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Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering Paperback – 4 Feb 2014

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Product details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (4 Feb. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030020521X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300205213
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 13.1 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 312,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'In his crystal-clear analysis Clive Hamilton warns against "Promethean recklessness" and calls for "utmost caution and deep reflection". It's depressing to realise what we have done and still want to do to our planet, but hope lies in thinkers such as Hamilton, if only we heed them before it's too late.'-Tom Moriarty, Irish Times. -- Tom Moriarty Irish Times

About the Author

Clive Hamilton is Vice-Chancellor's Chair and professor of public ethics, Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, Charles Sturt University, Canberra.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Alan Neale on 13 May 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Clive Hamilton's previous book, Requiem for a Species, was a depressing insight into the pervasiveness of climate change denial, fuelled, he suggested, by an unwillingness to contemplate social changes that would involve having to adopt lower-carbon lifestyles. Earthmasters follows on from this. Here, Hamilton focusses on advocates of geoengineering, who propose techno-fixes that would, they promise, stabilise the climate while avoiding the need for social change.

The author is a helpful guide to the brave new world of climate control. He explains how some of the more realistic geoengineering schemes might work, whether by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or by blocking some of the sun's rays from entering it (or 'Solar Radiation Management' in the suitably Orwellian official terminology). He is not taken in by the hype, and is careful to draw attention to possible unintended consequences of each scheme. One of the most revealing features of the book is what it uncovers about the unlikely coalition of forces promoting geoengineering - from, at one extreme, climate scientists who despair at humanity's apparent inability to adopt necessary emissions controls, to, at the other, conservative think tanks which manage to combine strenuous denial of the reality of human-caused climate change with spirited advocacy of technological interventions to control the climate.

Hamilton draws an interesting distinction between what he calls Promethean and Soterian attitudes to social and technological change. Prometheans, followers of the Greek god of technological mastery, are, he suggests, always seeking technological solutions to problems, to avoid the need for social change.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mike Childs on 21 May 2013
Format: Hardcover
There are some dastardly power-mad people who want to take control of our weather, says Clive Hamilton in his excellent book Earthmasters. The Australian Professor of Public Ethics then names these wannabe 'Earthmasters' and offers an expert review of their weapon of choice: climate geoengineering technologies.

There are two categories of geoengineering. One is less risky and less potent - and therefore of less interesting to these people motivated as they are by technical control of the Earth. This is negative emissions, or sucking carbon out of the air. The other is very risky and potent - solar radiation management, or managing the sun - and therefore attractive to their 'Earthmaster' ambitions

Sucking carbon out of the air is a massive and costly activity says Hamilton. Hamilton calculates that sucking carbon out of the air equivalent to a standard 1000-megawatt coal-fired power station would take 30 kilometres of air-sucking machinery and six chemical plants covering six kilometres of land, neatly demonstrating the stupidity of our continuing fossil fuel use. After outlining some other carbon-sucking options he concludes: "the essential difficulty with all carbon dioxide removal approaches is that they want to push a reluctant genie back into the bottle".

Sadly we'll need to get the genie back into the bottle because in my view very rapid cuts in carbon emissions alone won't keep greenhouse gas concentrations below danger level.

Managing the sun - but Hamilton concentrates his fire on those who actively promote much riskier, but much cheaper, technologies to regulate the amount of energy we get from the sun.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 9 reviews
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
an unavoidable discussion 22 Mar. 2013
By Nigel Kirk - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Hamilton claims that he wrote this book because there was a dangerous gap in commentary about humanity's options if it did not reduce the burning of fossil fuel. He's right, and this book begins to fill the gap. It classifies technologies according to whether they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or reduce tropospheric heating. His discussion of the measures he considers most likely (as distinct from most feasible) is reasonably complete. Hamilton examines the constraints (legal and practical), the risks (significant) and the possible outcomes. Importantly, he pulls no punches in teasing apart the motives and track records of the proponents of such grand schemes as liming the oceans, seeding the atmosphere and more. While there might be approaches he does not cover completely, such as implementation of multiple technologies, he succeeds in alerting his readership to a looming issue. I have seen him put his views in a hall full of scientific experts and they hold up well.

The final two chapters, "Ethical anxieties" and "This Goodly Frame", indulge in a little philosophical and historical navel-gazing. They are of interest but lack the urgency of the early discussion. The Notes, including references, are excellent, current and reflect Hamilton's long term familiarity with climate change issues.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The best known of the first category are those ideas about ... 11 Feb. 2015
By Mary Wildfire - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
This is the most important book I've read in the past decade. I am pasting in a review I wrote for .
Hamilton starts by discussing the looming threat of catastrophic climate change, and the utterly inadequate response of governments. it time to take a deep breath and contemplate a Plan B? He coins a couple of words to talk about basic philosophical differences on these issues: Prometheans are people who are certain that Man has a glorious destiny (you might say a Manifest Destiny) to completely control this planet and eventually others for our own purposes (I noticed that of the dozen or so proponents mentioned in the book, most are North Americans and all are men). Soterians (after the Greek goddess of safety and deliverance from harm) are more cautious, more concerned about the fall that cometh after hubris, and more respectful of the wisdom inherent in natural systems Yet there are Soterians advocating for geoengineering, because they believe the alternative is so catastrophic. The idea of direct measures to reduce climate change—measures other than the obvious, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions—have been under very quiet investigation for a long time, but were not publicly discussed until a paper by Paul Crutzen came out in 2006, because most scientists felt that open discussion of this “Plan B” would reduce pressure, already much too weak, to lower emissions. Now the cat’s out of the bag. The new IPCC report has a section on geoengineering.
Hamilton and others divide geoengineering proposals into two groups: those that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil, plants, the ocean, or deep underground...and methods of reducing the incoming sunlight without dealing with carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The best known of the first category are those ideas about increasing ocean storage by adding iron dust or lime to increase the biological activity of the ocean. As the ocean already stores enormously more carbon than anywhere else, this seems feasible—but experiments have been done with disappointing results. Unsurprisingly, this is because biological systems are complicated. Adding iron, for example, causes a bloom but perhaps the extra microorganisms are the “wrong” kind, and perhaps the extra activity drains surrounding waters of other nutrients so that the net result is uselessness. Adding lime doesn’t depend on these complicated biological processes, but requires so much energy for pulverizing the limestone and spreading it that it makes no sense to do it—if we had that much new renewable energy, why not just replace coal-fired power plants with it and skip the liming?
Then there are the methods involving increased storage of carbon in biomass—from the sensible choice of refraining from deforestation, to biochar, to algae farms. Hamilton believes the possibility for much carbon diversion in these methods is limited. Underground sequestration, whether the CO2 is captured at power plants or removed from the air via gigantic machines, would require a huge new infrastructure.
Measures to solve the problem by reducing incoming solar heat gain include the brightening of clouds by spraying seawater up from a fleet of perhaps a thousand ships—each equipped with 28 billion one-micron nozzles—and eliminating cirrus clouds in the upper atmosphere by spraying a bismuth solution out of airplanes, which could include commercial flights. But the most popular and likeliest is spraying sulfur solutions into the atmosphere to mimic volcanic eruptions. The latter is called “easy, effective and cheap.” But there are questions about alterations of rainfall patterns with the first two, and the sulfur trick will damage the ozone layer and possibly reduce rainfall, can’t be tested at less than full-scale implementation (and many years of it to separate effects from the natural variability of weather). Also, once implemented it could not be terminated without catastrophic effects; a chart shows the temperature skyrocketing after termination to achieve the warming we would have had without the intervention within a couple of years, much too fast for most species, especially forests, to adapt. Grimly, he notes that air pollution (now largely from Asia) has kept warming to .8 degrees Celsius—otherwise it would be an additional 1.1 degrees Celsius hotter already.
After this description of proposed technologies, Hamilton turns to a description of “the players.” Proponents of geoengineering include Bill Gates, and several people connected to Lawrence Livermore Lab. He spends a few pages analyzing how the Cold War nuclear weapons projects might have influenced scientists to later support geoengineering. Some of the most prominent climate denial machines, like American Enterprise Institute, Hoover Institute and Heartland Institute, are now proponents of technological intervention to solve a problem they still claim doesn’t exist. There are also consortiums grabbing patents, hoping to make a mint by charging humanity for the rescue of our only home. Military men have begun thinking about how fine-tuning these schemes could benefit one nation at the expense of others. Even without such deliberate machinations, if any climate engineering is carried out and affects the weather, it is inevitable that some people and some governments will feel that they have been victimized by the results.
Next Hamilton examines the morality and the geopolitics of climate engineering, and considers possible regulatory frameworks. He considers the best arrangement to be international, perhaps via the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. In the concluding chapter he looks at it from a philosophical point of view. I like the final pages in which he draws together the “human exceptionalism” of the Prometheans with the forces of corporate power (especially oil companies), those determined that growth must continue at all costs, those looking for military advantage, and the inertia of the status quo; clearly he fears that these forces operating in collusion will steamroll the opposition. As do I. It’s clear from many quotations that the initial reluctance of scientists to discuss the prospects of geoengineering for fear of providing an excuse to further delay mitigation was well-founded. That the right-wing think tanks who have made much of their bread and butter in recent years by climate denial are embracing geoengineering adds credence to Naomi Klein’s thesis that belief in climate change tracks political leanings because the obvious solutions are anathema to the right—things like more governmental regulation, especially at a global level, respect for nature and more taxation, along with less consumption and reparations to the global south. Once someone suggests a “solution” which may avert catastrophe via a high-tech operation controlled by a few and profiting corporations, the picture changes.
It may seem like anything that puts an end to the obstructionism of the global corporate right wing is a good thing. But if it depends on allowing enthusiastic Promethean cowboys to do their experiments on our only planet, while doing nothing to curb greenhouse gas emissions, nothing to reduce all the myriad other harms our frantic, growth-obsessed culture inflicts, and nothing to install renewable and low-impact replacements for fossil fuels while we still have some fossil fuels to help build the infrastructure...then Hamilton’s fears are indeed well-founded, and it’s important that we begin now to counter the impetus the Prometheans are putting behind the idea of geoengineering. After finishing this book, I find myself wondering: Have there been quiet conversations between proponents and policy-makers, and might these have something to do with the complete refusal of so many governments to countenance emissions limits?
The frightening possible consequences of geothermal modifications of climate. 16 April 2015
By Daniel Desulis - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is terrifying. Should the possibilities which Clive Hamilton reveals of the ways in which a government, or one very wealthy individual, could change the future of earth's climate, and do with without full scientific examination of the consequences, occur, the populations of the planet would be like the white rats used in a scientific lab, not knowing if the experiment will be positive or disastrous.
Hamilton writes of the last ditch efforts that could be utilized once the consideration of averting the worst consequences of a warming planet seem too unavoidable to prevent or delay.. He also explains the planning for geothermal induced changes being contemplated or planned by groups and institutions which have already considered these methods.
Earthmasters: An Early Look at a Climate Change End-Game Scenario 16 April 2015
By Jose Falconi - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Accessible science writing that still portrays the science reasonably is rare. This book does that. In addition Hamilton's portrayal of the politics surrounding climate change and climate change denial is both fair and a bit of a wake-up call on who the "good" and bad" guys really are. I would recommend this to anyone who would rather see the problem coming than be blind-sided. This is for people who want to think clearly past all the distortions appearing in the popular press. Beware: If you respect and love Nature, this book is not for the faint of heart.....
10 of 17 people found the following review helpful
a diatribe about the global inaction on climate change but NOT a serious discussion of the science of climate engineering 7 Feb. 2014
By Andrew - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is not a serious review of the science of different approaches but a diatribe on why these are all flawed. The author, while a Dean at a reputable university, has no science or engineering background after grade 12, being a philosopher and ethicist. He is is simply enamored with the argument that complexity prevents humans from taking any action and that the only approach is to live in a "natural" world (whatever that is).

In essence, the author opposes climate engineering based upon two "scientific or technological" arguments. The first argument is that massive scale efforts will be needed for some approaches and this will take a lot of effort. This is not surprising since addition of CO2 to the atmosphere is due to a massive worldwide industrialization! The author is incredibly naive about industrial scale electrical generation and fuel discovery and refining necessary to support billions of people. He needs to read "Energy w/o the Hot Air", although that might be very difficult because he has absolutely no science background to understand any scientific arguments. The second argument is that solar radiation reduction (which amazingly requires little effort) is too easy to turn off and is thus subject to political whims.

The author doesn't see any contradiction in these statements, neither of which make sense, because the author really opposes climate engineering based upon a philosophical, not scientific or technical, argument, i.e., humans don't know a lot about the ramifications of each approach because the earth's ecological system is very complex. This may be true but is not a reason for inaction given the looming crisis.

Let me use a medical analogy to illustrate the author's arguments. An overweight man arrive in hospital with chest pains and the doctor says "You are having a heart attack. The treatments are all invasive and dangerous and could kill you, so I don't want to try." Everyone recognizes that is crazy, of course, as the doctor has to try and help the patient now. But, the doctor then continues with "If you had lost weight and started exercising 20 years ago, you wouldn't be in this condition." That is immaterial. The doctor must treat the patient's condition not chastise him.

In essence, the real intent of this book is to chastise humans for not taking actions to mitigate CO2 pollution 20 years ago. One doesn't need to read over 200 pages or pay $18 to learn this. Indeed, there is nearly unanimous agreement from scientists of all walks that mitigation would have been the better choice. But, human political systems have not done that. So, the question is how to prevent the upcoming climate disaster. Unfortunately, this book doesn't address that question in all its complexity.

BTW: before people start accusing me of lots of things, let me be clear that there is a great crisis coming. It is not just global warming but also, and IMHO more critically, acidification of the ocean. The latter fact strongly suggests that solar radiation management is not the appropriate climate engineering approach, but one would never know this from Dr. Hamilton's book. IMHO, humans may simply be taking an evolutionary route to extinction, which has happened many times to the dominant species in the history of the earth.
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