While geoengineering has the potential to save the planet from climate change, the political and ethical implications, along with the many unknowns surrounding this emerging field, have created controversy and opposition to the process. One reason that geoengineering will not work is that powerful nations will place their interests above those of global efforts to work together. In 1992, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was created and stated that developed nations with the largest share of GHG emissions should be held most responsible for lowering global emissions. However, a few powerful countries oppose the ideas that they should cut back their carbon usage, which would mean reducing manufacturing and other enterprises.
For example, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol was created to “protect the global climate system for the benefit of present and future generations” and called for a global reduction of emissions by 5%. To meet the 5% combined reduction, countries that released more emissions were told to reduce emissions by a larger amount than countries that produced less. In 2001, the United States Senate opposed the Kyoto Protocol and president George W. Bush withdrew the United States from the program (Ralston 823). California State Los Angeles professor Martin Adamian expressed the common view that it was “…unreasonable to expect less developed states to assume the same responsibilities and obligations for addressing a problem they have little responsibility for causing” (827). Despite this logical statement, the United States continued this trend in 2017 when the Trump Administration withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement. The United States has a history of distancing itself from the climate agreements of the world, and if other countries adopt the same policy, geoengineering will not be a viable solution to climate change.
Another reason that geoengineering should not be explored is that many people believe the process is unethical. Scientists and researchers need to consider animals, flora, fauna, oceans, the atmosphere, the biosphere, and the ecological system as a whole. The common fear is that, in the rush to save human interests, little concern will be put toward non-human interests. This is a troubling idea when one considers that neglecting non-human interests is precisely what caused the problem in the first place. Another debate is where human involvement falls on the spectrum of natural selection. Some believe that the human race should do everything possible to survive, even if that means harming other species, since natural selection is very much the survival of the fittest by any means necessary.
The belief that mankind is above nature and using the environment as a device to obtain a leg up is considered unethical. The debate arises over how devising a method to change and control the natural environment to our liking is any different (Ralston 828). Another ethical dilemma is that the full-scale effects and possible repercussions of geoengineering remain largely unknown. Therefore, there is uncertainty if the quality of life for future generations would be better with or without geoengineering (829). This ethical concern, however, simply illustrates the need for more geoengineering research ventures rather than limiting research opportunities.
An additional reason that geoengineering should not be researched is that in doing so, outside interests will take precedence over research practices. In the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Clive Hamilton states that the global climate could be altered by people with vested interests and their own agendas if geoengineering achieves its full potential (17). However, before geoengineering could even reach this stage, the practice needs to exit theory and be put into practice. Geoengineering will have to overcome three F’s: fear, fortune, and fame (Easton 157). Fear of geoengineering stems from what the process allows, altering the environment. Should the natural systems not react in the predicted way, the consequences are unknown. There is fear that attempting to fix climate change will only result in an increased rate of climate change. Additionally, the potential for fortunes to be made from geoengineering is troublesome.
Companies that stand to make or lose money and/or funding will either support or resist geoengineering so that the company’s bottom line is not hurt. Research facilities and/or groups in need of funding could very likely overstate the technological benefits and breakthroughs in order to retain funding. Similarly, fame and recognition for discovering and creating groundbreaking technology would be rewarded with media attention, publications, awards, and prizes, such as the Nobel (158). The three F’s each give people, companies, and organizations multiple motives to research geoengineering. UW-Platteville’s Dr. Austin Polebitski believes that “startups are the key to accelerating research, much like how SpaceX has brought upon a new space race” (Polebitski). The three F’s are unavoidable but would bring about the desperately needed testing and research for geoengineering to become a possibility.
A final reason that geoengineering should not be explored is that, once started, research will not stop, and the world’s climate may become worse. The researched tactics will not be forgotten, and the process to a geoengineered world will become a one-way path. This concept is easily relatable to the research and development of the atom bomb in the mid-1900s. Winston Churchill was skeptical about a world controlled by scientists, and in 1937, he said that there are “secrets too mysterious for man in his present state to know; secrets which once penetrated may be fatal to human happiness and glory” (Hamilton 21). Once mankind starts down the path of controlling the environment, the end result may be a world that scientists wish would never have happened.
Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atom bomb and leader of the Manhattan Project, spent many of his post-Hiroshima years attempting to restrict the spread of nuclear weapons and limit their usage (22). Oppenheimer tried to halt the expansion of technology, but, as evident in today’s weapon technology, he was unable to put the genie back into the bottle. As for the process of geoengineering itself, David Titley, the director of Penn State’s Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk, has a valid point. “It is not putting the climate backwards to an earlier state. It’s one that puts it sideways into a new state that we haven’t fully thought about” (Kahn 2 of 3). All things considered, geoengineering is a great concept, but the proposed ideas must be fully explored along with their possible side effects.
There are people who believe that geoengineering should not be pursued because they think that the processes are impractical, given the necessary intergovernmental cooperation, unethical, concerning the human-nature relationship, and too risky, with the many unknowns about the field and the environment. However, when one looks closer at each argument, the problems are not as severe as they at first seem. International government intervention and cooperation is necessary for both climate change solutions, globally lowering emissions of greenhouse gases and practices of geoengineering, and cannot be avoided if climatic problems are to be solved. The ethical concerns of placing human interests above those of the environment would not occur since the entire goal of geoengineering is to protect the environment, in turn protecting the human race, and would otherwise be counterproductive.
The fear that there is not enough known about geoengineering to engage in the practice is the exact reason that research projects cannot be canceled, and with extensive and proper research, render these arguments null and void. In order to amend climate change, a drastic reduction in emissions is needed. However, in the likely scenario where not enough emissions are cut, geoengineering presents fast acting and affordable solutions, such as solar radiation management and marine geoengineering, to mitigate the effects of climate change. The United States and other world powers must fully explore processes of intentionally altering the environment to counteract climate change, geoengineering, since the practices provide a promising method to save the planet from climatic issues. After generations of human activity harming the environment, the time has come to partake in new actions to reverse the damage.
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