Steve Gardner

Is “Arming the Future” with Geoengineering (=GE) Really the Lesser Evil?



2.      Definitions of geoengineering (=GE)

         a.      Intentional manipulation of the environment on a global scale

         b.      “Earth-engineering”

3.      Importance of geoengineering debate

         a.      Climate scientist and Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen favors

         b.      Time Magazine calls geoengineering “one of ten ideas changing the world”

         c.      Gardner thinks:

                   i.       “Scientific and political momentum is such that serious research is almost certain”

                   ii.      “Ultimate deployment probable” (given moderately pessimistic assumptions about the future”

4.      Possible methods of GE? (All these GE?)

         a.      Space mirrors reflecting some sunlight

         b.      Fertilizing oceans with plant life to soak up more carbon

         c.      Massive program of reforestation

         d.      Capturing vast quantities of emissions from powerplants and burying them in sedimentary rocks deep underground

         e.      For a helpful discussion of methods, see

5.      Atmospheric sulfate injections is the method on which Gardner focuses

         a.      Injecting sulfate aerosols into stratosphere to block incoming solar radiation

                   i.       Shoot them from cannons on boats or specially designed airplanes

         b.      Mimics cooling affects of large volcanic eruption

                   i.       Volcanic eruptions isolated events whose effects on temperature last a year or two

         c.      This GE proposal involves continuous injections of aerosols for at least decades and possibly centuries

6.      Worries about sulfate injection GE

         a.      Worry: Never stop

                   i.       Sulfate particles only mask effects of increased GHG

                   ii.      They dissipate quickly and halting the injections would probably commit earth to swift rebound

                   iii.     Speed of change problematic, so unmasking would be worse than allowing original CC

                   iv.     Many scientists think once been doing sulfate injections for a while will be committed to continuing them indefinitely

         b.      Worry: Does not remove emissions from atmosphere but lets them accumulate

                   i.       Does not address other negative effects of carbon emissions–ocean acidification and its effects on marine organisms

                            (1)    Some carbon from increased atmospheric CO2 goes into the ocean and makes it more acidic



         a.      Much more cost effective than mitigation

         b.      Way to buy time while mitigation implemented

         c.      As a last resort to avoid catastrophe

8.      Lesser evil argument for GE that Gardner addresses--Gardner calls this “arm of the future argument” (=AFA)

         a.      Mitigation (direct and substantial reductions in emissions) by far the best approach to climate policy

         b.      GE proposals are morally problematic (possibly even “evil”)

         c.      Aggressive mitigation is unlikely

                   i.       Believing it will happen is a “pious wish”

         d.      So in future might face a choice between allowing catastrophic CC impacts or geoengineering

         e.      Both are bad, but geoengineering is less bad

         f.       Unless start serious GE research now, won’t have that choice

         g.      Therefore should start serious GE research now

9.      Possible virtues of the AFA/lesser evil argument

         a.      GE research is a way of assisting future generations

                   i.       Investing in it is an alternative way to meet our intergenerational obligations

         b.      Acknowledges that GE is problematic and has burden of proof against it



11.    Gardner explains the “political inertia” on CC as due to CC involving a “perfect moral storm”

         a.      Three storms: Global, intergenerational, and theoretical

12.    One: Global challenge

         a.      Tragedy of Commons: Sources and effects of CC spread throughout world so have tragedy of commons (its in all our individual self-interests to ignore the problem, but result is we will all suffer disaster)


         b.      Mismatch of vulnerability and responsibility:

                   i.       Those least responsible (poor in developing world) will bear the brunt

                   ii.      Those most responsible are rich and powerful and most vulnerable have little ability to hold them accountable

13.    Two: Intergenerational challenge

         a.      CC impacts involve major time lags, so much of the problems caused passed onto the future

                   i.       Typical CO2 molecule lasts several 100 years, 5-15% lasts 10,000 to 100,000 years

                   ii.      Problems caused by CO2 emissions last a very long time

                   iii.     “Mitigation efforts . . . will have almost no impact on temperature rise in the next 30 years and a limited impact in the next 40-50 years”

         b.      Tempting intergenerational buck passing: Each generation can benefit from passing on costs/harms of its behavior onto future people

14.    Three: Theoretical challenge

         a.      We don’t well understand ethical issues involved in CC

                   i.       Think about Parfit’s non-identity problem or Sinnott-Armstrong’s “its not my fault” arguments

         b.      So inaction or inappropriate action can be hidden by self-deceptive moral arguments and moral corruption




16.    GE an international political and moral nightmare

         a.      AFA ignores concerns about political legitimacy

         b.      Advocates of GE argue it is administratively simple as does not require international agreement

                   i.       One country or corporation could do it alone

         c.      Reply: Morally and politically naive

                   i.       Major countries would not stand by as single power or corporation modifies the climate w/o their input/oversight

                            (1)    How would U.S. feel about GE if thought Russia, China or Iran was going to do it?

                   ii.      Different effects on different regions

                   iii.     Major issues of liability

                   iv.     Debates about what types of geoengineering should be used

                   v.      An issue on which international agreement necessary to avoid serious political, economic, and military conflict

         d.      Profound political issues raised by any decision to GE

                   i.       Climate system basic background condition of human life on planet

                   ii.      Changing such conditions must be political legitimate and this involves global governance and input of people affected

         e.      Political inertia on CC suggests attempts to establish legitimate GE institutions also unlikely to succeed

         f.       So use of GE likely to be politically illegitimate


17.    Ethics/politics first, science second with GE

         a.      Appropriate research on GE may/must first involve research into the ethical and political implications

         b.      Ethical and moral and political issues more important to resolve than the scientific ones.

                   i.       AFA falsely prioritizes scientific research over other forms of preparation

         c.      Mistake to provide future with GE possibilities and no account of how to implement them in an ethical and politically feasible way

                   i.       Ethical/political concerns likely to paralyze deployment

         d.      Jamieson anti-domination argument against GE:

                   i.       GE solution might be worse in long run for humanity than problem suppose to solve; perhaps better to endure CC than to encourage more risky interventions into nature and further domination of nature


18.    Objections to the idea that GE research is harmless and clearly permissible

         a.      Diverts $: Takes $ away form other research; why not pursue research into green technologies?

         b.      Tech changes too fast: Tech change is so fast preparation may be worthless in 40 years

         c.      Research may bring about deployment

                   i.       Institutional momentum; We start things, like to finish them; people put lots of time and energy and $ into it, like to try it out



20.    Not clear one should prepare for an evil choice

         a.      That one should choose a lesser evil choice in a moral emergency/nightmare situation does not show that one should prepare for it

         b.      Torture analogy: Perhaps true that torture would be justified if it was the only way to stop a terrorist from blowing up a city with a nuclear bomb

                   i.       Does not mean we should start research into torture and train torturers to be ready for this.

21.    Might the decision to do GE research help bring about the CC nightmare scenario which justifies its deployment?

         a.      Substantial research on GE might well encourage political inertia on mitigation

22.    Not in an emergency, but anticipating one

         a.      So first thing to do is not plan for it, but try to prevent it!

23.    Other options possible (other ways we can prepare)

         a.      Massive “Manhattan project” that produces cheap alternative energy quickly (might this be more feasible than to create and manage a GE experiment on the earth)

         b.      Give future generations a “Strategic Solar Panel Reserve” that will allow them an emergency deployment of existing alterative energy technology

         c.      Establish a robust international climate assistance and refugee program

         d.      Do research into the climate system; may be more valuable to future generations than GE research


24.    Offering an evil way out to others not enough when our moral failings created the emergency for them

         a.      Owe future more than GE

         b.      GE is preparing for an emergency that others (not us) will confront

         c.      Due to our moral failings

         d.      If someone puts someone else in a very bad situation due to moral failure, not enough to respond by merely offering the victims an evil way out

         e.      Perpetrator has strong obligations to help victims find better alternatives

         f.       And compensate them if options are costly or harmful

         g.      At the least this shows that we owe future not only GE, but much more

                   i.       Substantial compensation fund: Massive climate assistance and refugee program; a global safety net

                   ii.      Shouldering much more of the risk ourselves

                            (1)    Maybe we have the obligation to try the risky GE now on ourselves


25.    Modest GE research proposal is simply buck passing and moral corruption (and moral self-deception)

         a.      “We’d be happy to spend a few million dollars on research that our generation will probably not have to bear the risk of implementing”

         b.      “And happy to think that in so doing we are making a morally serious choice in favor of protecting future generation”




28.    Choosing lesser evil (e.g., GE) might seem heroic

         a.      Shows deep moral seriousness

         b.      Some situations so bad that normal moral rules overridden

         c.      Absolute obedience to moral rules seems like irrational fetish

         d.      Faced with a catastrophe, why not try GE?

29.    Some might think it wrong to choose lesser evil, as it is still an evil

         a.      In order to prevent some great evil, you must kill your mother

         b.      Can understand why person might resist for moral reasons


30.    The “unthinkable”: Entertaining certain alternatives, regarding them as alternatives is itself dishonorable

         a.      Advanced planning for a nightmare scenario is inappropriate when it is brought on by one’s own future moral failing

         b.      Morally inappropriate to start planning for GE when mitigation and adaptation still on the table.

                   i.       All energy should go into preventing the nightmare scenario

31.    Survivalist argument analogy with AFA

         a.      Unless substantial action on CC soon, world may plunge into chaos

         b.      My family will face choice of either starving or fighting for its own survival (the lesser evil)

         c.      Unless we seriously prepare now for the fight, we won’t be in a position to choose that option

         d.      So my family needs to commence serious preparations for fighting for survival (arm ourselves, build fortifications, train our children in wilderness survival and combat?

         e.      This evades our moral responsibility

32.    Marring, tarnishing, blighting evils

         a.      Some evils are “marring” even when they must be chosen (they lead to a serious negative moral assessment of that agent’s life considered as a whole)

         b.      E.g., Sophie’s choice


         c.      GE for some is just a technical issue, for others it may be a marring evil

                   i.       Even calling it a necessary evil doesn’t seem to explain their objections

         d.      Putting someone in the situation where they might be required to choose a marring evil (that will blight their lives) is a special kind of moral wrong

         e.      If CC forces parents in Bangladesh trying to escape floods due to CC to make a Sophie’s choice


33.    Many climate scientists argue forcefully against GE

         a.      Manifests arrogance and recklessness

         b.      Obstinate refusal to even consider it

         c.      “Ultimate state of hubris to believe we can control Earth”

         d.      To fail to address the underlying problem of CC involves a moral blindness

         e.      CC like heroin addition and choosing GE like choosing a massive substitution of Methadone over slowly an surely weaning the addict

         f.       What kind of a people would choose GE?

34.    GE a tarnishing choice (choosing it tarnishes our lives)

         a.      We today have failed to take on moral challenges facing us and succumbed to moral corruption

                   i.       We have fouled our own nest but instead of cleaning it up we keep to our messy habits and force future people to deal with it

         b.      Humans have failed to meet a basic challenge and should be saddened or ashamed of this

Questions for Gardner, Geoengineering (=GE), The Lesser Evil?

1.         What is GE? What particular GE procedure does Gardner focus on and what are some of its technical problems/worries?

2.         Explain the “lesser evil” or “arm of the future” (=AFA) argument for GE that Gardner addresses. Is the conclusion that we should implement GE?

3.         What does Gardner mean by “perfect moral storm?” What are the three elements of the storm? What does the storm explain? What is “political inertia” with regard to CC? What is a “tragedy of the commons?”

4.         What are some of the political problems with implementing GE? Is GE administratively simple to implement? Why does Gardner believe that GE is likely to be politically illegitimate?

5.         What role does Gardner believe ethical and political considerations should play in GE (in comparison to scientific ones)? Explain his reasoning

6.         What are Gardner’s objections to the claim that “surely simply research on GE is harmless”?

7.         Why might it not be appropriate to prepare for an evil choice? Give an example (e.g., use Gardner’s torture analogy).

8.         How might GE research bring about the nightmare scenario it is a response to?

9.         What are some other options to GE as a way of assisting the future in case of dramatic CC?

10.       Why does Gardner argue offering the future an evil way out of dangerous CC is not enough?

11.       Is choosing the lesser evil morally heroic or morally wrong? Explain the thinking on both sides.

12.       Can you think of situations where all the options are so morally wrong they are “unthinkable?” Or situations that it would be wrong to plan for now?

13.       What is a “marring evil?” Give an example (use Gardner’s). Do you thing such evils exist? Is putting people in a situation where they must make such a choice permissible?

14.       What are some of the moral objections to choosing to address CC by planning for GE?

15.       Is GE a “tarnishing choice?” A marring evil? Why does Gardner suggest it might be?