Smog Diamonds Shine Bright but are a Dull Solution

Forget blood diamonds, a new smog diamond has attracted netizens’ attention. Recently a new World Economic Forum post has been circling the Internet. The post is about a Dutch artist’s new tower that can turn pollution in Chinese cities into diamonds. He states that, “In the future waste should not exist” and that the revenue from smog jewelry sales will contribute to development of more Smog Free towers.

This may seem like a great idea, but I couldn’t help but think how frivolous it was. Eliminating pollution from the air is a wonderful feat, but the world does not need more jewelry or diamonds–more waste that will be tossed aside in a rubbish bin. And this new invention follows the “Business as Usual” strategy, in which we continue to produce, consume, and operate as we are now without making our behaviors less environmentally harmful. Under “Business as Usual,” we act as if our actions have no consequences and that the wealth created by these economic activities will be able to buy new technology or create environmentally friendly attitudes. This strategy will not keep us below the 2 degree threshold.

Creating more goods for us to buy almost rewards us for polluting. These diamonds may become a hot commodity, which increases pressure on supply. If this is the case, there would need to be more pollution to continue production of these smog diamonds. What is the end goal of these towers? If the aim is to eliminate pollution, it is only a temporary solution.

This story also reminded me of a recent Guardian article “Clean energy won’t save us – only a new economic system can.” The author, Jason Hickel, states, “The root problem is the fact that our economic system demands ever-increasing levels of extraction, production and consumption.” To Hickel, clean energy, similar to smog diamonds, will not change our behavior or economic systems that encourage and perpetuate these behaviors.

This new technology falls into the category of geoengineering projects to counteract climate change. Geoengineering involves solar radiation management, including technologies to control sunlight through space reflectors (like mirrors) or albedo enhancement (changing chemical composition of clouds and land surfaces). Other types of geoengineering tools remove carbon dioxide through carbon capture and sequestration, or other large machines that can remove CO2 from the air. These can be extremely important technologies for helping humans cope with the effects of climate change, but they should not and cannot be the sole solution. Technological development and innovation should be encouraged to help us battle climate change, but the focus should be on eliminating harmful activities not just reducing the effects of these activities.

I agree with the Dutch artist, that there should not be any waste in the future. But I also agree with Hickel, that certain items appear to repair environmental problems, but they do so only temporarily. What worries me is that these diamonds may not be a temporary solution, and they may encourage the consumptive activities that keep us on the “Business as Usual” path. Perhaps if the jewelry revenue was diverted to research on cleaning dirty economic systems, this smog diamond plan would be more sustainable. Diamonds may be forever, but with this strategy, pollution may be forever, too.

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