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The Hazy Ethics of Solar Radiation Management

The Hazy Ethics of Solar Radiation Management

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Published by: going2shambhala on Aug 27, 2012
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10/31/2012

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The Hazy Ethics of Solar Radiation Management: Examining the Moral Turpitudes of Aerosol GeoengineeringAny humane and responsible person must conclude that if the ends, however desirable, areuncertain and the means are horrible and certain, these means must not be employed.” -Howard Zinn
Future historians will surely regard the passage between the twenty and twenty-firstcentury as the first period where human activity was recognized to distinctly alter the biogeochemical makeup of Earth’s atmosphere. The greater dilemma, however, is whether disruption of the Holocene climate will arise from unintentional, unabated greenhouse gasemissions alone, or will governments, perhaps unilaterally, inject aerosols (particles such assulfates or aluminum nanoparticles to act as cloud-formation precursors) into the troposphere andstratosphere in an attempt to lower the final amount of solar energy which reaches Earth. Whilesolar radiation management (SRM) or stratospheric aerosol geoengineering (SAG) may have theostensible merit of counterbalancing the warming associated with the presence of increasedgreenhouse gases in the atmosphere, this would surely mark the end of the “natural world” or wilderness. While this might be considered semantics by some, even David Keith, perhaps themost eminent proponent of geoengineering in the public space, understands that, “humanity wouldhenceforth need to acknowledge that they are living in a zoo, playing the role of both the animalsand the zookeepers”
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. Placed in striking simile, the prominent moral implications of such drasticanthropogenic actions are crystallized: from this point onward, Earth’s biogeochemical signaturewill be significantly and artificially altered. In choosing to manage our skies, the natural world,once characterized by John Stewart Mill, as “the cradle of our thoughts and aspirations” and
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Goodal,
How to Cool the Planet,45
 
ontologically cherished for existing beyond the sphere of humanity, will indefinitely become amachination of our Promethean convictions.This permanent, intentional alteration of Earth’s environment is the main consideration of this case study; therefore, I will first address the procedural/legal justice issues for sovereignnations and indigenous communities in shaping possible SRM schemes. Without ensuringmultilateral justice by means of tort-law, treaties and consent, geoengineering violates basic moral pluralistic principles. Equity problems and conflicts of interest also arise when we consider that arelatively small number of elite researchers from the US and the UK are influencing dialogue onthis weighty and difficult topic.Set in the context of moral and political failure to stem global emissions, thegeoengineering model is recognized by Gardiner in his summary of The UK Royal Society’steleological analysis of the topic to be the lesser evil: i.e. when governments are strained by thespecter of severe climate change, geoengineering the climate may remain the permissible moralcourse of action. (2010: p 290).
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While intentional manipulation of earth’s climate has been arguedto be economically negligible, perhaps as little as $2billion
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, and technologically feasible
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as patentsand necessary infrastructure (military cargo and commercial aircraft) already exist, others
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rebutthe claim; due to the relatively long atmospheric life of CO
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, geoengineering schemes mustinvariably be continued over many generations with uncertain effects on weather.Multigenerational equality is thus the second issue considered in this study.In the next module section of this paper, I examine who gets to control the Earth’sthermostat (is it really that simple?). Strong advocates of accelerated research into possiblegeoengineering scheme, such as The UK Royal Society, clearly recognizes recognize that the
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The scientists involved envision SRM as a combined strategy with CO
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removal from the atmosphere in addition tomitigating GHG emissions to 50% of 1990 levels.
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Prepared by Keith at el (from Calgary University for Aurora Flight Science), 2010http://www.scribd.com/doc/53418122/AuroraGeoReport
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ibid; Barrett, Scott, The incredible Economics of Geoengineering, Environmental and Resource Economics
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Goes,M., Keller, K., Tuana, N., The Economics (or lack thereof) of Aerosol Geoengineering Strategies, 7
 
“greatest challenge to the successful deployment of geoengineering may be the social, legal and political issues associated with governance, rather than scientific and technical issues” (2009,xi).Solar radiation management projects will inevitably create winners and losers
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, therebystraining geoengineers’ deontological morality, i.e. duty-based ethics, in equally fulfilling theneeds of many parties. Therefore, I will examine the economic impacts of negative radiativeforcing (i.e. increased cloud cover and thus reflectivity) in the greater context of distributive justice.In concluding, I will layout the unique possibility of weather weaponization, specifically onfocusing upon the interest that the US military and weapons manufacturers have taken in the studyof geoengineering.
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A 1996 survey of the topic, “Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning theWeather in 2025,” presented to the US Air Force, asserted: “Weather-modification will likely become a part of national security policy with both domestic and international applications. Our government will pursue such a policy, depending on its interests, at various levels. These levelscould include unilateral actions, participation in a security framework such as NATO.” The risk and health hazards associated with both civilian and military weather modification projects will beconsidered in the lens of access to a healthy environment. Given the possibility that multipleunilateral actors will take part in geoengineering in a continuation of the adversarial paradigm of geopolitics, it is clear that citizens without a say in the system will become the ultimate losers.Internationally, a growing group of activists, scientist and concerned citizens identify a body of evidence in anomalous cloud formations arising from persistent jet emissions, as well aselevated levels of heavy metal in soil and water samples, as an indicator that geoengineering projects are already being conducted
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. Prudence mandates that this evidence, officially refuted by
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Goes,M., Keller, K., Tuana, N., The Economics (or lack thereof) of Aerosol Geoengineering Strategies,
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Military weapons manufacturers and chemical/agribusiness MNCs own some of the most relevant patents in thisfield EX: US patent #5003186- “Stratospheric Welsbach seeding for reduction of Global Warming”, Hughes AircraftCompany (later bought by Raytheon); Monsanto’s aluminum resistant seed patent #7582809
ETC Group, Geopiracy, 4
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The most encapsulating report to date, Case Orange, was complied in 2010 by expert panel, the Belfort Group:

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