Values in early-stage climate engineering: The ethical implications of “doing the research”
Abstract: Calls for research on climate engineering have increased in the last two decades, but there remains widespread agreement that many climate engineering technologies (in particular, forms involving global solar radiation management) present significant ethical risks and require careful governance. However, proponents of research argue, ethical restrictions on climate engineering research should not be imposed in early-stage work like in silico modeling studies. Such studies, it is argued, do not pose risks to the public, and the knowledge gained from them is necessary for assessing the risks and benefits of climate engineering technologies. I argue that this position, which I call the “broad research-first” stance, cannot be maintained in light of the entrance of nonepistemic values in climate modeling. I analyze the roles that can be played by nonepistemic political and ethical values in the design, tuning, and interpretation of climate models. Then, I argue that, in the context of early-stage climate engineering research, the embeddedness of values will lead to value judgments that could harm stakeholder groups or impose researcher values on non-consenting populations. I conclude by calling for more robust reflection on the ethics and governance of early-stage climate engineering research.