The Ethics of Tinkering With Earth’s Atmosphere to Fight Climate Change

Tinkering with the planet’s air to cool Earth’s ever-hotter climate is getting close enough to reality that two different high-level groups – one of scientists and the other of former world leaders – are trying to propose ethical and governmental guidelines.

On Thursday, the new Climate Overshoot Commission – which includes the former presidents of Mexico, Niger and Kiribati, a former Canadian prime minister, the ex-head of the World Trade Organization and other national ministerial-level officials – will hold its first meeting in Italy in a 15-month process to develop a governance strategy aimed at extracting carbon dioxide from the air, lowering temperatures by reflecting sunlight with artificial methods and adapting to climate change. This month, the American Geophysical Union, the largest society of scientists working on climate issues, announced it was forming an ethical framework for “climate intervention” that would be ready for debate at major international negotiations. about the climate in November in Egypt.

It shows that the idea of ​​”solar geoengineering is finally getting serious,” said Harvard University climatologist David Keith, a leader in the field.

Both groups said they don’t quite advocate geoengineering, which is putting particles in the air to reflect sunlight or whiten clouds, or the less-contested removal of carbon dioxide. , like technology to suck carbon out of the air but also more nature-based. solutions such as more trees and getting the oceans to soak up more carbon.

But the two groups say the ideas need to be discussed with global warming approaching and likely exceeding the international goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times. . The world has already warmed by 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) since the mid-1800s and scientists say the world is expected to surpass the 1.5 degree mark in the 2030s.

“The problem of climate change is at a point where even extreme options need to be seriously considered,” Climate Overshoot Commission Executive Secretary Jesse Reynolds said Monday. “Now, to be clear, thinking about them includes the possibility of rejecting them. But not thinking about it doesn’t seem like a responsible way to go.

What is needed are ethical guidelines before anything is done to gain the public’s trust, just as the scientific community has done with the possibility of human cloning, the executive director said. ‘AGU, Randy Fiser. If that doesn’t happen, the public will get a giant backlash and won’t trust the community, said National Academy of Sciences president Marcia McNutt, who studied the matter but turned down a place on the board. AGU Ethics Committee due to other commitments.

An earlier report from the academy “talked about the double moral hazard of climate intervention: damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” McNutt said.

Opponents of geoengineering — such as Pennsylvania State University climatologist Michael Mann — worry that just talking about guidelines will make tinkering more likely to happen in the real world.

“I see this as a potentially cynical maneuver to buy the ostensible moral license to go ahead with dangerous geoengineering prescriptions,” Mann said in an email. He said not only could there be harmful side effects, but it relieves pressure to reduce fossil fuel emissions, which is badly needed.

New panels want to talk #ethics, rules of climate DIY. #ClimateCrisis #ClimateChange #CO2 #ClimateOvershootCommission

Mann also said no one can enforce ethics or governance rules, citing efforts to prevent Russia from invading Ukraine, but McNutt pointed to rules governing international oceans.

With or without guidelines, some of these high-tech ideas will come to fruition, leaders of both groups said. However, last year the Swedish government canceled an early but politically charged test of a device designed to put particles into the air which, if fully implanted, could eventually create what some would call an artificial volcano. temporarily cooling the globe like the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines.

“The work of examining climate strategies continues in the labs, both in the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors,” said Fiser of AGU, who said investors were pouring money into such projects.

Ethicists Nancy Tuana of Penn State and Christopher Preston of the University of Montana said that talking about the ethics of tinkering with the atmosphere would hamper efforts a little more.

“It’s going to slow him down and that’s a good thing,” Preston said in an email. “Ethical thresholds placed in frameworks are generally difficult to meet…An ethical framework can lead to paralysis. Ethics is not like mathematics. Ethical issues are often not “resolved”.

But doing nothing — no carbon dioxide reduction, no carbon dioxide removal, and no solar geoengineering — “is the worst outcome and also the path of least resistance,” he said. Stanford University ethics expert Hank Greely.

“I see climate intervention the same way I see the ‘Hail Mary’ pass in football,” said University of Colorado ice scientist Waleed Abdalati, former NASA chief scientist , referring to a last-ditch effort of desperation in a seemingly lost cause. “There’s a chance this will get us where we need to be, but just as no team wants to be in a position where that’s the game they have to do, scientists recognize that we as a society, would never want to be in a situation where we have to use such an approach to meet the challenge we face.

The Associated Press

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