Geoengineering strategies, from the extreme to the sustainable. Photo by University of Leeds
Benjamin T. Rancourt February 10, 2017
Climate change is an unprecedented human-made disaster that raises unprecedented questions about what we humans should do. The status quo is not a viable option, but there are several different ways we could approach the problem of climate change. One style of approach, known as geotherapy, identifies the root cause of the problem as a failure to understand the balances that naturally keep the climate stable, or that kept it stable before the industrial revolution. Industry interrupted the Earth’s processes that already existed and already worked to maintain a livable climate, and our task should be to determine how we interrupted those processes and how we can restore them.
On the other hand, a more extreme approach, known as geoengineering or climate engineering, seeks to develop new technologies and new engineering projects that can force the climate, one way or another, to be what we want it to be. Proposals have included reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth by spraying aerosols in the sky, or dumping iron into the oceans to create carbon sinks. The issue with such proposals is that they are untested and could lead to disastrous consequences.
Which of these approaches is the right way to address climate change, both ethically and practically? Practicality is frequently discussed, but outside of academic journals, ethics is largely left aside. (As just one illustration, The Royal Society’s 75-page report on geoengineering devotes less than one page to ethics, while the rest focuses on the potential practical, legal, and social consequences.) Such an important question requires careful public study and debate. The public needs to get used to thinking ethically about these new problems because they require new considerations.
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