The fourth most popular issue in our second annual poll of Emerging Ethical Dilemmas and Policy Issues in Science and Technology is "geoengineering," with roughly 12% of the total votes. Below we've provided more information about this topic to serve as a resource to students, educators, journalists, policy makers, and concerned citizens.
It's not too late to vote on our list!
Geoengineering is the deliberate large-scale manipulation of environmental processes to combat global warming. It involves two types of processes – carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and Solar Radiation Management (SRM). SRM, the more controversial prospect, is a form of climate modification that reduces the amount of sun hitting the earth’s surface. Sulfate Aerosol Geoengineering (SAG-SRM) would inject the stratosphere with aerosols and could be done at such a reasonable cost ($8 million per year) that it’s possible one nation could take action for the entire planet. Whether used locally or globally, adopting a SAG policy would have long-term and far reaching consequences. One nation’s policy decision could immediately and adversely affect another country’s economic well-being as well as affect human health over both the short and long term. What legal, ethical, and moral issues are raised by deliberate manipulation of the world's climate system? We should ask ourselves the following questions:
- Do these methods merely buy us time, without actually solving the problem for future generations?
- Does allowing geoengineering research to proceed make emissions cutbacks seem less urgent?
- Cost estimates for geoengineering put it within reach of many governments and large corporations. Who has the right to manipulate the world's climate? What sort of consensus needs to be reached in order to move forward? How can we prevent a rouge nation or company from embarking on their own geoengineering projects?
- There will be costs to some people (crop losses, monsoons, etc.) - how do we decide who pays that cost? Who is responsible for the wellbeing of the people harmed by geoengineering projects?
- Do we have the responsibility to pursue all avenues (including geoengineering) to halt the effects of climate change?
- Governments are less willing to fund the research than the private sector. What concerns are raised by possibly leaving geoengineering in the hands of the private sector?
What is Geoengineering? (The Guardian)
Can Geoengineering Solve Global Warming? (The New Yorker)
Reengineering the Earth (The Atlantic)
Geoengineering the Climate May Be Possible, But Who Decides? (Environmental Defense Fund)
Geoengineering: Our Last Hope, or a False Promise? (New York Times)
Are Ideas to Cool the Planet Realistic? (BBC News)
The cases for geoengineering
Obama Takes Bold Step to Geoengineer Climate Change (Huffington Post)
Why We'd Be Mad to Rule Out Climate Engineering (The Guardian)
Geoengineering Could Reduce Critical Global Rainfall (Climate Central)
Buffering the Sun (Harvard Magazine)
Cheap But Imperfect: Can Geoengineering Slow Climate Change? (Spiegel Online)
The cases against geoengineering
One Problem With Geoengineering: Once You Start, You Can’t Really Stop (Washington Post)
Geoengineering - Testing the Waters (New York Times)
The First Geo-Vigilante (The New Yorker)
Solar Geoengineering: Weighing Costs of Blocking the Sun’s Rays (Yale, Environment 360 Blog)