Is 'Arming the Future' with Geoengineering Really the Lesser Evil? Some Doubts About the Ethics of Intentionally Manipulating the Climate System
Climate Ethics: Essential Readings, Oxford, 2010
30 Pages Posted: 2 Dec 2012 Last revised: 17 Jul 2014
Date Written: February 19, 2009
The term geoengineering lacks a precise definition, but is widely held to imply the intentional manipulation of the environment on a global scale. Proposals to geoengineer our way out of the climate crisis have not achieved much traction in the last twenty years. But in 2006 the climate scientist Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Laureate, reignited the debate by arguing that so far our response to climate change has been so dismal that we should start preparing for the nightmare scenario where we are forced to choose between attempting geoengineering and allowing a catastrophe to occur. In such a scenario, Crutzen claims, geoengineering should be chosen as “the lesser evil.” Given this, he argues, we should start doing serious research now on how best to geoengineer, so that we can “arm the future” with the right technology.
My main aim in this paper is to outline some of the ethical issues which complicate this argument for geoengineering. As a secondary matter, I argue for three more specific conclusions. First, the Arm the Future Argument assumes much that is contentious, and is overly narrow in its conclusions. Second, the Argument obscures much of what is at stake in the ethics of geoengineering, including what it means to call something an “evil,” and whether doing evil has further moral implications. Third, the Argument arises in a troubling context: climate change is a perfect moral storm. This implies that its role in the current debate should be viewed with suspicion.
Keywords: geoengineering ethics, climate change, climate policy, solar radiation management
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation