Options for engineering the climate system, some long-dismissed by many as a vestige of Buck Rogers, are getting additional attention as near-term prospects for an effective political remedy remain bleak. But with research into the subject come increasing numbers of ethical questions yet to be resolved.
Is geoengineering an ethical response to the problem of climate change? What moral issues are raised by any deliberate manipulation of the climate system? Should research into its science and engineering proceed, or does that step create a moral hazard by making emissions cutbacks seem less urgent?
There are more questions, to be sure, and few easy answers. But scientists, environmentalists, and philosophers increasingly are grappling with the complexities and tradeoffs of climate solutions long considered by many to be drastic, as they fear the world seems unable or unwilling to get carbon out of its energy diet.
This first of a two-part series examines geoengineering and its potential side effects, including recent studies that find the costs are relatively small. Part two will explore some of the ethical questions being raised about geoengineering by philosophers, scientists, and others.
Engineering the Climate
Geoengineering, also called climate engineering, involves the deliberate modification of Earth’s natural systems to reduce global warming. The term itself is not vanilla and all-encompassing, and not all geoengineering proposals are alike.