Superactors and Geoengineering

Flickr: Gloson

Flickr: Gloson

A few months ago I wrote this piece on the emergence of a new group of human black swans I call "superactors." The premise of the piece is that we may be witnessing the development of a new class of actors on the global stage who, as individuals, wield the ability to exert short, sharp shocks to large systems with the intent of shifting these systems' dynamics of trajectory. With quick actions directed at critical weaknesses in large systems, these superactors are capable of altering political balance, shifting economic currents, or reshaping social trends.

Late last week the media carried a story of Russ George, who, on behalf of the indigenous Haida nation of Canada, dumped around 100 tons of iron dust into the Pacific off British Columbia with the aim of creating plankton blooms that could serve as food for the salmon stock the Haida rely on for their economy. Predictably, environmental officials went into a frenzy (NOAA reportedly assisted with martime buoys, not knowing the full extent of George's plans), and geoengineering supporters and foes alike have expressed concern at the rogue action. 

I would put George's efforts in the superactor category—a person with funding, means and a strategy (however solid) intervening at a critical point in a complex system to shift its dynamics. While some of the early examples of superactors come from the armed conflict category, such as Henry Okah or Bin Laden, George is among the first I am aware of to operate in the environmental arena. With opportunities for massive environmental catastrophes increasing due to ever-more complex energy delivery systems, widening extraction activities, and an increase in extreme climate and other natural events, George isn't going to be the last to attempt an intervention, even if limited to a section of ocean. Of the issues we face globally—accelerating Arctic melting, petroleum spills, toxic leaks, potential radiation releases, and so on—fewer will be able to be contained if they occur on large scales. The BP Gulf of Mexico spill showed the limited effectiveness of government and private corporate responses. Already we have examples of crowds attempting to intervene or act where government response is limited. 

In its coverage of George's actions, Motherboard asks "Could a Rogue Millionaire Fix Climate Change?". The answer for the moment is unequivocally "no" in my opinion (unless of course they run a super PAC or win the presidency ;)), but that won't stop more from trying. Expect George's action to be among the first, not the last, we see in this arena. As governments, corporations and other institutions fail to intervene with environmental degradation and climate crisis, and their ability to even police the problems diminish due to economic crises, superactors will step in to fill the void. How that works out is anyone's guess.