But there are traditions of political philosophy that are focused more squarely on arrangements of power between people. And the Black radical tradition, anti-colonial traditions, anticapitalist traditions are in that broad family—and that’s the kind of political philosophy I do.
So I’m not interested in whether carbon removal is something Locke would have remarked upon. Those aren’t the political questions I ask. I ask, How are people meeting their needs or failing to meet their needs? Who’s responsible, and what should we do about it? And it will always be relevant from that perspective. I ask what technologies are out there, how we’re producing things, how we’re responding to our ecological and geopolitical realities. Most critically for the kind of philosophy that we’re doing, How should you distribute things—responsibilities, burdens, resources? That’s all crucially at issue with climate justice.
Meyer: If there were one idea that you wish people carried into conversations about carbon removal, what would it be?
Táíwò: I think the biggest thing people need to keep track of in these conversations is that what matters is outcomes, not sides. The basic problem with the carbon-removal conversation—as I perceive it—is that people are trying to read off of who supports what [to know which position] they should support.
Meyer: In other words, people associate carbon removal with what a certain company wants, or a certain political party wants, so they oppose it.
Táíwò: Yeah. I mean, they’re thinking well, but about the wrong set of questions. Because it just is true that there are concerted political actors who are trying to use the possibility of carbon removal to protect their agenda, which is decidedly not green. And many of those are fossil-fuel companies and state actors.
I think there’s a more basic kind of political mistake, which is thinking that a political adversary is someone who, on every constituent issue, has the polar-opposite interests of what you have. And that’s just not how politics has worked or will ever work.
So … how do I put this? I feel like, as a philosopher, I can say with some authority that folks are really just overthinking this. They are overthinking it.
Táíwò: They are really just overthinking it. Like, a section of the world that has the lion’s share of economic, political, and interpersonal security, and that has the lion’s share of wealth, has also emitted the lion’s share of pollution. And now there are ways emerging to literally, in direct ways, address that pollution; ways of removing pollutants from the air and putting them someplace else where they can do less damage to the world.
Just turn the galaxy brain off. That’s actually a good thing that should be happening.
And there are complicated questions, yes, to ask about how that should be happening. Different ways of rolling that out that could go wrong. But just keep it simple. Pollution: bad. Removing pollution: good.