Proceedings of the XXIII World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 12, 2018


Robin Attfield
Pages 23-27

The Ethics of Geo-engineering

While climate change mitigation remains indispensable, together with adaptation to such climate change as cannot be prevented, current slowness of progress towards attaining an international agreement on these matters has fostered suggestions about climate engineering, originally proposed as supplementary to adaptation and mitigation. These suggestions take the forms of Solar Radiation Management and Carbon Dioxide Removal. This paper discusses the ethics of researching and of deploying them. Solar Radiation Management ranges from harmless but inadequate measures such as making roofs reflect sunlight to ambitious ones such as projecting sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere to reduce incoming radiation. Some favor this measure as a quick and inexpensive replacement for mitigation; but its possible side-effects and lack of an exit-strategy mean that its deployment would be misguided, and that researching it might undermine determination to reach a mitigation agreement. Some forms of Carbon Dioxide Removal (seeding the oceans with iron filings to grow carbon-reducing algae) face similar objections, but others, like afforestation and Carbon Capture and Storage (itself not yet operative), comprise acceptable enhancements of current technology. Even if they do not buy time, these measures could beneficially supplement a global Climate Change agreement.