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Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering

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This book goes to the heart of the unfolding reality of the twenty-first  international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have all failed, and before the end of the century Earth is projected to be warmer than it has been for 15 million years. The question “can the crisis be avoided?” has been superseded by a more frightening one, “what can be done to prevent the devastation of the living world?” And the disturbing answer, now under wide discussion both within and outside the scientific community, is to seize control of the very climate of the Earth itself. Clive Hamilton begins by exploring the range of technologies now being developed in the field of geoengineering--the intentional, enduring, large-scale manipulation of Earth’s climate system. He lays out the arguments for and against climate engineering, and reveals the extent of vested interests linking researchers, venture capitalists, and corporations. He then examines what it means for human beings to be making plans to control the planet’s atmosphere, probes the uneasiness we feel with the notion of exercising technological mastery over nature, and challenges the ways we think about ourselves and our place in the natural world.

264 pages, Hardcover

First published February 15, 2013

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About the author

Clive Hamilton

39 books117 followers
Clive Hamilton AM FRSA is an Australian public intellectual and Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics and the Vice-Chancellor's Chair in Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University. He is a member of the Board of the Climate Change Authority of the Australian Government, and is the Founder and former Executive Director of The Australia Institute. He regularly appears in the Australian media and contributes to public policy debates. Hamilton was granted the award of Member of the Order of Australia on 8 June 2009 for "service to public debate and policy development, particularly in the fields of climate change, sustainability and societal trends".

(From Wikipedia.)

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Displaying 1 - 26 of 26 reviews
Profile Image for Julian Douglass.
304 reviews11 followers
August 6, 2021
A very interesting look into how these technologies can help us solve some of the issues of the climate crisis that we are in. It is a very short book, so I feel that most of these technologies are described in greater detail somewhere else. I think Mr. Hamilton needs to spend a little more time on the ethical issues, and how to stop this from getting into hands of rogue government or rogue non-government actors. Interesting intro though.
Profile Image for Jose Moa.
519 reviews65 followers
January 28, 2016
This is a deep ethical,sociological and technical book about the ethical monstruosity of to playing God with the Earth climate

Geoengineering is to change the global planetary climate using artificial tools
Thre are two clas of geoengineering.
First:to extract carbón dioxid of the atmsophere in order to low this gas concentraction,but the amount of the carbón dioxide send by humans to the atmosphere is so enormous, that change it would need a enormous industrial complex imposible of sustain by expensive, more that to change to alternative sources;the fertilization of oceans with iron is no so efective as as first thougt and would severely afect other ecosistems.
Second : to altere the solar income energy by spreading reflective aerosols in the stratosphere ,in this case sulfate is effective ,feasible and cheap,but has the problema of acidification,depletion of ozone layer and is adictive in the sense that once began it has to be sustained forever because if not in very short time the temperatura rebounce could be catastrphic.
There are not magig bullet to fix the climate.
The only solution is to reduce emissions changing to other sources of energy and mitigation of the damage done.

Conservative ultraliberal organizations and think tanks first denied climate change or the influence of rising levels of carbón dioxide in atmosphere but they said that in the worst case is the solution of geoengineering,by that is no matter of worry,they in no case think about reduce emissions because it will modify the occidental way of life and the continuous economical growth.
This groups are generally financied by fossil fuel corporations.
They have a blind faith in the technologie and follow the biblical quote : grow ,multiply,, dominate the Earth;in this filosophy the Earth is almost a enemy that has to be defeated.

Also geoengineering is attractive for many people and for the stablishment because they have in it an alibi to not change nothing in the empty consumist,waste of resources,way of life and faith in forever economical growth.

By other hand this ultraliberal lobbies see in the geoengineering a good oportunity for make big busines in it inplementation.

But there are another great complication in geoengineering because climate good for a state could be bad for other and this could generate tensions or wars,climate wars,except that be a consensual decisión by UN but this seems unlike.

By all this geoengineering seems a last desesperate measure put in practice only in the case of a climate apocalipsis,and only in this case would be ethical its use;but it has the danger to give many people a false sense of security that difficults the change to a more rational way of life and the search and implementation of alternative sources of enegy not carbón based,it would be as one driving at 150 mph by a highway with the hope that in case of a collision the security belts and airbags would save his life.

For me a fundamental book on geoengineering and its sociological,political,ethical and environemental problems,that i strongly recomend to everybody

Profile Image for Rob.
144 reviews37 followers
May 4, 2013
Australia for being a small country certainly punches above its weight. We are one of the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide but yet we have some of the best authors (Flannery, Hamilton etc) alerting us to the danger of climate change. Maybe they go hand in hand.
Earthmasters is a timely book about the dawn of geoengineering. Like Hamilton I have come to the conclusion that we have passed the point of no return for climate change. Our climate has changed and is on an unstoppable path to probably 6 degrees hotter future. This book will be a standard a reference for the debate we are about to have as climate emergencies come with increasing ferocity and frequency. Clive Hamilton has framed this issue as a debate between the Prometheans and Soterians. The Prometheans are those that believe that humans should and can successfully intervene in the climate of the Earth with technologies such as solar sheilds, iron fertilization of the oceans, and sulfur particle seeding of the atmosphere. Soterians are the cautious ones urging the drastic cutting of CO2 emmisions and more natural interventions such as the planting of forests. Soterians are mindful of the unknowable outcomes of intervening in earth systems.
Beside the philosophical discussion there is a more immediate political and economic ramifications of this debate. The geoengineers are almost to a person former scientists working for one of the most infamous cold war nuclear research facilities namely the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory . The Livermore Laboratory was run by Teller the father of the H bomb. This work on the technical side of nuclear weapons morphed into giving policy advice about nuclear weapons.
Who finances the research into geoengineering? Guess who Bill Gates who it seems thinks that renewables are a joke and a bevy of big polluters such as Exxon, Shell and assorted coal producers. It seems the very same companies and their hired gun anti-renewable policy institutes are the ones pushing for this drastic intervention in the earths atmosphere. They see profits in continuing to pollute and in the implementation of these vast uncertain schemes. They are against any international supervision of their research and indeed there is a danger that a rogue billionaire or a "coalition of the willing" as in the Iraq war will simply implement these schemes that will change our planet forever.
Hamilton points out that it is the very same thinking that got us into this mess in the first place. We just can't use our big brains to bare on the these problems. The Earth is not there simply for humans to have mastery over. Whether we like it or not we are part of a planet system.
Profile Image for Elisabeth.
Author 11 books41 followers
April 23, 2014
Earthmasters is an absolutely fascinating book. It covers the science of the most "promising" geoengineering research, the political, corporate and organizational interests involved in geoengineering, and the ethical dilemmas that come along with it.

Before reading this book, I thought geoengineering was still a fringe activity: something we are researching "just in case" even though we all know it would be crazy to do.

I was so very wrong. This book is a wake up call to anyone who thinks that humans wouldn't be crazy enough to attempt to geoengineer the planet because we are too lazy and selfish to stop using fossil fuels. We *are* too lazy and selfish to stop using fossil fuels, and it's just a matter of counting down the days until some government, or some rogue billionaire decides it is worth taking matters into their own hands.

The book starkly lays out the truth. We are heading for disaster one way or another: either we keep using fossil fuels as we do today and do nothing, or we keep using fossil fuels as we do now and do something insane to try to offset the effects. (The third choice, to stop using fossil fuels has been roundly rejected by the powers that be.)

That humanity seems to be mostly content to ignore this truth is what's so mind boggling to both myself, and the author, Clive Hamilton. He is doing his best, through his books, to try to inform us. And we are all mostly ignoring him. The money to be made from fossil fuels is just too great. (Even organizations that deny climate change are getting in on the geoengineering gig, to hedge their bets so they can continue to make money on fossil fuels!).

I urge everyone to read this book: know what we're in for. Not because we can prevent it at this point, but as a reminder to go out and enjoy life to the fullest NOW. Because it's gonna be over before we know it.

Profile Image for Heidi.
393 reviews
April 17, 2013
This is an accessible and thought-provoking exploration of the geoengineering solutions which aim to address the ever-burgeoning effects of climate change. These are the technological innovations designed, not to address the underlying causes of climate-change but to engineer the climate to meet human needs (physical, social, political and economic). This is a frightening look at how and why the human manipulation of planetary systems are being taken seriously despite a lack of understanding of their ramifications. I'm Soterian all the way - caution and preservation.
Profile Image for Floris.
99 reviews3 followers
November 19, 2022
Despite being almost a decade old, this overview of the ideas, realities, and ethics surrounding geoengineering (GE) is still very relevant and thorough. Hamilton’s approach to the topic is very systematic, starting with a list of existing and (near) future GE methods, before mapping out the key points of the debate: who is involved, what their intentions/motivations are, how geopolitics plays a role in the debate, and what the ethics of GE are. The book is quite concise, very easy to read (even in the more abstract or ethical sections), and is clearly built on a very wide knowledge base. One issue I have with Hamilton's analysis is that it gives a lot of attention to the crazies/nuts of the GE movement, who admittedly have a lot of influence on what gets discussed and what gets focused on, but ultimately represent an extreme minority of people with GE or GE-aligned ideas. I would have liked to hear more about the "common man's" GE, the moderates, the people on the fence and such. In this respect it doesn’t help that Hamilton – an Australian based at an Australian university – almost exclusively addresses an American audience with his book. Yes, he includes some examples from his host country, and there are a couple subsections on Russia and China. But when he talks about the “public” he implicitly (and occasionally explicitly) means Americans. This, while the scale of and interest in GE is worldwide, and its most important (and least heard) stakeholders are people living in areas vulnerable to climate change, like low-lying islands or heavily agrarian regions with limited infrastructure. It would have been nice to include some of those perspectives in this discussion.

Details for the Fans:
Chapter 1: Introduction
It took some time for me to get behind the book. The first chapter is alright in introducing the concept of GE, but also flirts a bit too much with the wacky side of the debate, like the proposal to increase the radius of the earth's orbit around the sun by 1-2% to decrease sun's energy warming it up (3). I also got the slight impression that Hamilton was taking an apologist’s stance towards Paul Crutzen (who promoted the idea of injecting sulphate aerosols into the atmosphere in 2006), implying that although the proposal smacks of arrogance, there is little else being done (and what else can we do)? As Hamilton’s argument developed it obviously became clear that it is far from apologetic towards proposals like Crutzen’s, but it also remains light on “alternatives” or concrete things that people are doing instead of GE.

Chapter 2: Sucking Carbon
Hamilton divides GE into two types: CO2 removal and storage, and solar radiation management. The main difference between the two could be scope: one aims to intervene in the functioning of the earth system as a whole, the other involves localised interventions (20-1). This chapter offers a technical overview of the CO2 capture and storing tech to date. The essential message of this chapter is made very clear: when we mess with the Earth system complications, uncertainties and dangers multiply (24-5).

Chapter 3: Regulating Sunlight
This chapter addresses the “solar radiation management” side of GE, like cloud-seeding or brightening of clouds to increase the Earth’s albedo, or injecting sulphate aerosols into the atmosphere like Crutzen proposed.

Chapter 4: The Players and the Public
Here Hamilton starts with the "geoclique", namely the prominent voices in the GE camp, like David Keith, Ken Caldeira, Bill Gates, another former MS employee, and so forth. Unfortunately, like these people, the majority of his examples are American, which seems to be a bit too unbalanced. He notes the links that these people have to one another, as well as their presence in the GE climate (e.g Bill Gates being the world's leading financial support of GE), concluding that it's a pretty incestuous community. Addressing terminology, he notes how "Solar Radiation Management" was designed by Caldeira to sound less threatening than “geoengineering” to lawmakers, which is very handy to know. The chapter also includes a great commentary on increasing prevalence of patents and paywalled IP in the GE tech world. Another astute observation is that while the Arctic is becoming more geopolitically active and accessible to militaries and economies, scientists are also discussing ways to refreeze it (80-81). The chapter includes much more about public perceptions of GE (how c.2010 the vast majority of people – again, Americans – hadn’t heard about it at all). There is also more on (climate science) denialism and its impact on geoengineering discourse. His discussion of denialism is kind of weird though, and feels a bit out of place - certainly for someone reading in 2022. He describes the "white male effect" on GE, namely American conservatives only willing to accept climate change if there is a cure for it that allows for the status quo to be maintained. He mentions denialism elsewhere in the world (still very much European/Western however), and focuses the historical example of the denialism of Einsteinian relativity theory in the 1920s. Thea "mystery for future historians to ponder”, he argues, is why very prominent scholars like novel laureates van wave away climate change (102).

Chapter 5: Promethean Dreams
Here Hamilton talks about people's (mainly prominent American scientists, philanthropists, politicians, entrepreneurs, and so forth) hopes for full weather control. Regarding a suggestion by Wood and Caldeira to decrease the amount of UV radiation that reaches the Earth’s surface, he wittily notes that ‘it is a strange kind of thinking that believes it can identify basic properties of the solar system that are surplus to requirements and may be dispensed with' (110). Human interventions can be successful, but it's the disasters that we should need when considering GE’s claims (115). Another case is Bickel and Kane's economic projection of the benefits of solar GE, which is laughably stupid, but full of wacky and dangerous ideas (118-120). Hamilton spends a lot of time discussing the Lawrence Livermore National Lab: a nexus for many GE champions, and centre of debates about nuclear weapons programmes during the Cold War (and the US military in general). A theme that Hamilton highlights is the use of birth-related and feminine terminology and iconography in geoengineering/nuclear projects to signal remedial or nurturing qualities in the technology (126). He also notes that GE is viewed with more circumspection in Western Europe (especially Germany) compared to US, because "the complexity and capriciousness of the Earth are avoided a greater respect, and there is a historical reservoir of mistrust for the good intentions of humans intoxicated with technological power' (135). It’s a shame he doesn’t elaborate on this claim, instead choosing to address the non-American case as peripheral to the American one.

Chapter 6: Atmospheric Geopolitics
This chapter looks at some Russian and Chinese GE developments, and rightly acknowledges that non-Western countries might not fit easily into the "Pro Growth" or "Pro Environment" dichotomy common in the West (144). Hamilton also looks at international geoengineering regulation, and the four potential systems of regulation that could be implemented. This strong chapter ends with some excellent questions leading to the ethics of regulation.

Chapter 7: Ethical Anxieties
Here Hamilton addresses the ethics of GE, from the starting point that there is a moral imperative to do something in the face of impotent governments. He notes three main justifications for GE (buying time, responding to emergency, most economical) and addresses their pitfalls. There’s obviously the big issue of creating a moral hazard (investigating GE methods would erode the incentive to reduce emissions), and he looks at carbon capture and storage (CCS) as an example of this. Ultimately, "the conditions are ideal" for GE to follow the slippery slope towards misuse (173). He very rightfully highlights that calls for technofix solutions are deeply comfortable with existing power structures and continued consumerism (175), but this also begs the question of what a non-capitalist/consumerist GE would look like (not addressed). The chapter includes a great summary of Gardiner’s critique of the RS's 2009 report: if the problem is social and political, went isn't the solution social and political? The answer, for geoengineers', is implicitly that they find social change inconceivable (177).

Chapter 8: This Goodly Frame
This chapter takes as its starting point the simple but terrifying fact that all of the carbon we have already put in the atmosphere will stay there for 1000s of years. This ties into the (conspicuously absent until now) Anthropocene debate and the meaning of human "adaptation" to climate. He notes a study that I haven’t heard of yet, which claims that very soon we will have emitted enough carbon into the atmosphere to suppress the next ice age - nothing humans have ever done has come close to that scale. This has huge implications for human history (human history as separate from earth history is embedded in modernity (195), i.e. very Chakrabarty-like argument, and he quotes him at the end, but not before providing a useful genealogy since Bacon). He addresses the “good Anthropocene” debate, and its ethical basis for GE. There is a nice passage on "growth fetishism" (205), and that GE cannot sustain endless growth: the only justification for GE is to make it politically easier to transition to an economy and society that is more sustainable. But this project would require Soterians (people who do not have ambitions to master the Earth), and thus far it's mostly the Prometheans that champion it (208-9). I wonder if Hamilton is here making the case for a more positive stance by critics towards GE, perhaps to balance the Promethean lobby? Probably not, but you could interpret it that way. He ends with Ovid’s story of Phaeton, which after reading Jim Fleming’s Fixing the Sky (2010) seems to be a required story to name drop in your book on GE (what’s up with this Greek mythology fanboying?).
Profile Image for Peter.
166 reviews19 followers
August 13, 2021
This is a book that combines a descriptive discussion of various efforts to engineer our Spaceship Earth with a pedantic and normative diatribe about why this is a bad idea. More than anything, it helped me contextualize how absolutely complicated climate change is, and how critical developing technology to combat it, primarily in the form of cheap energy and carbon capture will be. As a concrete example, the author introduces the counterintuitive theory that cutting down trees in places that have high albedo might actually outweigh the climate benefits of the trees' captured carbon. The point is that in a complex system, second, third and fourth-order concerns really matter.

Ultimately, I appreciated the introduction to carbon capture and radiation management, but I found the conclusions to be unnecessarily reactionary - technology must be part of the solution, and I think that techno-progressives will solve the climate issue, not techno-conservatives....
Profile Image for Sebastian.
116 reviews12 followers
July 13, 2020
This is a book about the exciting prospect of climate engineering: the human modulation of the amount of thermal energy that is absorbed and held in Earth's atmosphere. The book is roughly divided into a first third that describes the various technologies and approaches that may be used to engineer our climate, and a latter two thirds generally filled with poor arguments about why we ought not to pursue climate engineering.

We begin with an exhortation to understand the complexity of engineering the climate. Hamilton presents us with an example where cutting down all the forests in Siberia may actually increase albedo to an extent that far outweighs the effects of carbon captured by the growing trees [2]. The point is that every intervention has many second-, third-, fourth- (ad infinitum)-order effects that can be very challenging to model in the complex system that is the Earth.

We can divide climate engineering technologies into two buckets: carbon capture and electromagnetic radiation management.

Carbon capture refers to ideas like artificial plankton blooms to capture CO2 and sink it to the bottom of the ocean in the form of dead critters [2], reducing the acidity of the ocean to improve CO2 dissolution [36], and capturing CO2 from the air with various filters [47]. My rough take on these is that the latter two require too much energy input to make the tradeoff worth it right now, though could be viable with lots of nuclear capacity investment; the plankton idea could wreak havoc on oceanic ecosystems and we'd have to know more to do it safely.

(Re: plankton, this seems ripe for the invention of a synthetic diatom species that could safely capture carbon and sink immediately down to the bottom of the ocean because of its heavy, glassy shell. We would have to find a way to make them unappetizing to other creatures.)

Radiation management is mainly about modifying clouds in various ways [56] to filter sunlight and / or reflect it away. Most of these require programs of aircraft constantly spraying various chemicals into the atmosphere and if these systems fail, the climate would very rapidly warm (because we are treating symptoms, the heat, instead of the greenhouse gases that cause problems in the first place). I think the author rightly expresses concern in these ideas because geopolitical tension could really turn these things on a dime.

One of the most interesting tidbits that I didn't know: existing fossil fuel plants in China and India dump greenhouse gasses as well as sulfate into the atmosphere. Sulfate aerosols contribute to significant reflection of electromagnetic radiation back into space. It turns out that the same fossil fuel burning that's making the world hotter is also keeping it cooler. When we clear away these plants, we'll have to think carefully about how we offset the corresponding reduction in aerosolized sulfates in the atmosphere [70].

The rest of the book takes a turn for the worse as I alluded to earlier. Hamilton largely takes to criticizing climate engineering: He tries to delegitimize it by taking pot shots at its proponents, which include private corporations and AEI [119]. He accuses American scientists of "technological hubris" [138] for studying the nature of their universe in this way. In the final chapter he takes a religious view "we want to supplant the gods in order to counter the mess we have made as faulty humans" [180].

These arguments are arguments of the least reliable kind: ad hominem attacks, attacks on tone, and appeals to authority. What could have been a rational and lively conversation about how to combine emissions reductions and lifestyle changes with climate engineering and how to coordinate all these things effectively -- an opportunity to have a useful conversation -- was squandered in favor of frothy-mouthed nothingburgers.

As of late I believe that a new divide in American culture is emerging that Earthmasters, written in 2013, appears to predict: technology-progressivists versus technology-conservatives. The former tend to be optimists trained in the sciences who believe that more knowledge can better the lot of all of humanity. The latter tend to be more cautious, generally more rooted in the humanities, and wary of new knowledge that could have some negative consequences. (The instantiation du jour is the Twitter war between Tech / VC and Tech Media, which stems from these different fundamental perspectives).

I will attack the techno-conservative view on two fronts: (1) that it's wrong, and (2) that it isn't politically tenable to hold back knowledge.

(1) stems from books like David Deutsch's Beginning of Infinity. Deutsch argues that all problems are soluable, and they are soluble with knowledge. The only thing between the present and a future of abundance is enough knowledge. Any bad that new knowledge brings has a solution -- more knowledge.

(2) stems from an intuition about humanity. Bakunin said that man was born with a yearning to explore and a desire to create. I don't know if I agree with Bakunin on much but that statement feels right (I said this was an intuition). There is no way to hold back the human tendency to wonder and form explanations about the world around him. Once a new idea is born through human creativity, the marginal cost of its replication is effectively zero. Knowledge that is right is selected for and propagates and survives. Unless you want to, I don't know, have an army of thought police that try and kill off anyone who has a non-conforming insight and then drag his corpse through the streets as an example (that would be absolutely crazy!), you can't stop man's march forward to a better tomorrow.
Profile Image for Magdalena.
Author 39 books129 followers
February 23, 2013
Despite all the best efforts of those that have taken a political stance as “climate deniers,” it has been generally recognized by scientific communities around the world that the climate system is warming due to greenhouse gases produced through human activities. We are rapidly entering the Anthropocene era: a new geological epoch that takes its cue from the activities of humans. This has created a major, species-threatening problem that requires the kind of urgent governmental response that doesn’t appear to be happening on anything like the scale necessary. Into what looks to be a hopeless collective failure to act, comes a series of proposed solutions presented under the banner of climate or geoengineering. At first glance, geoengineering solutions seem to be an easy way out of the environmental crisis, and the range of possible solutions have been attracting significant funding from oil companies like ExxonMobile, billionaires like Richard Branson and Bill Gates, and governmental research organisations like Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. However, our understanding of the total impact of these technologies is embryonic, and there is no way to safely test most of them without full scale deployment.

Clive Hamilton is a member of the Board of the Climate Change Authority of the Australian Government, as well as Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, and the Vice-Chancellor's Chair in Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University, and he's well placed to explore both the potential technological and ethical issues inherent in the geoengineering technologies presented in Earth Masters. Hamilton provides a clearly presented picture of the context into which geoengineering has arrived, the technology itself, and the ethical issues that our rapid move towards acceptance has created. Earth Masters covers the processes involved in the two most well-known and “viable” geoengineering techniques: those that aim at removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and depositing it elsewhere, and solar radiation management, a technique designed to cool the planet by reflecting radiation into space. Although many of the processes that fall under these headings are complex, both in terms of the processes involved and in terms of the potential impacts and how we can trace them, Hamilton’s descriptions are clear and easy to follow for the non-scientist. For the carbon removal methods, Hamilton describes ocean iron fertilisation and liming as well as land based storage in trees, crops, agricultural wastes, soil, and algae. My one minor gripe about the book is that there is very little information on mineral carbonation, a relatively safe and promising process that is dismissed later in the book, grouped with other carbon capture and storage processes as having presented a “false promise”. "Soft" geoengineering options are not necessarily either/or solutions like ocean fertilisation or solar management techniques, but they are important tools that might be able to be used along with abatement techniques and even though they don't quite fit the thesis of Earth Masters, it would have been useful, I think, to see these options presented in less stark terms.

The chapter on solar management techniques includes such methods as cloud brightening: a method of making stratocumulus clouds more reflective through the use of various substances ranging from silver iodide to sea water, and simulating the impact of volcanic eruptions through the spraying of sulphate particles into the upper atmosphere to cool the earth – a process also known as the solar filter. The point that Hamilton makes is that none of these methods are really testable in anything other than a very small scale or simulated way: there’s no way to see what implications of these techniques would be without actually doing it. Another point, and this is perhaps the most worrying of all, is that this kind of weather control could be used for political purposes.

The key players in climate engineering all seem to have links to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the funding is often being provided by large companies in an effort to justify continued growth or line the pockets of patent holders who stand to gain considerably from both implementation and from taking the pressure off the more appropriate solution, which is cutting carbon emissions and changing our reliance on fossil fuels. The technological ownership of many geoengineering solutions is a frightening one, rife with vested interests and their efforts to control, and perhaps tame, nature in order to serve their needs. Hamilton creates the mythological tag of Promethian to characterise this approach to subjugate the environment to human (and political) ends. He contrasts the Promethian character to the Soterian one, that is, a character type that, in the name of safety and preservation, aims to work with nature as we know it. Though at times this distinction seems strained – a fact that Hamilton himself admits, it’s a useful way of framing the issue and the inherent ethical dilemmas:

the complexity of the Earth system is almost inconceivably deep. Even with leaps in understanding over the next decades, a cascade of unanticipated consequences from intervention seems inevitable. And we return to the disconcerting fact that, despite the enormous advances in climate science over the last two to three decades, each advance opens up new areas of uncertainty. While advances in climate science ought to be teaching us to be more humble, advocates of schemes aimed at regulating sunlight or interfering in Earth-system processes seem to draw the opposite conclusion. (116)

The ethical dilemma of geoengineering forms the basis for the later chapters, and as one would expect, Hamilton does a superb job of drawing out the more subtle implications of environmental implications. Of particular concern is that, regardless of any potential damaging impacts, geoengineering solutions - the "quick-fix" appears to be politically easier to handle than emissions cutting and other much safer mitigations. In addition, our efforts to find an “easy” solution have caused us to lose precious and limited time that could have been spent reducing emissions. We risk subsuming the ability to work with the environment and curb our outrageous hunger and desire for growth to “a lobby that unites fossil fuel corporations opposed to carbon reduction policies with investors in geoengineering technologies”. Earth Masters concludes by suggesting that geoengineering may well be inevitable. Though this is, as presented by Hamilton, a frightening prospect, he advocates that at the very least, we go forward with our eyes wide open. Earth Masters goes a fair way towards that. Though there is certainly no ease from climate fear or sugar coating of the dangers that the future holds, what Hamilton has written is an important book that brings the general public into a hitherto ‘science and corporations only’ debate. The sooner the general public can see beyond the lobbying of politically charged interest groups, the more balanced those debates will be, and the more likely we are to find a solution that won't leave us in more trouble than we are already in.

Article first published as Book Review: Earth Masters: Playing God with the Climate by Clive Hamilton on Blogcritics.
Profile Image for Ajay.
201 reviews
July 1, 2018
This book captures the heart of the reality of the twenty-first century: international efforts to reduce greenhouse gases have failed and deals with the great ethical, technical, and political questions that are now under wide discussion both within and outside the scientific community.

Clive thoroughly explores the field of geoengineering, seizing control of the climate of the Earth itself through intentional, enduring, and large-scale manipulation of Earth's climate system. He lays out the arguments for and against each suggestion of climate engineering, reveals the extent of vested interests that are forming a lobby of researchers, venture capitalists, and corporations.

Most critically this book examines the perilous, ethically fraught final frontier in our species long drive to apply techno-fixes as the band-aid for more fundamental issues. This is an important book in combination with Jared Diamond's Collapse that together provide a powerful perspective upon the consequences and unsustainablity of our hyper-consumption and materialism.

More importantly, he has convinced me of the nuance and difficulties in executing mega technological "solutions" to be the solution to our problems while our knowledge of how the complex and interconnected biosphere works is so limited.
24 reviews3 followers
September 21, 2018
the author divide the text into two parts: the tech and the ethic. the tech part is an eye-opener for me, but i crave for more of it. as for the ethic part, Elon Musk is determined to colonize the Mars. We are destined to build a Martian atmosphere from scratch. we have a training ground in engineering the Mars before we geoengineer. there is no reason we should be chickened out. But the ethic part is full of arguements and i think it makes good polemics, albeit i don't agree all of it.
Profile Image for Rob Sedgwick.
313 reviews2 followers
June 8, 2018
Too much politics

An interesting book which is a long discussion of the various approaches proposed to control the climate. The first half is about the science and the rest is about the politics. I'd rather have read more science.
Profile Image for Irene.
78 reviews
July 23, 2018
Had to give up on reading this text. Was hoping it was written for the lay person to understand but it wasn't. I didn't have enough background knowledge to understand what I was reading and wasn't willing to put in the effort to do my own research to try and understand what was written.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Rebecca Would.
61 reviews
August 24, 2019
Essential. For anyone who wants to know whats going on in our world, and who has an opinion on the state of the next 2 ice ages, 50,000 years in the future or anything that happens before then.
Profile Image for Full Stop.
275 reviews132 followers
June 9, 2014

By Daniel LoPreto

“Since the beginning of time, man has yearned to destroy the sun. I will do the next best thing: block it out.”
— Mr. Burns

Archimedes once said, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” But historian James Fleming insists, “No matter how great the scientific wizardry, the modern Archimedes still has no place to stand, no acceptable lever or fulcrum, and no way to predict where the Earth will roll if tipped.” One should read and appreciate Clive Hamilton’s Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering within the context of this fundamental contention.

What Is Geoengineering and Why Do We Need It?

Hamilton’s book takes climate engineering, also known as geoengineering, as its subject. Geoengineering is, according to the The Royal Society, the deliberate manipulation of the environment on a large scale. Although geoengineering has been gaining political ground in the past decade and the technology is comparatively cutting edge, the concept of geoengineering has been discussed since the early 1960s, mostly in military terms.

Hamilton begins by presenting the three justifications that are frequently used to defend the research and deployment of geoengineering projects: “it will allow us to buy time, it will allow us to respond to a climate emergency and it may be the best option economically.” The reason many environmentalists are discussing and debating geoengineering can be summed up by one of its strongest mainstream proponents, journalist Gwynne Dyer, who argues that geoengineering can create purposeful short-term interventions to avoid a climate disaster, in order to give us more time to get our emissions down.

There are three main methods of geoengineering: carbon dioxide removal (CDR) techniques that remove CO2 from the atmosphere, Solar Radiation Management (SRM) techniques that reflect a small percentage of the sun’s light and heat back into space, and weather modification. Each method is meant to either reduce the amount of CO2 already in the Earth’s environment, or to prevent any more CO2 from getting into the atmosphere. Some technologies and techniques proposed proposed to accomplish this include fertilizing the ocean with iron nanoparticles, launching 16 trillion space sunshades, storing compressed CO2 in abandoned mines, building artificial tree plantations, covering deserts with white plastic, and launching 30,000 ships with turbines to propel salt and whiten clouds, to name just a few.

Read the rest here: http://www.full-stop.net/2014/02/04/r...
Profile Image for SteveDave.
152 reviews5 followers
June 29, 2016
This book reads like some sort of dystopian science-fiction: mankind destroys the earth's climate in its insatiable quest to grow and expand, and in a final act of hubris decides that it can re-engineer earth's climate systems to suit its own ends. People seed the oceans with iron and stain the sky and block the sun with sulphate aerosols, so that they can avoid having to make lifestyle changes to protect the earth systems that provide us with life.

Like everything that Clive Hamilton writes, this book is well-researched, well-written and well-argued. He explores the science, the economics and the ethics behind geo-engineering proposals, and in doing so, paints a bleak picture of the future.

Hamilton, unlike a lot of other authors on the topic of climate change, doesn't write with a sense of optimistic belief that humanity will pull its act together and do the right thing.

I suspect he is correct in his pessimism.
Profile Image for Steve.
635 reviews2 followers
February 8, 2014
Had "Earthmasters" stopped about a third of the way, it could have been an excellent article looking at proposals for "geo-engineering" and potential pitfalls of them. However, like many non-fiction books, it had a lot more pages to fill. This one became an extended, whining, hand-wringing, elitist screed at America, conservatives, Fox News (well, those lying assholes probably deserve it), economic growth, capitalism, military-industrial-fossil fuel conspiracies, and a whole bunch of academic enemies of the author. The essential argument is why can't all of you people out there be guided by us wise, far-seeing, tenured academics. We are satisfied with our lives--you just do what we think is best and be satisfied with your lives!
June 23, 2016
A really excellent read. Hamilton succinctly discusses the science of geo-engineering, and proceeds to thoroughly discuss the implications and politics associated with it. He also shares some thoughtful insight about climate change as a whole, and the philosophical divide in how we choose to respond to it. If you have any investment in the future of this planet, I would highly recommend taking the time to read and understand this book.
Profile Image for Mary.
290 reviews18 followers
October 22, 2016
Hamilton offers a fascinating look at a range of climate engineering strategies (from ocean fertilization to cloud brightening) and their ethical and ecological impacts. An important read for all concerned about the future of human civilization.

"There is something increasingly desperate about placing more faith in technological cleverness when it is the unrelenting desire to command the natural world that has brought us to this point" (199).
Profile Image for Greta Fisher.
84 reviews27 followers
April 19, 2014
The topic is a very important one and people need to keep informed about the technology and organizations and individuals who develop or support it. That said, I didn't care for the book. It seemed poorly organized and was such a dull read I had difficulty finishing it. I gave it 3 stars because of the topic - the possibility of a technological solution to global warming.
2 reviews
May 3, 2013
A follow on from Clive's book "Requiem for a Species", this is a must read for anyone concerned about the implications of our undiminished burning of fossil fuels.
Profile Image for Jule Owen.
Author 13 books147 followers
April 11, 2015
Must read overview of the range of technological solutions to climate change currently being considered. Chilling indictment of human hubris.
April 7, 2017
Forceful if not devastating argument--undercuts the vested interests in geoengineering as a global strategy to profit from status quo energy regime.
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