Response to Penehuro Lefale on Geoengineering

By Fiu Mata’ese Elisara 21 October 2018, 12:00AM

Fiu Mata’ese Elisara

Matai from Sili, 

Executive Director – O.L.S.S.I.

I wish to acknowledge with appreciation the comments by my good scientist friend Penehuro Fatu Lefale entitled “Geoengineering is the potential game changer we need to confront” published in Samoa Observer of 18 October 2018. 

He was responding to my write-up on the topic “Geoengineering worsen climate and hurts Paris Agreement” published in Samoa Observer 11 October 2018. 

Mr. Lefale, as a world renowned scientist, whilst supporting other points in my rather long write-up, he specifically does not share my views that:

climate engineering through carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and solar radiation modification (SRM) would worsen climate and hurt the Paris Agreement. Mr Lefale argues, science shows the opposite.

we will avoid dangerous climate change (i.e.1.5 to 2.0 degrees Celcius) with mitigation alone

climate engineering is a deliberate attempt by the rich to distract from real priorities of fossil fuel emission reduction 

In his well-articulated response, Mr Lefale ended by saying that “…if mitigation proves insufficient, as looks almost certain, CDR and SRM would be the only option for meeting the 1.5degreesC target. …As such we do not have the luxury of being able to simplistically oppose climate engineering as Mr Elisara suggests. And nor should we oppose them since evidence indicates it might significantly reduce climate risks. Instead…we should join our colleagues from global south and lead on this issue, making sure that evaluation of CDR and SRM is transparent and safe, with the interests of the most vulnerable people as the central concern. We in the South led the world on climate and development policy. We need to step up again and show leadership on climate engineering”. Well said my friend.

In my defence, however, I pray that Mr Lefale will be willing to ‘agree to disagree’ as I find solace in my views being guided and supported by other world renowned scientists, academics, social scientists, and environmental institutions of the Global South. I made reference to some of them in my write-up. 

Hence, in my attempt to justify what I wrote, I am reminded by what one senior Japanese economist puts it - re Japan vs USA - Get Tough Policy – “In the past, the threats were like a broken leg – sharp, painful but specific – and it was clear what was needed to mend them. This downturn is more like a virus affecting the blood system – much more complex and pervasive”

Let me now try and offer this response by referring to what I wrote in respect to the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2010. This was a movement against geoengineering where more than 35,000 representatives from climate justice grassroots organizations, academics, scientists, and popular movements from the Global South declared their opposition to geoengineering, initiating the “Hands Off Mother Earth” Campaign (HOME Campaign) against geoengineering. 

Last month in San Francisco, at the Solidarity to Solutions Week devoted to grassroots solutions to climate change, a broad alliance, including the Climate Justice Alliance and the Indigenous Environmental Network, vowed to amplify and reinvigorate the HOME Campaign. This was deemed essential because of the growing presence of climate geoengineering in negotiations and among academics and scientists, including the proposals for open air testing of technologies. A renewed international movement has been launched to stop geoengineering and to stand in solidarity with the communities and organizations resisting geoengineering experiments.

In a widely-supported Manifesto from 23 international organizations, six “Alternative Nobel Prize” recipients, and 87 national organizations from five continents called for a halt to testing and political consideration of climate geoengineering. The Manifesto was released in the same week that the Intergovernmental Panel of Experts on Climate Change (IPCC) met in South Korea to debate the Special Report a on how to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsuis. 

The Manifesto stated – “We, civil society organizations, popular movements, Indigenous Peoples, peasant organizations, academics, intellectuals, writers, workers, artists and other concerned citizens from around the world, oppose geoengineering as a dangerous, unnecessary and unjust proposal to tackle climate change. Geoengineering refers to large-scale technological interventions in the Earth’s oceans, soils and atmosphere with the aim of weakening some of the symptoms of climate change. 

Geoengineering perpetuates the false belief that today’s unjust, ecologically- and socially-devastating industrial model of production and consumption cannot be changed and that we therefore need techno-fixes to tame its effects. Mother Earth is our common home and its integrity must not be violated by geoengineering experimentation and deployment”. 

They also added that healthy ecosystems, cultural and biological diversity are crucial to the well-being of all people, societies and economies and cautioned that geoengineering, whether on land, in the oceans or in the atmosphere, puts ecosystems, biodiversity and human communities at risk of potentially devastating impacts and side effects. They reject geoengineering as an attempt to uphold a failed status quo and support my views that it diverts attention from emissions reductions and the real solutions to the climate crisis.

Specifically on Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) geoengineering projects, including large scale monoculture tree and biomass plantations, the Manifesto cautions that these kinds of CDR projects have severe negative impacts on land, water, biodiversity, food security and traditional livelihoods and contend these Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) initiatives aim to serve and perpetuate the fossil fuel industry. Additionally, as I said in my write-up, Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) would hugely amplify the impacts of plantations, disputing land needed for food production, threatening food security and biodiversity. Other carbon dioxide removal techniques, such as ocean fertilization have already disrupted the marine food web and create oxygen deprived areas in the oceans.

Geoengineering technologies disrupt local and regional weather patterns and further imbalance the climate, with potentially catastrophic effects for some regions, including on water availability and food production. The adverse impacts and side effects could cause more regional and international conflicts. Geoengineering threatens global peace and security where some technologies that aim to manipulate climate and weather originated in the military.

Geoengineering is largely promoted by a small group of rich governments, corporations and scientists from the most powerful and polluting countries, who in recent years have been driving geoengineering research, lobbying for geoengineering to be considered as a political response to climate change, and most recently, moving forward open-air experiments to test geoengineering technologies.If I may, let me quote the views of some of my expert colleagues representing their Global South organizations to help me out here. 

Cynthia Mellon, Climate Justice Alliance

“Geoengineering projects are supported by some branches of industry because they claim to offer a fix without having to phase out fossil fuel use or reduce carbon emissions. Geoengineering does nothing to address the root causes of climate change. It is part of an effort to profit from the climate crisis. We should vigorously work to expose the risks involved with these projects and make sure that they are not implemented. Geoengineering takes us down a path that is false, unproductive, and dangerous…” 

Karin Nansen, Chair of Friends of the Earth International

“Geoengineering is a dangerous and risky distraction from real solutions to the climate crisis. We need a complete transformation of our energy systems, food systems, economic systems. But rich countries, transnational corporations and other powerful vested interests are desperate to divert our attention from system change, and from radical emissions reductions needed at source. Friends of the Earth International rejects large-scale geoengineering as an unproven technology which could lead to land or resource grabbing and dispossession of local communities.”

Tom BK Goldtooth, Executive Director, Indigenous Environmental Network

“As Indigenous Peoples, we are unified in our opposition to all forms of geoengineering. As human beings, we are entirely dependent upon our respectful relationship with the natural world. Everything the dominant world does has far reaching consequences that we cannot predict. We are now faced with many of those consequences from the exploitation of the natural world that threaten the future existence of all life on Mother Earth. To assert that human knowledge has advanced so fully that we can predict with absolute certainty that no harm will be a consequence of our actions is categorically false. Our Indigenous traditional teachings, lifestyles, spirituality, cultures and leadership of our people has sustained us for millennia and will do so for countless future generations but only if the world adheres to the Natural Laws of Creation and the Precautionary Principle.”

Tupac Enrique Acosta, Tonatierra Nahuacalli, Embassy of Indigenous Peoples, Arizona, United States

“From an Indigenous Peoples perspective, the geoengineering projects we see today are a historical extension of a long history of invasions on our territories and cultures, such as the massacres of the Great Plains of the buffalo in the 1800s and the invasion of Mexico by GMO maize products under NAFTA in 1994. Geoengineering projects fall perfectly within the interests of the governmental, financial, and industrial consortia that has caused the ecological devastation, genocide and territorial dispossession of our Original Nations. With today’s geoengineering flagship projects such as SCoPEx in Tucson, we see the sails on the horizon of yet another flotilla of invasions just like the Niña, the Pinta, the Santa Maria - or the Mayflower. This time it is the sky itself that is being commodified and marketed. We stand in solidarity and commitment to the Cochabamba Protocols in defense of the Territorial Integrity of Mother Earth and we say NO to Geoengineering! We deny consent!”

Silvia Ribeiro, Latin America Director, ETC Group

“Geoengineering proposals are a dangerous combination: carbon dioxide removal technologies that geoengineers propose to remove carbon from the atmosphere aren’t economically feasible, would have devastating impacts for land and environment at the scale required and they will likely not even alleviate climate change. If we pursue them and they fail, geoengineers and climate-polluting governments will then hold up solar radiation management as the only remedy for run-away climate change – a set of highly risky proposals with military origins that can be weaponized. We can see that the US government, the largest historical emitter, is exactly on this track with their mix of climate denialism and aggressive promotion of geoengineering.”


Rachel Smolker, Co-Director Biofuelwatch, United States

“We know impacts of climate change are dire. Some in the geoengineering clique now claim that the impacts of climate change will be worse even than from geoengineering. But every technofix in the geoengineering arsenal will clearly only make matters worse. Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) is an example: if it were even technically feasible, it would require such vast amounts of biomass that the earth would be denuded of forests and food production would be severely hindered. Also, there is little reason to think that carbon emissions – from fossil fuels or bioenergy – can be securely stored below ground over the long term. We need tried and true solutions including protecting natural ecosystems and supporting community-based conservation initiatives.”


Vandana Shiva, Navdanya, India

“The mechanical mind of mastery and control is at the root of the ecological crisis, including climate change. It cannot be the basis of addressing the climate problem through more reckless manipulation as geoengineering. As Einstein warned us ‘You cannot solve a problem with the same mindset that created it.’ Our fragile, complex, self-organized Earth cannot be subject to more violent manipulation. In ecological agriculture, which returns organic matter to the soil, we have a non-violent, tested and proven solution to cooling the planet, while growing more and better food.”

Nnimmo Bassey, Health of Mother Earth (HOME) Foundation, Nigeria

“It is unacceptable that while nations suffer the brutal impacts of climate change, profit- driven corporations plan to colonize the sky through geoengineering, deny global warming and lock in climate inaction. The world must be weaned from fossil fuels, cut emissions at source and not permit any manipulation of the climate that has the potential to pile more harm on Africa and other territories.”

There is more but I hope that will suffice for now. But as Mr Lefale advised, we do not have the luxury of being able to simplistically oppose climate engineering. Nor should we oppose them since evidence indicates it might significantly reduce climate risks. Instead, we should join our colleagues from Global South to step up again and show leadership on climate engineering. 

In my defence as articulated in the content of this write-up, I pray that Mr Lefale will indeed be willing to ‘agree to disagree’ as my alleged ‘simplistic’ views are guided and supported by many other global experts of the Global South.  

I probed the wisdom of a Japanese who claimed - “In the past, the threats were like a broken leg – sharp, painful but specific – and it was clear what was needed to mend them. This downturn is more like a virus affecting the blood system – much more complex and pervasive”. On this, I was merely acknowledging that the world views that encompass the spiritual, the material, the cultural, the biological, and much else, in an integral whole, are never simplistic but rather complex and difficult for the compartmentalised sciences to comprehend and appreciate. And I contend, the pervasive and complex discourse on climate change today is a powerful parallel. As a non-academic, non-scientist, and a simple matai from the village of Sili, Savaii, I wish to invoke prudence in the saying “It is not that I am right and you are wrong, nor that I am wrong and you are right, rather, about learning from each other’s views on how best to move forward” I also wish to respond to Lewis Hyde - Irony is a colonial decorum, climate injustice already rears its emergency head in the screeching voices of citizens trapped in the ravaging cages of unprecedented apocalyptic crisis. I ask, given the dilemma on geoengineering as a proposed climate mitigation solution, what central tenet, what paradigm shift we need to redefine our global mandate to free our people from the havoc reaping cage of climate change? 




By Fiu Mata’ese Elisara 21 October 2018, 12:00AM
Samoa Observer

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