Ethical Anxieties About Geoengineering

Three main justifications are used to defend geoengineering research and possible deployment—it will allow us to buy time, it will allow us to respond to a climate emergency, and it may be the best option economically. Against these a number of ethical risks intrude: we may use the possibility of climate engineering to blind ourselves to our moral responsibilities; research into geoengineering may provide an excuse for governments to reduce mitigation efforts (in the way research into CCS has); a powerful pro-geoengineering constituency may emerge, skewing decision-making; and, attempting to regulate Earth’s great natural processes is “playing God”, which is dangerous and invites retribution. The playing-God argument comes in theistic and atheistic versions. In addition, as a techno-fix geoengineering may make the problem worse by papering over the social and political causes of the climate crisis.


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