"Whose hands are allowed at the thermostat?” Voices from Africa Petra Tschakert

"Whose hands are allowed at the thermostat?”
Voices from Africa
Petra Tschakert
Penn State University
So far, geo-engineering has been an almost exclusive debate in rich countries of the North. In
most of Africa, reflected in the continent’s various media outlets, awareness of even the
existence of a Plan B is essentially absent. Yet, there are several reasons why southern
governments and citizens alike should be suspicious of both solar radiation management and
carbon dioxide removal. The proposed techno-fixes not only distract from the failing
commitments to aggressively curtail emissions and provide adaptation funding for the most
vulnerable and impacted nations and populations, they also displace all other discourses of
climate change, especially those on rights and justice. Couched as a global exigency embedded
in the illusion of control, geo-engineering conveniently overlooks ecosystem restoration and
unequal overconsumption while allowing a billion people to go hungry. Unknown yet not
necessarily unintentional consequences are likely to affect tropical and sub-tropical regions
disproportionally (‘spatial heterogeneity’), with the risk of leaving Africa scorched beyond the
impacts of a 2º warmer world. Moreover, countries that are largely responsible for past and
present emissions are the only ones that can afford and muster the complex ingredients to tinker
with the world’s climate and control experiments and deployment. Even if a voluntary code of
practice fills the current regulatory vacuum, poor hands are unlikely to be allowed at the global
thermostat. Africa, cheated for billions of adaptation money, is right to question the willingness
of the rich and powerful to protect her interests in a geo-engineered world and provide adequate
and fair compensation for those who bear the highest risks. Finally, it will be an enormous
educational challenge to persuade the global South, where anthropogenic climate change itself
remains difficult to grasp, to cede precious land for millions of artificial carbon-sucking trees
that produce neither food crops nor restore local soil fertility.