In a recent academic conference on Ethics and Climate Change at the University of Washington, associate professor of philosophy Steve Gardiner demonstrated why we are all happy he has decided on an academic career.
He attacked Paul Crutzen’s proposal that we begin to research “geo-engineering”, the currently speculative technological ideas that might enable us to reverse the effects of potential future global warming, either by removing carbon from the atmosphere or ameliorating its effects. These ideas range from very prosaic things like planting more trees to more spectacular efforts like injecting particulate matter into the upper atmosphere.
Crutzen has sensibly suggested that since it will take a long time to figure out if many of these ideas could work, it’s smart to start research now so that, if possible, we have this as an option when and if it becomes necessary. It’s hard to see how any practical person could argue with researching these concepts.
Gardiner has this to say about Crutzen’s proposal:
“In summary, Crutzen’s argument is that geoengineering, though arguably an evil in itself might turn out to be a lesser evil than the likely alternative; hence, he thinks, we should prepare just in case we are compelled to endorse that evil.”
Gardiner apparently never considers the idea that maybe it’s not an “evil” at all. If such an approach could work — and it should be noted that Paul Crutzen has won the Noble Prize for his work on CFC / Ozone atmospheric chemistry, so there is a refutable presumption that he is a slightly better judge of whether or not this is feasible than Gardiner — why would it be an evil? Why would it be a bad thing if we could avoid having to restructure the whole economy, thereby condemning billions of people to an unnecessarily long climb out of poverty? If a global warming problem emerges and we could engineer our way out of it, why shouldn’t we?
Gardiner’s objection is not idiosyncratic, but is a standard point of view among those who want the entire world economy to be changed according to their instructions. They think that the hope of a technical solution will sap the political will to break the eggs needed to make their omelet.
I guess the professors think that some kinds of knowledge are just too dangerous for the rest of us.