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GeoEngineering, Economics, and Restraint
in the news: "Asilomar Geoengineering Conference Grapples with the Ethics of Climate Change Shortcuts" reads the headline in the March 25, 2010 edition of the tiny Monterey County (California) Weekly newspaper. The story begins by recalling a conference held in Asilomar in 1975, one remembered as "a poster child for scientific self-restraint" in the field of genetic engineering--one of those technologies where people fear technologists may "play God" with devastating, irreversible consequences. This year's conference sought to similarly establish some ethical guidelines for another playing God technology: combating global climate change by tinkering with the amount sunlight hitting the planet or with the composition of the atmosphere or oceans.
commentary and analysis (by Stephen P. Cook, founder and manager, project Worldview, www.projectworldview.org):
This conference came after the seeming failure of the December 2009 Copenhagen summit to produce a meaningfully binding agreement by which nations would limit their emissions of greenhouse gases, most notably carbon dioxide. And as efforts in the U.S. Congress to enact measures to economically regulate carbon emissions have apparently stalled.
From a worldview analysis viewpoint, no one doubts that geoengineering advocates possess plenty of Global Vision (theme #4) and Technological Fix Mentality (theme #46A). Some applaud their desire to avert environmental catastrophe and Apocalypticism (theme #9B) nightmares, and see ambitious, massive geoengineering proposals as responsible planning for a sustainable future: Sustainability (theme #23A). Critics point the finger at their technological arrogance and their lack of humility (see theme #1A). Those valuing Scientific Method and Systems Thinking are troubled by gaps in our knowledge; those valuing Monotheism and an Ethical Orientation are troubled by those who seek to play God.
Geoengineers promote a shallow type of environmentalism driven by human self interest and Anthropocentrism (theme #25), deep ecologists argue. What we need instead, they say, is built around our Belonging to Nature (theme #27). Embracing "small is beautiful," they imagine a sustainable human future in which The Attitudinal Fix Mentality (theme #47A) produces lifestyles based on Enoughness (theme #23B) which are part of a Co-operative, Decentralized Society (theme #48) that embraces local self reliance (see theme #35A), appropriate technology and turns its back on growth and Expansionism (theme #22A).
Their critics see this as a dangerously radical vision--one that is out of touch with economic realities, chiefly with people's enthusiasm for a Consumerist (see theme #26A) lifestyle. And as impractical to implement given the multitude of local solutions needed to solve the big global climate change problem. They see tweaking free market economics by enacting some form of a carbon tax as a more practical and direct problem-solving approach. Responding to geoengineers, they ask, "Wouldn't implementing Environmental Economics (theme #40) measures through political agreement and binding legislation be easier and less risky than putting mirrors in space, adding sulfates to the atmosphere to create haze blocking solar radiation, adding to the oceans to absorb carbon dioxide, etc?"
No one disputes the steady rise of carbon dioxide in
the Earth's atmosphere. Those who fear the heat trapping capability of
such greenhouse gases and the possible effect on the long-term viability
of planet Earth to support life (whether it just be human life or all
living things) may disagree over whether and how such emissions should be
restrained. Geoengineers seek solutions that are independent of
restraint; moralists and deep ecologists look to Self
Restraint; environmental economists seek to impose market-based
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