Christopher Preston

Beyond End of Nature: SRM and Two Tales of Artificity for the Anthropocene



2.      McKibben's End of Nature idea

         a.      Due to global warming (=GW), climate change, biotechnology, global pollution (acid rain)

         b.      Death of an idea, of nature untainted by humans (=pristine, virgin nature)

         c.      Meaning of nature changed

                   i.       Consider pollution sunsets

3.      Climate change (=CC) ratchets up extent of human influence

         a.      Anthropogenic warming creates a more fundamental type of change, altering "the most basic forces around us" and has "potential to shape totality of nature in a fashion quite unprecedented in human history"

                   i.       Totality of nature?

         b.      Recognition that we can influence the weather represents, ‘a major paradigm shift, arguably on the order of the Copernican Revolution’

         c.      It is “entering the domain of the gods” (sky)

4.      But CC unintentional

         a.      Clearly was before we knew our activities were causing it

         b.      But still is; even though we continue to do things that we know will result in CC

                   i.       We do not intend to cause GW, even though we realize we are doing it

         c.      Doctrine of Double Effect”: Not responsible for unintended consequences of acts pursued for well intentioned purposes

                   i.       E.g., Hysterectomy (removal of uterus) because it is cancerous which results in abortion (unintended)

5.      But Geoenginneering (=GE) or climate engineering (e.g., solar radiation management) is intentional (it is intentional climate change) and comes with a special moral burden

         a.      It is deliberately entering the domain of the gods

         b.      Deliberate modification/manipulation of earth’s most fundamental natural processes

         c.      Engineer it according to human design

         d.      We would be deliberately altering and adjusting one basic natural process.

                   i.       Not same as creation or engineering from scratch



         a.      Preston on other types of geoengineering

7.      SRM = solar radiation management or sunlight reflection method

8.      SRM attempts to ameliorate GHG warming by reducing amount of solar energy absorbed by earth by reflecting some back into space

9.      SRM techniques

         a.      Paint roofs white

         b.      Deploy billions of mirrors in space

         c.      Cloud brightening: Spray sea water into ocean clouds w/ 1500 continuous vessels

                   i.       One positive of this approach is it can be easily stopped and effects end immediately

         d.      Spray sulfur particles into upper atmosphere with airplanes, cannons, hoses

                   i.       Mt Pinatubo explosion proved this works to cool planet

                   ii.      Particles would stay up a long time; could not stop immediately

10.    Some technical problems with SRM

         a.      Carbon buildup continues so have to keep doing these things or temperatures shoot up

         b.      Ocean acidification ignored



12.    Basic moral question about GE: Restoration or manipulation of earth?

         a.      Is it benign effort at global restoration, humans trying to restore the earth?   Or,

         b.      Arrogant form of interference with and manipulation of natural processes?

         c.      How GE might lessen human interference on earth

                   i.       If we are restoring to temperature that would have existed and to which animals, plants, and humans adapted, this in some ways lessens our earlier and ongoing interference (by interfering more now)

                   ii.      A general feature of restoration: more human involvement is used to lessen human involvement

13.    Preston: Geoengineering (would) changes our relation to earth in a fundamental way

         a.      Changes earth into a giant artifact? McKibben's Eaarth

                   i.       Artifact definition: “any object made by human beings, especially with a view to subsequent use”

         b.      At least, says Preston it, "artificing of nature"

         c.      David Keith: Accepting deliberate climate modification means “consciously admitting that we live on a managed planet



         a.      Argument that managing the climate, takes earth and artifices it into a different metaphysical kind (artifact rather than natural) and so doing diminishes its value

15.    Problems with the idea of a sharp artifact is bad, nature is good metaphysical and moral divide

         a.      Problematic assumption that natural things are generally good and artifacts are generally bad

                   i.       Some artifacts (solar panels, hybrid cars) are good....

         b.      Also naturalness comes in degrees (garden, coal fired power plant), yet both contain human intention

         c.      Some human acts are natural (eating) and some not (booking airline ticket on ipad)

         d.      Nothing humans do can contravene the laws of nature, so even building of artifacts (hummers, golf courses) is natural in this sense

         e.      So sets aside idea that SRM problematic simply because it artifices the earth

16.    Not helpful to claim that an engineered climate is bad simply because it contains human intention

17.    Things to consider

         a.      Synthetic artifacts, tables and chairs not bad because of human intention

         b.      But natural items, may be less valuable because of this?

                   i.       Garden? No. Natural beauty? Exotics? Genetically engineered loblolly trees?

         c.      But when you talk about whole earth and fundamental earth processes like climate, intentionally modifying it is a special case and problematic.



19.    Eric Katz objects to restoration as it produces an artifact

         a.      A main problem is that artifacts are designed to serve human interests

         b.      Clear that SRM need not be totally anthropocentric as goal could be to allow nature to resume previous diversity and complexity

20.    Vogel points out purpose of artifacts are not entirely to serve human interests

         a.      Even biotic artifacts like GMOs and domesticated sheep have purposes and interests of own along side those humans create

         b.      He also thinks this is true of nonliving artifacts

                   i.       How?

21.    Vogel: artifacts always exceed human intentions in some dimensions

         a.      Materially embody an idea and its “behavior will in some measure always exceed intention/purposes of creators”

         b.      Every artifact produces unanticipated effects” and so exceeds its relation to human intention

22.    Excess is artifact’s wildness/naturalness/its nature

         a.      Like things happening in a garden that aren’t planned, or bridge the taken down by wind

         b.      Unanticipated wildness in every artifact

         c.      “Space between engineer’s intentions and actual results is the artifact’s “nature”



24.    The gap/wildness present in artifacts shows that introducing human intention into restoring climate need not lead merely to creation of giant artifact

         a.      After all engineering, nature remains present



26.    Holmes Rolston on SRM

         a.      ‘Some of these schemes sound like putting up a protective layer high in the sky, so that down below the usual natural processes can go on more or less as before. That isn’t exactly ending nature; it is arranging for it to continue – albeit with a solar shield that is an artifact’

27.    List of all the env good things a geoengineered climate might bring as compared to global warming  

         a.      Arctic ice remain, polar bears saved; African rains would not be reduced, species need not shift ranges north, crops less likely to fail, disease less likely to expand range

         b.      Humans breathe a sigh of relief as who host of human and natural values salvaged

         c.      “Last gasp preservation” of those things env care about

         d.      Whatever artificity exists would be exceeded by wildness that gets preserved “by the artifact’s nature” (Vogel’s language”)

28.    To appreciate enduring presence of nature in such a restoration need to let go of the “pristine fetish”: nature as pristine or untouched

         a.      Natural spontaneity remain would be great

         b.      Only intentionally altering solar radiation reaching earth

                   i.       But this ignores it is trying to undo previous human manipulation

         c.      Wildness retained in system (wildlife, hydrological processes, etc) would be orders of magnitude greater than in any previous artificing

29.    Nature will continue to assert its nature underneath the umbrella of a managed climate

         a.      Climate is not managed in sense of determine what weather will be locally, how much rain where in any detail.....



31.    Worried about additional responsibilities voluntarily assuming such management of planet’s climate would involve

         a.      SRM makes us designer and caretaker of both people and ecosystems

         b.      Involves ineliminable uncertainty in the science

         c.      Daunting challenge

         d.      But we should not ignore the responsibility we have for not acting and letting our CC behavior mess with the planet!

32.    Untouched nature has been canvas against which human have searched for and found meaning in our lives

33.    Taking control of background context of our lives is psychologically challenging as it places an immense burden on us

         a.      No place on earth or under the sky where anxiety producing questions such as “are we succeeding” could be avoided

         b.      These are good points except for problem of treating SRM as if it was making all of nature

34.    Anthropocene

         a.      New geologic epoch due to our huge impact on planet

         b.      Defining mark is physical changes to nature

         c.      Another defining feature is change in our moral responsibility

35.    Such responsibility is not for squeamish

         a.      Taking responsibility for restored wetland or threatened species very different from taking responsibility for ecology of whole earth

         b.       We are altering this ecology not creating it; Nor are we responsible for every dimension of it (like predator prey relations, for example)

36.    Such responsibility should elicit a mix of excitement and unease

         a.      Remorse might be the more important emotion.

37.    At every moment it would be our responsibility to ensure the climate was hospitable

         a.      Rather than viewing nature in the traditional fashion as a deep source of solace and meaning, we might start to view the climate as a constant (and self-created) threat

         b.      “Few changes in humanity’s role on earth would impose such a heavy moral burden.”

38.    Worries about the claim that geoengineering the climate makes us totally responsible for it

         a.      Would it? It isn’t now, nor never was our responsibility to insure climate was hospitable.

         b.      It’s not as if we are specifying exact weather parameters for the entire planet in each location

         c.      Also, since we are attempting to restore the climate, if we succeed, then we are just undoing what we have done

         d.      But perhaps we are still responsible then?

         e.      We were not responsible for hurricanes 50 years ago. If by geoengineering the climate we return it to what it would have been if we had not warmed it (i.e., climate restoration is successful), are we then responsible for the hurricanes that appear after restoration?

         f.       Consider the following analogy

                   i.       We kill off wolves and the restore them

                   ii.      Presumably we were not responsible for the elk deaths before we killed off the wolves

                   iii.     But now we are responsible for elk deaths?

39.    Ultimate moral issue of SRM is one of responsibility and whether we ought to take it

         a.      Artificing the climate would mean taking a kind of total responsibility unprecedented in human history

         b.      Not obvious we should assume this.

         c.      Why assume it is total responsibility?       

Questions for Preston, Beyond End of Nature: SRM and Artificity in Anthropocene


1.         Explain how McKibben thinks global warming results in the “end of nature.” What sense of ‘nature’ does he have in mind?

2.         What is the difference between unintentional anthropogenic climate change and intentional anthropogenic climate change? Have humans engaged in the latter yet? Why not? Can one realize one’s actions will have a certain result w/o intending that they do?

3.         Define “geoengineering.” Why does geoengineering the climate have a “special moral burden” according to Preston?           

4.         What is solar radiation management? Give some examples of ways we might attempt this.

5.         Is geoengineering the climate a benign effort at restoration of the earth or an arrogant form of interference and manipulation of the climate? Explain the reasoning for each of these claims.

6.         What is an “artifact?” Does geoengineering the climate turn the earth (or the climate) into a giant artifact?

7.         Does infusing human intention into the genesis and being of a (previously?) natural object lessen its value? Why or why not?

8.         Explain the idea of Steven Vogel’s (that Preston summarizes) that artifacts always exceed human intentions. Consider his claim that this excess is the artifact’s “nature” and that this “unanticipated wildness” exists in any artifact. Does this show that an engineered climate is not a fully unnatural artifact?

9.         Evaluate Holmes Rolston’s response to solar radiation management will end nature: “Some of these schemes sound like putting up a protective layer high in the sky, so that down below the usual natural processes can go on more or less as before. That isn’t exactly ending nature; it is arranging for it to continue – albeit with a solar shield that is an artifact.”

10.       Explain why and how Preston argues that geoengineering the climate would dramatically increase our responsibility for what happens on earth and thereby change our relation to the planet. Is he right that this? Discuss his claim that it is a kind of “total responsibility,” involves “taking responsibility for the ecology of the whole earth,” and gives us the responsibility to make sure at each moment that the climate is hospitable.

11.       Consider the following worry about Preston’s claims above: We were not responsible for hurricanes 50 years ago. If by geoengineering the climate we return it to what it would have been if we had not warmed it (i.e., climate restoration is successful), are we then responsible for the hurricanes that appear after restoration?