just mention — actually, there’s — just as there are a group of scientists who are panicking because of their reductionist approach —- I’m a scientist. The reason I do ecology today is because I realize science was just shrinking in terms of the knowledge an individual gets in a particular stream. And so many of the narrow expertise is where you’re getting this panic, because they don’t know there are other solutions. I’d love to take some of your geoengineering friends from the scientific community to our farm, to show here’s a solution that works in the short run, in the immediate run. But there is an organized movement now -—

GWYNNE DYER: I don’t think —- I don’t think that they -—

VANDANA SHIVA: I want to mention this.


VANDANA SHIVA: There is a movement against geoengineering called HOME — Hands Off Mother Earth —- citizens telling irresponsible scientists, arrogant in their path, hands off mother earth.

GWYNNE DYER: Look, your solutions are good. They will work. And if you were the dictator of the world and could impose -—

VANDANA SHIVA: Which I would never be.

GWYNNE DYER: No, but let me finish. Let me finish. If you were the dictator of the world —-

AMY GOODMAN: You have ten seconds.

GWYNNE DYER: —- and could change land ownership patterns in the United States, like that, you could have it all done in three years.

VANDANA SHIVA: It’ll happen.

GWYNNE DYER: You can’t do that.

VANDANA SHIVA: No, it will happen.

GWYNNE DYER: Not in three years. Not in thirty.

VANDANA SHIVA: The young people will. They are ready to make change.

AMY GOODMAN: We will leave it there. Vandana Shiva, her books — well, among them, Soil Not Oil. And Gwynne Dyer, Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats.

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