Why ‘global public good’ is a treacherous term, especially for geoengineering

Stephen M. Gardiner
University of Washington
Recently, I argued against framing geoengineering—understood here in terms of the paradigm example of stratospheric sulfate injection ('SSI')—as a global public good. My main claim was that this framing is seriously misleading because of its neglect of central ethical concerns. I also suggested that 'global public good' is best understood as an umbrella term covering a cluster of distinct, but interrelated ideas. In an effort to be charitable, I adopted an inclusive approach, considering two general attitudes to the technical definition, six interpretations of the universal benefit claim, three of nonrivalness, and two of nonexcudability. I then argued that SSI as such does not fit the canonical definition, and that the more relaxed versions are unhelpful. Noticing that I agree that SSI is a global public good in one relaxed sense, David Morrow insists that this is the only acceptable interpretation, that describing SSI in this way is useful, and that it becomes misleading only when the concept is misunderstood by "non-economists", and that it is uncharitable to attribute such confusion to those presenting SSI as a global public good. I will suggest that Morrow's markedly exclusive approach is uncharitable, that his relaxed interpretation remains unhelpful, that there are good reasons to respect other uses, and most importantly that the definitional dispute is an unfortunate distraction that leaves my central point about the framing of SSI largely untouched. This discussion reinforces my suggestion that it is time to excise the term 'global public good' from the framing of SSI, and perhaps more generally.
Keywords climate engineering  geoengineering  climate ethics  public goods  governance
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