This is probably the best piece I've read on the possibility of geo-engineering our way to a victory over global climate change Authored by moral philosopher Steve Gardiner from the University of Washington, Seattle, it is a meditation on a number of suggestions made in 2006 by Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen. Last year, Crutzen wrote an article for the Journal of Climate Change, in which he claimed that attempts to limit man-made greenhouse gases were so pitiful that a radical contingency plan, an "escape route" was needed. Specifically, he suggested that we should consider:
...injecting sulphur particles into the stratosphere in order to suppress global warming by simulating volcanic eruptions.
Furthermore, Mr. Crutzen suggested that research on this and other geo-engineering options should begin now, because otherwise, should global warming begin to run out of control a few decades down the road, the option of implementing one of these projects will not be open to us.
Mr. Gardiner examines and finally rejects the logic behind Crutzen's proposal:
...talk of the choices that "we" might face obscures the fact that if Crutzen's scenario does arise, the people facing the tough choices won't be us. Crutzen is thinking of the threat of runaway climate change emerging fifty years or more down the track, and so confronting future generations. This is important, since some people (myself included) believe that one cause of political inertia, and a big part of the moral problem more generally, is that climate change allows the current generation to unfairly pass on its costs to future people.
And here's the money passage:
This brings us nicely back to the issue of political inertia. For it seems likely that the same forces that oppose substantial mitigation and adaptation measures would also oppose substantial compensation proposals (and perhaps a huge investment in geo-engineering too, if that were being proposed); and this brings a larger issue into focus. Crutzen's claim is that research on geo-engineering acts as a kind of insurance policy. But there are many such policies; and there is a real concern that the narrow one of "Geo-engineering Research Only" gains prominence among them only because it is the one that seems most congenial to us, the present generation. In short, perhaps we'd be happy to spend a few million dollars researching technology our generation won't have to bear the risks of implementing, and even happier to think that in doing so we were making a morally serious choice in favour of protecting future generations. But thinking so does not make it the case. The worry is that Crutzen's proposal - however well-intentioned - is at least as likely to facilitate the problems of political inertia and intergenerational moral corruption as to solve them. Surely we can, and ought, to do better.
In other words, throwing a few million now at a multi-billion dollar project our kids will be left to realize is not a serious attempt at addressing the issue. (Not surprisingly, it bulks large in the plans of the Bush administration.)