Climatic Change 111 (2):473-485 (2012)

Gregor Betz
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
With the evidence for anthropogenic climate change piling up, suggesting that climate impacts of GHG emissions might have been underestimated in the past (Allison et al. 2009; WBGU 2009), and mitigation policies apparently lagging behind what many scientists consider as necessary reductions in order to prevent dangerous climate change, the debate about intentional climate change, or “climate engineering”, as we shall say in the following, has gained momentum in the past years. While efforts to technically modify earth’s climate had been the focus of sporadic discussions at least since the White House’s Report “Restoring the Quality of Our Environment” (cf. Keith 2000), Paul Crutzen’s cautious plea for research into the feasibility and side-effects of stratospheric sulphur injections (Crutzen 2006) has incited an inter-disciplinary controversy (with a preliminary culmination in the Royal Society’s assessment (Royal Society 2009)), while increasing public awareness and debate about climate engineering, as well. The controversy, though, does not focus on the question whether climate engineering should be carried out today (which is largely reckoned to be a bad idea, unnecessary, or premature) or at some point in the future (which is considered a decision we don’t have to take now), but on whether to engage in large-scale research into the alternative technological options for carrying out intentional climate change. It is this paper’s purpose to make that controversy more transparent. In order to do so, we analyse what seems to be the major argument in favour of research into climate engineering: the lesser evil-, or, as Stephen Gardiner has called it, the arm the future-argument — in short: the AF-argument (Gardiner 2010). Such an argumentative analysis makes explicit the normative and descriptive assumptions which underlie the reasoning, without ascertaining or denying them, and thus enables one to assess the overall strength of the argument as well as to determine which objections do, and which don’t undermine it.
Keywords climate engineering  geoengineering  ethics
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