Climate engineering risks “moral corruption”


Deliberate alteration of the Earth’s environment by humans on a large scale to counter the effects of climate change and in some cases to avoid having to reduce carbon emissions, could be called ‘moral corruption’ according to a leading Australian ethicist.

Professor Clive Hamilton from the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE) raised questions about the justification of geoengineering in a public lecture at The Australian National University.

“The geoengineering debate is poised to move to centre-stage when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the first time considers geoengineering solutions in its Fifth Assessment Report, due out in stages in 2013 and 2014,” he said. “But many questions still remain about its moral reasoning.

“As an example of geoengineering in action, plans are being developed to reduce the amount of sunlight reaching Earth by injecting sulphate aerosols into the upper atmosphere.

“Since the Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago, the amount of solar radiation reaching it has been determined by the Sun, mediated by the Earth’s atmosphere. It seems we are no longer happy with the arrangement and want to assume control ourselves. Is this the final push by humans for total mastery of the planet?

“We have used many excuses for our failure to reduce carbon emissions. When we look for reasons to avoid doing what we know we should do it can be called ‘moral corruption’, so geoengineering research may be a form of moral corruption.”

Professor Hamilton said there were also some concerns that the knowledge generated by geoengineering research would be misused in foreseeable ways.

“Big energy companies have used their power to slow or prevent action on climate change. Any realistic assessment must conclude that geoengineering research represents a ‘moral hazard’, that is, it is virtually certain to reduce incentives to cut carbon emissions.”

CAAPE is an Australian Research Council Special Research Centre spanning ANU, Charles Sturt University and the University of Melbourne.