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The Really Big Questions About Geoengineering

 by Keith Goetzman

Tags: Environment, climate change, global warming, geoengineering,

Earth Island Journal Autumn 2009Much of the speculation about “geoengineering” to halt or reverse climate change circles around the technical aspects: Will it work to spray sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to deflect sunlight, or to build synthetic trees that will capture carbon dioxide and turn it into a liquid to store underground? The answers, of course, are unknowable.

Jason Mark focuses more on the ethical and philosophical implications of such long-shot approaches in “Hacking the Sky” in the Autumn 2009 issue of Earth Island Journal. For starters, thinking that we can manage the natural systems of the earth signals a grandly twisted sorts of hubris steeped in cynicism.

“Geoengineering,” Mark writes, “has become the refuge of the cynic. It assumes that although we may be able to alter how the planet works, we are incapable of changing the way we run the world.”

Geoengineering would present a host of big questions even if it showed some success. For instance, what if an engineered cooling of the globe had unequal effects like, say, a decrease in monsoon rains over Asia? And who would be at the controls? Governments? Corporations? Both scenarios portend frightening possibilities. Ultimately, Mark arrives at a starkly candid assessment of our predicament:

We should at least be honest: There is scant difference between doing something unintentionally and knowing it’s harmful, and intentionally, but riskily, trying to fix it. For 20 years, we have understood the consequences of pumping the atmosphere full of CO2, and still we persist. We crossed a moral line long ago.

Our double bind is this: Either we keep our hands off the sky, and hope we act in time to prevent the destruction of Arctic ecosystems, the desertification of the Amazon, the abandonment of ancient cities. Or we try our luck at playing Zeus, knowing that it could make matters worse. No matter what, we risk losing Creation.

Source: Earth Island Journal