Agenda

Day One

SESSION 1: “THE STATE OF THE SCIENCE”

One cannot effectively analyze the ethics or politics of geoengineering without an adequate and up-to-date understanding of the underlying science. Technical experts will present the basic theory of popular solar radiation management technologies– including stratospheric aerosol injection and marine cloud brightening– and catch everyone up on the state of the science

SESSION 2: “HAS IT COME TO THIS? THE IMPLICATIONS OF EMERGENCY”

Geoengineering research is often framed as necessary or prudent because of the immensity of the climate crisis, and yet– as Kyle Whyte has argued– the context of crisis has long been used instrumentally by colonizers to justify what would otherwise be morally heinous actions. Should this politicalized character of crisis framings give us pause? And what is a “crisis” anyway? Panelists will discuss the descriptive and normative dimensions of the “climate emergency,” and consider implications (if any) for the ethics of geoengineering.

SESSION 3: “PLANETARY ENGINEERING AT THE ECO-SOCIAL INTERSECTION”

A common thread throughout the environmental humanities is the recognition that human beings not only shape, but also are shaped by, their natural environment. What it means to be human, then, depends significantly on one’s relationship to one’s environment. Panelists will consider planetary engineering at this eco-social intersection, confronting what cultural or spiritual values might be threatened under an artificial atmosphere. Further, they will contemplate whether geoengineers infringe on the “domain of the gods,” an exercise perhaps unbefitting the human creature and its multitude of ecological co-dependencies. At bottom, is respectful geoengineering possible?

SESSION 4: “‘IS OTHER GEOENGINEERING BETTER?’” THE ARRAY OF TECHNOLOGIES AND THE NORMATIVITY OF SCALE (ROUND TABLE)

In part thanks to the controversy surrounding stratospheric aerosol injection, many other forms of geoengineering have recently received increased attention. For example, after researchers last year made the startling suggestion that cuts to ships sulfur pollution crossing the Atlantic may have contributed to record ocean temperatures, there has been a surge of scientific and public interest in the hypothetical technology of Marine Cloud Brightening. And ever since the IPCC included an extensive role for Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) in its modeled pathways to 1.5ºC, scholars across the board have been particularly interested in this prospective geoengineering technology. Panelists will discuss the array of technologies other than stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI), and consider whether they do or do not avoid the ethical and political challenges confronting SAI.

 

Day Two

SESSION 5: “INTERGENERATIONAL JUSTICE AND PROSPECTS FOR AN EXIT STRATEGY”

Climate change is often framed as an injustice done not only or primarily to people alive right now, but to future generations who will have to bear the extreme, yet deferred, impacts of the global dependence on fossil fuels. This raises the possibility that human beings today may have an obligation to “arm the future” with geoengineering through research. Panelists will discuss prospects and pitfalls for researching or deploying geoengineering on behalf of future generations, with particular attention to what a “post-geoengineered” world might look like. In particular, they will confront a potentially ominous question: once we start engineering the atmosphere, will we ever stop?

SESSION 6: “GEOENGINEERING FOR THE WILD?”

In 2019, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services released their first report. The outlook wasn’t good. They stated that “an average of around 25 percent of species in assessed animal and plant groups are threatened, suggesting that around 1 million species already face extinction.” Moreover, climate change projects to become a leading driver of extinction within the century. Driving what some have called the “sixth great extinction,” might human beings have a duty of engineering the atmosphere as a method of preventing further extinction, and more generally reducing the possibly avoidable suffering of nonhuman animals? On the other hand, is it possible that an engineered atmosphere might be managed for human interests at the expense of nonhuman welfare? So far, debates around geoengineering have been remarkably human-centered, and so this panel serves as an important counter-weight to this trend. Accordingly, panelists will carefully consider the nonanthropocentric contours of the geoengineering idea.

SESSION 7: “COLONIZING THE CLIMATE? PARTICIPATION AND POSITIONALITY”

Critics of geoengineering often point to the outsized attention it has received from wealthy, developed nations and suggest this fact will inevitably, or at least probably, result in hegemonic geoengineering that will only reify existing political inequalities. Panelists will discuss the prospects for inclusive and otherwise procedurally just geoengineering research, and whether political domination is inevitable or probable in this domain.

SESSION 8: “GOVERNANCE AND LEGITIMACY”

Stratospheric aerosol injection is an inherently global technology, and so respecting robust international norms of sovereignty would imply that every country deserves at least a “seat at the table” before deployment and perhaps even at the early research stages. Considering the contentious global geopolitical realities that indisputably have so far stymied robust coordinated climate action, prospects for effective and legitimate international governance of geoengineering seem grim. This has raised concerns that individual countries, corporations, or agents may unilaterally research and even deploy geoengineering. Panelists will discuss what politically legitimate research and deployment of geoengineering would look like, consider real-world prospects for this occurring, and consider implications (if any) for the ethics of developing this technology in the first place.