Stephen M. Sachs*

I agree with Carroll Muffet that many forms of proposed geoengineering, including examples of proposed carbon capture, are likely to be more destructive than helpful, for all the reasons that he cites. Moreover, in banking on them, there is the danger that we will delay doing what can, and must be done now, quickly, on the unsupported assumption that some new scientific or technical development will come along to solve the problem.

At the same time, it is important not to dismiss any and all such technologies out of hand. It may be that there are some that will be helpful in stemming the production of greenhouse gasses, or otherwise combatting global warming induced climate change, without worsening the problem they are trying to solve, or causing other serious problems, or taking huge risks, when we already have good means for solving the problem. Since what needs to be done is huge, and must be accomplished in a quite limited time, any conceivably promising approach ought to be investigated, if the costs of the research and development itself are not too high. And if we do not act swiftly and sufficiently enough with the proven methods we have, then we might need additional tools - but only if they are appropriate ones.

In whatever we do that relates to the environment - and almost everything we do does (and not only to global warming) - the lesson from our current experience is that everything is connected and problems need to be approached holistically, considering all the significant effects - positive and negative primary and secondary - short, medium and long term. This is a lesson that was learned long ago by Indigenous peoples after long careful study. We need to complete our relearning of it quickly.

We need to avoid the errors of narrow approaches - such as the powerful ones that on the on the hand have made western science very successful - but on the other hand have caused serious unintended consequences, including our current environmental crisis: global warming induced climate change, pollution and other forms of degradation of the environment, and overuse of resources. This means taking into account all the likely significant impacts of decisions as possible. But since in most cases that is very complex so that the future cannot be accurately predicted (including that assumed stable conditions may change), it is necessary to regularly review the impacts of decisions, to make necessary adjustments.

Moreover, In the west, we have tended to under estimate the difference in different locations - in time, place and culture. Thus, there has been a tendency to apply good general principles or programs, without adequate consideration of the circumstance to which they are to be applied. This has, and continues to cause, all kinds of failures, including in dealing with the environment. The watchwords of what we need in our approaches is first to see how everything is connected, taking into account the full range of significant effects of such action. Second to continually monitor and review actions, carefully making changes as appropriate. Third, to carefully consider the conditions of any specific application, adopting that application to the needs of that place (including not applying a generally good action where it would be counterproductive to do so), and in each place adjusting for changing conditions on site, and in relation toshifting conditions elsewhere. Doing all of that requires extensive research and analysis. But it is absolutely necessary for everyone's welfare, and in some critical cases, for our survival.

*Stephen M. Sachs, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, IUPUI, is Senior Editor and Coordinator of the Editorial Board of IPJ. He has taught, spoken and written on environmental issues. His current work includes serving as coordinating editor and lead drafter of the coauthored four volume project in press, Honoring the Circle: The Ongoing Learnings of the West from American Indians on Politics and Society. He may be reached at:


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