Morality and Geoengineering

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Morality is not something I pitch. Preaching morality always reminds me that the politicians who railed loudly against Clinton’s immorality, and impeached him—to my knowledge each of them were ultimately shown to be having or dealing with illicit affairs at the time.

My moral equivalent is this: “I’m committed to leaving a world I’m proud of to our children.  We could restore a healthy climate with zero degrees warming. You can count on me for having that happen.”

The planet is now on its way to two degrees warming, and no amount of emissions reduction will save it. But carbon dioxide removal and cooling could, with confidence, bring us back to zero warming, and a healthy climate. Carbon dioxide removal and cooling are commonly called geoengineering technologies.

Regarding geoengineering, I’m happy to say that “serious research and testing is needed.” That leaves in the unsaid that there are issues which the research needs to resolve—of course there are—all new technologies need serious research and testing.

I’ve never found a way to say this next part well: “Geoengineering will have consequences, just as all engineering does. Not doing geoengineering has consequences too, and climate science tells us that many meters of sea level rise and a 6th mass extinction on our planet are predictable consequences of not pursuing geoengineering.”

The consequences of geoengineering have been studied to the degree that the scientists with expertise are confident that removing carbon dioxide and cooling the planet can be done well overall, much as the 1960’s moonshot was done well overall after serious research in the first few years.

People understandably worry about the unintended consequences of geoengineering and restoring the climate. These fears are based on historical technology development, such as fossil fuel energy, which ended up leading us to global warming. Popular mythology says that global warming was an unintended consequence of fossil fuel technology. What is not well known is that global warming was a known effect of fossil fuel usage, well understood from 1896.

In the late 1970’s there was significant research being done, especially at Exxon, and enormous progress was made in clean energy development. Predictions made by Exxon in 1980 of the warming we would have in 2000 in the business-as-usual scenario were amazingly accurate, since we indeed took the business-as-usual path.

In the early 1980’s the US, under President Reagan, eliminated subsidies for the blossoming renewable energy sector, in favor of profits for incumbent energy company shareholders. This decision was made with full knowledge (and perhaps denial) of the consequences—which consequences would not need to be dealt with by decision makers of that time.

We can again choose faith, optimism and the status quo as Ronald Reagan chose. We have full knowledge (and perhaps denial) of the consequences of doing that and not pursuing geoengineering. The predictable results of taking that path are too horrible for most people to imagine, which may explain why we don’t imagine and discuss it. That said, Americans will probably suffer far less than countries closer to the equator, such as Syria, so we may come out on top.

Or we could choose while considering current science as administrations before Reagan did. The science is clear, and the choice is clear. We can pray for a good outcome while we take conservative, business-as-usual actions, or we can create a future we want, based on science, as Kennedy did with the moon program.

Choose for our children. Choose a zero degrees warming future. Create a demand for the healthy future that we all want for our children.

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