What Would Heidegger Say About Geoengineering? Clive Hamilton


What Would Heidegger Say About Geoengineering? Clive Hamilton

pdf @his site, Abstract: Proposals to respond to climate change by geoengineering the Earth’s climate system, such as by regulating the amount of sunlight reaching the planet, may be seen as a radical fulfillment of Heidegger’s understanding of technology as destiny. Before geoengineering was conceivable, the Earth as a whole had to be representable as a total object, an object captured in climate models that form the epistemological basis for climate engineering. Geoengineering is thinkable because of the ever-tightening grip of Enframing, Heidegger’s term for the modern epoch of Being. Yet, by objectifying the world as a whole, geoengineering goes beyond the mere representation of nature as ‘standing reserve’; it requires us to think Heidegger further, to see technology as a response to disorder breaking through. If in the climate crisis nature reveals itself to be a sovereign force then we need a phenomenology from nature’s point of view. If ‘world grounds itself on earth, and earth juts through world’, then the climate crisis is the jutting through, and geoengineering is a last attempt to deny it, a vain attempt to take control of destiny rather than enter a free relation with technology. In that lies the danger. 


One Response to “What Would Heidegger Say About Geoengineering? Clive Hamilton”

  1. Robert Tulip Says:

    Comments on Clive Hamilton’s paper on Heidegger and Geoengineering

    The main value I found in Hamilton’s paper is its analysis of Heidegger’s discussion of “world” and “earth”. We routinely see these as the same, but the difference is that ‘world’ is a constructed cultural idea, whereas earth is a physical natural reality. The problem of climate change is that our dominant concept of world, grounded in the fossil fuel economy, is unsustainable within the physical reality of earth.

    So Hamilton states: “If ‘world grounds itself on earth, and earth juts through world’, then the climate crisis is the jutting through.” (p1) That is a correct and important statement that global warming reveals the falsity of our constructed world, as physics ‘juts through’ into economics and politics, showing the need for a paradigm shift to ground world in earth.

    But then Hamilton makes an incorrect inference: “geoengineering is a last attempt to deny it, a vain attempt to take control of destiny rather than enter a free relation with technology. In that lies the danger.” (p1) This is vague and misleading, especially the “free relation with technology”, a phrase that Hamilton never defines, and which seems meaningless. Geoengineering, focussed just on Solar Radiation Management (SRM) in Hamilton’s paper, is more like an emergency tourniquet on the bleeding emergency of the global climate than an attempt to exercise control over the earth. His assertion that SRM is ‘a vain attept to take control’ involves a systematic misreading.

    The next comment in Hamilton’s paper that I wish to discuss is: “it remained possible, for those who retained a residual sense of ‘enchantment’, to cling to the idea that meaningless resources were embedded in a world of incalculable and infinite meaning.” Scientific readers will consider this to be gobbledegook, and I struggle to read it myself. But the point of it seems to be that the “meaning” of resources rests in us considering them poetically, rather than as stuff for use. Poetry in this context is all about enchantment, a magical sense of the sacred – as ‘incalculable and infinite’. Hamilton’s complaint is that geoengineering supports a mechanistic worldview in which enchantment remains marginal and decisions are based on quantifiable evidence. Make of that what you will.

    So his next statement: “With solar radiation management this pre-modern remnant is finally swept away.” (p12) Clive’s objection is that modern science is completing its project of replacing magic with reason. He displays a romantic attachment to a seemingly religious sense of world as mystery, objecting to global systematic remedies – rather as Keats complained about Newton unweaving the rainbow.

    But the nub of Hamilton’s objection appears in the statement “Understood psychologically, geoengineering is a kind of covering-over… to protect the fossil fuel industries and the lifestyles built on them.” (p14) Here we see straw man logic in its crudest form. Hamilton seems to think the purpose of SRM is to perpetuate fossil fuel energy. In this he wilfully ignores the statements by advocates that SRM is an interim emergency measure aimed at preventing catastrophe, while sustainable solutions, such as carbon dioxide removal, are developed.

    Clive’s psychoanalysis of geoengineers suggests their stated intent ‘covers over’ their real concealed intent as industry shills for big oil. This is most helpful in showing the mode of thinking of critics of science, assuming an ideological motive against all evidence.

    There is a real issue with the sustainability of SRM. Ocean acidification means rising emissions are not sustainable even with SRM. But that is irrelevant to the possible need for SRM as a short term measure to buy time and prevent dangerous feedback loops such as are threatened by the melting of the Arctic.

    Finally, Clive says “by bringing to its full realisation the program of Enframing the geoengineers seek to shore up the modern way of seeing the world and thereby keep hidden the ‘more primal truth’37 that science and technology have always concealed. And the technological cover-up is taking place just as the pressure for the more primal truth to burst forth becomes most intense.” (p14)

    This concept of ‘enframing’ (Gestell) is central to Heidegger’s work. But unfortunately this ‘more primal truth’, discussed by Heidegger in mystical terms as the meaning of Being, has the character of a religious revelation. So it is hardly surprising that Hamilton would like to return to an enchanted universe. Heidegger defines the frame of meaning in different ways, either as the inauthentic technological attempt to control nature, in which we lose our relations of meaning with the cosmos, or as the authentic Being of the fourfold, ‘earth and sky, man and Gods’.

    Martin Heidegger was the founder of systematic existential philosophy. So it is more than ironic that the great existential crisis of the modern world, the need to shift to a sustainable regulation of atmospheric carbon, is interpreted by Hamilton in a way that confuses and belittles the real scientific efforts to come to grips with the existential emergency of climate change.

    These comments draw on my Master of Arts Honours Degree from Macquarie University for a thesis on The Place of Ethics in Heidegger’s Ontology, my finalist proposal in the 2013 MIT Geoengineering competition, my review of Hamilton’s book Earthmasters and my current work for the Australian Government in the energy and resources section of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. These are solely my personal views, originally posted at https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/geoengineering/43WOYb9poi4.

    Robert Tulip

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