Think about geoengineering for climate change, and you might think of sucking carbon from the air, dumping iron in the ocean, or blocking sunlight with mirrors. Artist and "experimental philosopher" Jonathon Keats has an even crazier suggestion: What if we literally reshaped the Earth?
If we can't get every country to fully agree on a strategy for climate change, Keats suggests we should consider bringing them all together by geoengineering a new supercontinent.
"If we were to all to essentially be together in terms of geography—or as much so as possible—that we might start to see the world in terms of the collective problem and the need for collective action to confront it," Keats says.
This year's global climate talks are making some progress. China, for example, has promised to launch a new carbon market. But that still will likely regulate less than half of their total annual emissions. The U.S. plans to cut emissions 28% over the next decade. It's better than nothing. But experts say it's not enough to keep the climate within a safe range.
"Despite the fact that so clearly climate change is a global concern and a global crisis, every country seems to have its own policy, and secondly to base that policy on a sort of self-interest based on national borders," Keats says. "National borders make sense in terms of planetary history politically, but they don't really have anything to do with the problems inherent in climate change."
Since treaties haven't been much of a success in the past, Keats came up with another way to act. "Why don't we just get into tectonics?" he says.
In a new art exhibit at San Francisco's Modernism Gallery, Keats will display the technology that he thinks could make his crazy idea possible. Powered by the heat below the Earth's core, nuclear reactors would cool magma in some places, while subterranean machines would heat it up elsewhere, moving continents around. The Pacific Ocean would disappear, bringing together the U.S., Russia, and China.
"You have three countries that are looking at each other with a high degree of suspicion from across an ocean, that would literally be in the same place," he says. "I think that that changes things."
The new supercontinent would also bring the Global South upward. "It becomes a way in which to potentially alter the economic status quo," Keats says. "Because economics is such a crucial matter as far as how we address climate change, ... by bringing them into greater alignment, perhaps we no longer have this us versus them antagonism."
Keats' utopian vision involves giving everyone a globe and a Sharpie and collectively deciding how to build the new supercontinent. He also wants to work with scientists to plan exactly how the mechanics would work and how to avoid technical problems—the last time the world had a supercontinent, it caused massive droughts.
If you think it sounds insane, maybe that's partly the point. Keats hopes that it gives people a new lens to consider the other geoengineering ideas that have been very seriously proposed. "To what extent really is it absurd or foolhardy to undertake geoengineering such as building a sun shade or seeding the ocean with iron?" he says. "I think really be having not only conversations about how we build political consensus, but also conversations about how we enlist technology in order to solve the world's problems."