The Ethics of Volcano Geoengineering

Paper by Lara Mani, Mike Cassidy, Anders Sandberg
Published on 20 October 2023


Volcano geoengineering is the practice of altering the state of volcanic systems and/or volcanic eruptions to exploit them or mitigate their risk. Although many in the field insist there is little that can be done to mitigate the hazard, past examples of both intentional and inadvertent volcano interventions demonstrate that it is technically feasible to reach volcano plumbing systems or alter atmospheric processes following eruptions. Furthermore, we suggest that economical, political, and environmental pressures may make such interventions more common in the future. If volcano geoengineering ever becomes a discipline, it will need to overcome many safety and ethical concerns, including dealing with uncertainty, deciding on philosophical approaches such as a consequentialism or precautionary principle, justice and inequality, military uses, cultural values, and communication. We highlight that while volcano geoengineering has significant potential benefits, the risks and uncertainties are too great to justify its use in the short term. Despite this, because of the potential large benefits to society, we believe there is a strong ethical case to support research into the efficacy and safety of volcano geoengineering for its potential future use. We propose that rigorous governance and regulation of any volcano geoengineering is required to protect against potential risks, to enable potentially valuable and publicly available research (e.g., quantification of efficacy and safety), to ensure that any future policy must be co-created through community engagement, and that volcano geoengineering should only be considered as part of larger mitigation practices.

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