On techno-determinism and inevitability

Q. Let’s talk about that. Lots of people in the book expressed some version of that thought: we know this stuff, we have these tools, and therefore it’s inevitable we will use them. How certain are you about this techno-determinist view of things?

A. Well, I’m not sure about anything that’s going to happen in the future. But if you look at this very broadly, altering our environment is what humans do. Have you ever been to Houston?

We’re forced into that direction with climate because of what we’ve done so far and the risks of catastrophic change. It’s interesting, when you talk to people like Ken Caldeira — he’s anything but a technological cheerleader. He helped organize the big anti-nuke rallies in Central Park. But his work has shown that a geoengineered world may be more like our world than a non-geoengineered world.

We all know weather is chaotic. We can’t predict what’s going to happen next week, so how are we going to predict what’s going to happen in the next ten years? But when you talk to these guys about the possibility of climate control broadly, they don’t see it as that complicated of a project. The levers and pulleys in this system are not as complex as you would think. That doesn’t mean that we are going to be able to target rainfall over Iowa or something, but this is not as scientifically complex an idea as it would first seem.

It’s also important to remember, you and I are talking about this from a U.S. point of view. The ghost of John Muir lingers in all our conversations. But look at what happened in China on the 60th anniversary of the Communist Party. They were promising blue skies, shooting all of this stuff into the sky to get rid of the clouds. No one knows that this cloud seeding stuff works; it’s all a level of hocus pocus. But they were doing it on a massive level, with dozens of military jets, simply for the political symbolism for it. There are no Muir-esque taboos about messing with nature in a culture like that.