Does Geoengineering Need a Dose of Geo-Ethics?

black sea sunrise photo

photo: Vladimir Pavez via flickr

Yesterday, when I highlighted several different geoengineering methods, which may or not be feasible in practice, that promise to save humanity from global climate change, I got a comment from a blogger over at 2020 Science which asked whether geoengineering really needs a dose of geoethics. Since the very idea of geoengineering—tinkering with ecosystems on a regional or even planetary scale—has far ranging consequences, perhaps we need to develop a system of ethics to address the benefits and risks of this sort of thing. It’s worthwhile question asking:

This confluence of need, awareness and ability is bringing new vigor to geoengineering.  And it’s hard to deny that its exciting stuff. … Imagine, at the very point where humanity begins to push the boundaries of sustainable existence under existing conditions, we develop the means to conform our global environment to our needs—inverse-evolution if you like.  We discover that science and technology give us a lever large enough to shift the world, metaphorically speaking.  We find that by controlling matter at the nanoscale, we can bend it to our will at the megascale.  In short, geoengineering appears to be humanity’s right-of-passage to planetary maturity.

But back up just a minute.  It seems there is something missing here.  Sure, we have the imagination and the ability to change things on a global scale.  But these abilities seem to far outstrip our understanding of their consequences.  It almost seems that scientists are in danger of applying the hypothesis-driven science of the laboratory to the whole world, while forgetting that when the hypothesis fails, there aren’t too many options to go back and start again.  And in the clamor to find technological fixes to technology-driven problems, it sometimes appears that we’ve forgotten to ask what we should do, as well as what we can do.

If we are going to get geoengineering right—and I think in the long-run it is as important as it is inevitable—we are going to need some serious ethical input to its development and application.  And while I generally avoid artificially slicing and dicing ethics, I think it would be no bad thing to further develop the idea of geoethics, as dealing with the appropriateness of decisions that affect societies on a global scale, and possibly over many lifetimes.

I tend to agree with the sentiment expressed in the post: While not opposed to the idea of geoengineering, I often wonder if we don’t spend enough time considering what we should do, as compared to figuring out what we can do. Unfortunately the ideas get reversed, mutated into: Because we can do something means we ought to do it.

Check out the full original post: Geoengineering: Does it need a dose of geoethics? and then come back and weigh in.

via: 2020 Science
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