Accelerating the carbon cycle: the ethics of enhanced weathering

Publication by Adrian Currie, H. Lawford-Smith
Published on 05 April 2016

Abstract

Enhanced weathering, in comparison to other geoengineering measures, creates the possibility of a reduced cost, reduced impact way of decreasing atmospheric carbon, with positive knock-on effects such as decreased oceanic acidity.

We argue that ethical concerns have a place alongside empirical, political and social factors as we consider how to best respond to the critical challenge that anthropogenic climate change poses. We review these concerns, considering the ethical issues that arise (or would arise) in the large-scale deployment of enhanced weathering. We discuss post-implementation scenarios, failures of collective action, the distribution of risk and externalities and redress for damage. We also discuss issues surrounding ‘dirty hands’ (taking conventionally immoral action to avoid having to take action that is even worse), whether enhanced weathering research might present a moral hazard, the importance of international governance and the notion that the implementation of large-scale enhanced weathering would reveal problematic hubris.

Ethics and scientific research interrelate in complex ways: some ethical considerations caution against research and implementation, while others encourage them. Indeed, the ethical perspective encourages us to think more carefully about how, and what types of, geoengineering should be researched and implemented.

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