Ethical Aspects of the Mitigation Obstruction Argument against Climate Engineering Research

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 372:20140062 (2014)
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Many commentators fear that climate engineering research might lead policy-makers to reduce mitigation efforts. Most of the literature on this so-called ‘moral hazard’ problem focuses on the prediction that climate engineering research would reduce mitigation efforts. This paper focuses on a related ethical question: Why would it be a bad thing if climate engineering research obstructed mitigation? If climate engineering promises to be effective enough, it might justify some reduction in mitigation. Climate policy portfolios involving sufficiently large or poorly planned reductions in mitigation, however, could lead to an outcome that would be worse than the portfolio that would be chosen in the absence of further climate engineering research. This paper applies three ethical perspectives to describe the kinds of portfolios that would be worse than that ‘baseline portfolio’. The literature on climate engineering identifies various mechanisms that might cause policy-makers to choose these inferior portfolios, but it is difficult to know in advance whether the existence of these mechanisms means that climate engineering research really would lead to a worse outcome. In the light of that uncertainty, a precautionary approach suggests that researchers should take measures to reduce the risk of mitigation obstruction. Several such measures are suggested.



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David R. Morrow
American University

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