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GeoEngineering Follow-up

October 20, 2009

space_mirror.jpgThe talk with Steve Rayner went well yesterday.  It was fun, albeit too short to offer any real commentary.

One question I have for readers is what they (you) think about GeoEngineering. My view is that in almost all climatic circumstances, we shouldn’t deploy geoengineering technologies. (Note: like Rayner, I’m hesitant to clump all geoengineering technologies into one category, as things can get mighty confusing; so, for instance, Rayner and I disagree that ambient air capture and storage should be considered a geoengineering technology.  I think it shouldn’t, he thinks it should.  But this is another question.)

On whole, I think we ought not to engage in projects aimed at steering the earth’s climate.  I think geoengineering is morally impermissible.  I think this is true regardless of whether climate change will be catastrophic or whether it will make the world better for people.  I also think it’s true whether climate change is anthropogenic or natural.  I tried to touch on these views in my short commentary, and specifically on what makes geoengineering impermissible, but there just wasn’t enough time.

One issue that I think really does bear more discussion, and maybe that I struggle with myself, is the extent to which, on one hand, all actions can be understood as “engineering the climate,” and on the other hand, none of these actions are in fact “engineering the climate.”  So, for instance, some people object to my view by saying that we’re already in the business of engineering the climate.  They counter that every time I drive my car, my action, however minor, functions to change atmospheric concentrations of GHGs.  That’s true, of course, but to my mind, my action of driving my car doesn’t pass qualifying muster as a form of geoengineering.  To say that it does would be like saying that fixing my bedroom door qualifies as building my house.  It’s true that I’m contributing to the construction of my house when I fix my door, but I’m just fixing my door, I’m not building my house.  These distinctions matter in geoengineering too.

There’s a difference, for instance, between planting a forest in order to steer atmospheric concentrations of carbon back down to historical levels, and planting a forest to harvest later for wood.  Similarly, there’s a difference between planting a forest for geoengineering purposes and planting a forest to restore a forest that was once in place.  I think the latter practices are permissible, where the former practice of geoengineering is impermissible, even though the two acts may be practically the same.

Any thoughts on this?

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5 comments

  1. What is “geoengineering”?

    And why does the definition actually matter from a practical standpoint?


  2. Good question. Not sure. I’ll get back to you. Better to look at particular technologies.


  3. Hmmmm,

    A thought experiment. You like those. So do I.

    We discover that the globe will warm by 10C in the next 100 years. It is due to natural causes. It is determined that 1 billion people will die as a result. A geoengineering technology that is guaranteed to be 100% effective with no adverse side effects is discovered.

    Is using this technology “morally impermissible”?


  4. Who was the most important person in your life? Can you tell me about him or her?


  5. Um, no.



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