Towards Integrated Ethical and Scientific Analysis of Geoengineering: A Research Agenda

Ethics, Policy and Environment 15 (2):136 - 157 (2012)
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Abstract

Concerns about the risks of unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions are growing. At the same time, confidence that international policy agreements will succeed in considerably lowering anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions is declining. Perhaps as a result, various geoengineering solutions are gaining attention and credibility as a way to manage climate change. Serious consideration is currently being given to proposals to cool the planet through solar-radiation management. Here we analyze how the unique and nontrivial risks of geoengineering strategies pose fundamental questions at the interface between science and ethics. To illustrate the importance of integrated ethical and scientific analysis, we define key open questions and outline a coupled scientific-ethical research agenda to analyze solar-radiation management geoengineering proposals. We identify nine key fields of coupled research including whether solar-radiation management can be tested, how quickly learning could occur, normative decisions embedded in how different climate trajectories are valued, and justice issues regarding distribution of the harms and benefits of geoengineering. To ensure that ethical analyses are coupled with scientific analyses of this form of geoengineering, we advocate that funding agencies recognize the essential nature of this coupled research by establishing an Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications program for solar-radiation management.

Author Profiles

Toby Svoboda
Colgate University
Nancy Tuana
Pennsylvania State University

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