Working Paper Series, Geoengineering Our Climate? (11 June 2013)
The slow progress on an adequate policy solution in light of growing scientific understanding of the impacts of a warming world, limited success on efforts to mitigate the causes of anthropogenic climate change, and awareness of the high costs and the limits to adaptation have led some scientists and some policy-makers to consider geoengineering as a potentially viable option to avoid “threshold responses” and dangerous climate change. Some approaches to climate engineering, indeed, even proposals to field test climate engineering technologies such as ocean iron fertilization or increasing the reflectivity of the atmosphere to reduce the amount of sunlight that is absorbed, raise serious and complex ethical issues. Given this, proposals to deploy geoengineering technologies, or even to field test some of them, must be accompanied by serious consideration of the ethical dimensions of geoengineering. However, adequate ethical analyses must be grounded in and arise from a robust understanding of the relevant scientific accounts of such technologies and their potential impacts, and an appreciation of any correlated uncertainties. Indeed, ethical analysis may require and point to needed scientific research in cases where there are coupled ethical-epistemic issues, that is, where ethical judgments require additional knowledge. Hence, the science and ethics of geoengineering are intertwined.