New panels want to talk about ethics, rules of climate treatment

Tinking the air of the planet to cool the Earth always warming climate is close enough to reality for two different high-powered groups – one of scientists and one of former world leaders – to try to come up with ethics and governing guidelines.

Thursday, the newly formed Climate Overshoot Commission – which includes the former presidents of Mexico, Niger and Kiribati, the former Canadian prime minister, the former head of the World Trade Organization and other officials of a national minister – will have its first meeting in Italy in a 15-month process. with a control strategy to remove carbon dioxide from the air, lowering temperatures by reflecting sunlight by artificial methods and adapting to climate change. This month, the U.S. Geophysical Union, the largest society of scientists working on climate issues, announced that it was creating framework of ethics for a “climate intervention” that would be ready for debate during the main international climate negotiations in November in Egypt.

This shows that the idea of ​​”solar geoengineering is finally getting serious,” said Harvard University climate scientist David Keith, a leader in the field.

Both groups said they did not fully recommend geoengineering, which includes placing particles in the air to reflect sunlight or bleaching clouds, or the less-disputed removal of carbon dioxide, as a technology to suck carbon out of the air, but also more nature-based. solutions like more trees and making oceans sponge more carbon.

But the two groups say the ideas should be discussed with global warming approaching and probably surpassing the international goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times. The world has warmed by 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) since the mid-1800s and scientists say the world is likely to exceed 1.5 degrees. in the 2030s.

“The problem of climate change is at a point where even extreme elections need to be taken seriously,” Jesse Reynolds, executive secretary of the Climate Overshoot Commission, said in a Monday interview. “Now, to be clear, thinking about them includes the possibility of rejecting them. But not thinking about them doesn’t seem like a responsible way forward. “

What is needed are ethical guidelines before anything is done to gain the public’s trust, just as the scientific community has done with the possibility of human cloning, said AGU Executive Director Randy Fiser said. If this does not happen, the public will have a huge reaction and will not trust the community, said Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, who studied the issue but was denied a seat on AGU’s ethics panel because of other commitments.

An earlier report by the academy “We talked about the double moral hazard of climate intervention: damn if you do, damn if you don’t,” McNutt said.

Opponents of geoengineering – such as Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann – are concerned that just talking about guidelines will make tinkering more likely to happen in the real world.

“I see it as a cynical maneuver to buy the seemingly moral license to move forward with dangerous geoengineering prescriptions,” Mann said in an email. He said not only could there be harmful side effects, but it takes away the pressure of cutting fossil fuels, which is really necessary.

Mann also said no one could enforce ethics or rules, citing efforts to prevent Russia from invading Ukraine, but McNutt pointed to rules governing international oceans.

With or without guidelines, some of these high-tech ideas will happen, said leaders of the two groups. However, last year the Swedish government canceled an early but politically charged test of a device designed to put particles in the air, which, if fully implanted, could create what some would call an artificial volcano cooling the globe temporarily as the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo. in the Philippines.

“The work to look at climate strategies continues in laboratories, and in the for-profit and non-profit sectors,” said AGU’s Fiser, who said investors are channeling money into such projects.

Ethicists Nancy Tuana of Penn State and Christopher Preston of the University of Montana said that if anything talking about the ethics of touching the atmosphere would slow down the efforts a little more.

“It’s going to slow it down and this is a good thing,” Preston said in an email. “Ethical thresholds set in frameworks are usually difficult to satisfy … An ethical framework can lead to paralysis. Ethics is not like mathematics. Ethical problems are not often ‘solved’.”

But doing nothing – no reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, no carbon sequestration and no solar geoengineering – “that’s the worst outcome and also the path of least resistance,” said Stanford University ethics expert Hank Greely.

“I look at climate intervention just as much as I look at the‘ Hail Mary ’passage in football,” said Colorado University ice scientist Waleed Abdalati, a former NASA chief scientist, alluding to a last-ditch effort in a seemingly losing cause. “There’s a chance it could lead us to where we need to be, but just as no team wants to be in a position where that’s the game they have to play, scientists recognize that we as a society would never want to be. we must use such an approach to address the challenge we face. “

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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenursoj

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