published on February 20, 2014
The Public and Geoengineering Decision-Making
A View from Confucian Political Philosophy
In response to the Royal Society report’s claim that “the acceptability of geoengineering will be determined as much by social, legal, and political issues as by scientific and technical factors” (Geoengineering the Climate: Science, Governance and Uncertainty [London: Royal Society, 2009], ix), a number of authors have suggested the key to this challenge is to engage the public in geoengineering decision-making. In effect, some have argued that inclusion of the public in geoengineering decision-making is necessary for any geoengineering project to be morally permissible. Yet, while public engagement on geoengineering comes in various forms, the discussion in geoengineering governance and the ethics of geoengineering have too often conceptualized it exclusively in terms of public participation in decision-making, and supported it by various liberal democratic values. However, if the predominant understanding of public engagement on—or, the role of the public in—geoengineering decision-making is indeed only grounded on liberal democratic values, then its normative relevance could be challenged by and in other ethical-political traditions that do not share those values. In this paper, I shall explore these questions from a Confucian perspective. I argue that the liberal democratic values invoked in support of the normative importance of public participation are, at least, foreign to Confucian political philosophy. This presents a prima facie challenge to view public participation in geoengineering decision-making as a universal moral requirement, and invites us to reconsider the normative significance of this form of public engagement in Confucian societies. Yet, I contend that the role of the public remains normatively significant in geoengineering governance and the ethics of geoengineering from a Confucian perspective. Drawing from recent work on Confucian political philosophy, I illustrate the potential normative foundation for public engagement on geoengineering decision-making.