Archive for the ‘Geoengineering’ Category


Christopher Preston and Holly Buck

October 18, 2010

UPDATE 1:41: Q&A now. Clark Miller has a question about the assignment of value to different sets of outcomes. Holly responds that a universally environmental ethics may be impossible, but it’s at least desirable. I asked a question and obviously couldn’t type at the same time. Basically I expressed my gripe that some forms of geoengineering are different than others, and some are more restorative than others. Most, however, move the world to a different state. Now Nicole Hassoun is asking a question, but i’m typing and have no idea how to document what she’s just said. David Keith is speaking now. He’s raising this concern about there are some landscapes that haven’t been manipulated in many ways. Once you get to carbon concentrations of (arbitrarily) 2 or 3 times the natural levels, then basically, he says, you’re dealing with an artifact.

UPDATE 1:25: Holly Buck says she has a soft voice, apologetically, but it’s not really true. She asks What Climate Engineering Can Do for Us. Wrote this paper while in Azerbaijan, or however you spell it. Apparently they have pictures of the benzene molecule on their monetary notes. Introduces seven premises about media:

  1. media is an environment
  2. this environment is interactive, but that doesn’t make it equally authored.
  3. there is no ‘public’ — only publics
  4. both media texts and audience have an active part in making meaning
  5. communication serves a ritual function
  6. media doesn’t just relate events, it also performs them
  7. language can create conceptual changes.

I stopped taking notes on her slides. They’re way too long. But she’s kindly provided her full paper, link above, so you can read that if you want to read  her slides, which, basically, are clippings from her paper.

UPDATE 1:10: Lunch was dee-lunchious. Institutional food doesn’t get much better. Now Christopher Preston (Montana homeboy) is telling us what’s up. Here’s his abstract.

Oops. He’s made a mistake about a quote by a scientist and a guy from the American Enterprise Institute. Like dogs to an ice cream cone, the scientists have corrected him, irrelevant though the actual speaker of the quote is. Christopher has also just cited Holmes Rolston III, though he’s put a quote up on a non-white background. Picture of sky. Pretty, but you can’t read what Rolston has to say.

What Preston says is basically that there’s a presumptive environmental ethics argument against geoengineering. And he’s concerned, in particular, that you’ll turn the earth into some sort of artifact. Now he’s quoting Keekok Lee, though this time he used a white background. Bill McKibben’s now the guy in question, who raises, obviously, this point in End of Nature. Preston’s attributing McKibben’s stance to an “unintentional” manipulation of the earth, and I suppose that’s right, though I hadn’t quite thought of that before.

There are many knotty — ‘knotty’ is a good word — ethical issues associated with geoengineering, he says. Procedural/participatory questions, risk management, distributional, public/private, legal, security, goals/intentions, and so on.

Now he’s moving on to other questions. Wants to talk about the lesser of two evils argument. Wants to look at putative arguments in favor of using geoengineering. Channeling Steve Gardiner (obviously; duh; he’s the lesser of two evils guy).

Moved on to another kind of waiving of presumption case: the “Necessary action to save human life.” Suggests perhaps that the deep ecologists might object to the general saving of a human life, but these are relatively rare positions in the environmental community. If it’s about saving life, then all bets are more or less off for the environmental community.

A third way in which we might waive the assumption is to suggest that “Large Scale Manipulation is What We Do.” He says he’s not persuaded by this. The case might be made that basically this is can be undercut by suggesting also that sometimes humans overstep the mark.

Fourth, sometimes there’s a sense in which geoengineering is a sort of environmental restoration.

Fifth, someone might waive the presumption because it could be the case that we couldn’t possible blight ourselves further.


Next Up: Wendy Parker and Bjornar Egede-Nissen

October 18, 2010

UPDATE 10:34: Q&A. Christopher Preston just asked a question about Rumsfeld. Alan Robock is now picking up the unknown unknowns thread, suggesting that Wendy doesn’t know what unknown unknowns are; but she disagrees. She thinks we can be in a position to judge the likelihood of unknown unknowns coming into play. Robock is charging forward again, and now he’s on her case about the models. He says that if you’re worried about climate change, you’re trusting in models, because those are the things that freak us out with regard to climate change. Parker just steps right up to the plate and smacks Robock backward. Now David Keith is saying something about the left-right divide, specifically with regard to Wendy’s very interesting comments about unintended consequences. She defers due to time. Clark Miller is now asking about breast cancer and geoengineering, or something like that. (Not really. He’s asking about the panels of people from a range of disciplinary backgrounds who evaluate the variety of considerations associated with things like breast cancer. But it’s much crazier to think about breast cancer and geoengineering without that conceptual bridge. Holly Buck made  a point about trust being down across the board.

I’m finding it very hard to liveblog and formulate a question, so I feel like I’m not participating as much as I should be. Multitasking is my nemesis.

UPDATE 10:17: Bjornar is talking about scientists and the role of science in the public debate. Here’s his abstract. Scientists, essentially, are supposed to be the neutral umpires of truth. According to many, they’re not supposed to be advocates of change. When issues get complex and uncertainty grows, there are a lot of legitimate perspectives on what can be done. There’s not just one truth out there, he says. Scientists share the public space with many other people, he says. There are four fault lines, he says, quoting here:

1) complexity and the limits of science

2) scientists as gatekeepers; (Oh no he di’int.) He just accused scientists of being foxes who guard the henhouse.

3) pushing boundaries; science is leading society on this issue.

4) paraochialism and conflicts of interests.

UPDATE 10:02: Wendy Parker is up. Here’s her abstract. She’s quoting Dale Jamieson right now. Wants to focus on the natural scientists, and specifically on the reliability of prediction, thinks we should instead talk about the trustworthiness of consequences. The responsibilities are:

1) to attempt to foresee and predict both the positive and negative consequences

2) to carefully evaluate the extent to which trustworth predictions of the consequences of specific SRM interventions can be made.

3) to communicate to the public the results

Wants to focus on 1 and 2.

Prediction, she says, is the “best available” pitfall. She just quoted Donald Rumsfeld. Why do so many philosophers do this?

What are the unintended consquences of SRM inquiry? Seems unpopular with some groups, even those who are otherwise concerned about climate change… this may reinforce concerns about the legitimacy of scientists and the climate science. Very interesting idea. So I guess the thought is that people who otherwise might support action on climate change are those who might also be turned off by SRM, and so therefore we could end up totally undercutting the climate case simply by going forward with research.

Is public involvement an answer? Having some public involvement may help to provide some sort of answer.


I am surrounded by empty cream cheese packets.


Geoengineering Ethics

October 18, 2010

Been a bit off the wagon again, but for the next several days I’ll be liveblogging the Geoengineering Ethics conference in Missoula, Montana. We have a slate of pretty interesting folks here. First up, in about an hour, Nancy Tuana and Clark Miller. Check the schedule for the whole schedule.



October 2, 2010

The geoengineering follies continue.


Geoengineering Article

August 5, 2010

My article with Lisa Dilling, “Geoengineering, Ocean Fertilization, and the Problem of Permissible Pollution” is now out in Science, Technology and Human Values. Check it out:

Many geoengineering projects have been proposed to address climate change, including both solar radiation management and carbon removal techniques. Some of these methods would introduce additional compounds into the atmosphere or the ocean. This poses a difficult conundrum: Is it permissible to remediate one pollutant by introducing a second pollutant into a system that has already been damaged, threatened, or altered? We frame this conundrum as the “Problem of Permissible Pollution.” In this paper, we explore this problem by taking up ocean fertilization and advancing an argument that rests on three moral claims. We first observe that pollution is, in many respects, a context-dependent matter. This observation leads us to argue for a “justifiability criterion.” Second, we suggest that remediating actions must take into account the antecedent conditions that have given rise to their consideration. We call this second observation the “antecedent conditions criterion.” Finally, we observe that ocean fertilization, and other related geoengineering technologies, propose not strictly to clean up carbon emissions, but actually to move the universe to some future, unknown state. Given the introduced criteria, we impose a “future-state constraint”.” We conclude that ocean fertilization is not an acceptable solution for mitigating climate change. In attempting to shift the universe to a future state (a) geoengineering sidelines consideration of the antecedent conditions that have given rise to it –conditions, we note, that in many cases involve unjustified carbon emissions –and (b) it must appeal to an impossibly large set of affected parties.


Geoengineering with a Cultural Twist

June 13, 2010

Could this be the future face of geoengineering?

Thais Fire Penis-Shaped Rockets to Trigger Rain; Showers Desperately Needed

In today’s most entertaining effort to influence the local weather, farmers in rural Thailand recently completed their annual rainmaking ritual: firing phallic rockets into the skies to try to trigger downpours.

Not sure if that will work. I suggest further study.


Outta Town

May 10, 2010

I’m outta town this week. But here, read this interview with Jeff Goodell on Geoengineering.


The Money to Be Made

April 19, 2010

Jeff Goodell has a nice little schtick in this Grist piece on the directional flow of dollars in the geoengineered world. I’m surprised, in a way, that the $$ question hasn’t gotten more play, but perhaps it’s too early for that.

Here are Goodell’s estimations as to who makes the cash, quoting directly. The fourth and fifth must be tongue in cheek, because if not, hey, I’m suddenly in favor of geoengineering. The positive externality of fundamentalist preachers is that their ridiculous reasoning amps up the demand for philosophers. This well could be my meal ticket:

  1. Lobbyists: Right now, because geoengineering is not much more than a twinkle in James Lovelock’s eye, nobody on K street is pushing for Department of Energy funding of stratospheric aerosol injection devices. But in the future, they might be. Geoengineering could turn out to be the 21st century equivalent of industrial agriculture … or a government project that has a lot in common with the overwrought, overfunded Star Wars missile defense system. Either way, lobbyists make out.
  2. Carbon-sucking entrepreneurs: Here’s a simple truth: anyone who figures out a cheap, simple way to suck CO2 out of the air is going to make a lot of money. Not surprisingly, a number of scientists/entrepreneurs are working on it, including David Keith, a physicist at the University of Calgary. Keith’s company, called Carbon Engineering, uses a simple chemical process borrowed from the pulp industry, and has attracted $5 million in funding from investors, including Bill Gates. Right now, the cost of sucking carbon out of the air is up around $150 a ton, but if Keith — or anyone else — can cut that cost in half, things start to get interesting. And when it comes to geoengineering, CO2 removal is the one area where the profit motive is clearly lined up with the public good.
  3. Early investors in albedo engineering companies: Manipulating the earth’s albedo (a fancy word for reflectivity) by brightening clouds or injecting particles into the stratosphere is the most dangerous and complex type of geoengineering researchers are currently exploring.  Among the many questions: Who is going to end up doing the actual work of brightening clouds or injecting aerosols? Maybe governments will be in charge, maybe a Richard Branson-like billionaire. Either way, the hardware is likely to be built by private contractors, just as the fighter planes used by the U.S. Air Force are built by private concerns like Lockheed Martin — a company with a market cap right now of about $32 billion.
  4. Geoengineering conference organizers: The whole idea of geoengineering is so fraught with technical, political, moral, and cultural complexities that, no matter how the future of geoengineering plays out, there are going to be plenty of issues to fret about. So we may as well gather up and fret together, even if we have to pay for the privilege.
  5. Fundamentalist preachers: I’m not suggesting that religious leaders are motivated by money (or sex). However, if we start trying to deliberately manipulate the earth’s climate, you can be sure that some will see this as trespassing into forbidden realms, and they will raise their voices against it. Imagine the war over abortion played out in the stratosphere and you’ll have a pretty good idea where we might be headed.

Not Such Fresh Air

April 16, 2010

If you haven’t heard it yet, here’s Jeff Goddell on geoengineering and his book “How to Cool the Planet.”



March 24, 2010

Cribbing this announcement from Roger. Here are some earlier posts and thoughts on geoengineering (12345), as well as some more formal articles (6789). I should probably re-read them to figure out what the hell I’m gonna say.



With a certain amount of anthropogenic climate change now “built in” to the system, the potential for rapid, irreversible outcomes, and doubts about the speed with which we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, scientists and governments are beginning to contemplate deliberately engineering the earth’s climate system. Opinions among the scientific community span the spectrum from “it’s our responsibility to provide this tool for the toolbox” to revulsion at the hubris of the idea, and concerns that it could reduce pressure for greenhouse gas reductions. A flurry of reports and conferences have considered the feasibility of developing and deploying geoengineering, potential unintended consequences, and the difficulty of governing the technology in which some options may be unilaterally undertaken. This panel seeks to illuminate the many questions surrounding research on geoengineering, and the technology’s political and ethical dimensions; how does it compare with other solutions to global warming? Should we research it, much less seek to implement it? Is geoengineering acceptable because it addresses harms already done? How would we know when to use it? And who decides?


– Max Boykoff, CU Environmental Studies and Geography
– Lisa Dilling, CU Environmental Studies
– Benjamin Hale, CU Environmental Studies and Philosophy
– Roger Pielke, Jr., CU Environmental Studies
– Bill Travis, CU Environmental Studies and Geography

A reception will start at 3:00 pm in the CIRES auditorium (338), with the talk beginning at 3:30 PM. This event is being co-sponsored by the CIRES Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, the CU Environmental Studies Program, the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI), and the Institute of Behavioral Science, Environment and Society Program.