The Local Challenges of Geoengineering

In the middle of this muddled analysis of geoengineering in The Economist. While the piece ultimate starts to make a clear point when discussing the merits of using the climate prediction tool, the way the piece teases at the impact of local variations that might result from geoengineering projects ultimately leaves a reader frustrated.  It seems like it’s trying to make the argument that reframing the geoengineering tradeoff discussion would eliminate the debates over winners and losers.  It describes a scenario where all regions should get closer to 1990s climate by the 2020s if certain geoengineering projects are implemented.  However, it then seems to undercut its argument by saying,

“The core message here is not what level of geoengineering any given region might prefer, but rather the lesson that, though many regions might benefit from geoengineering, they will not all do so to the same extent in any single geoengineering scenario.”

I can’t see how this really advances the discussion past the debates over winners and losers in geoengineering.  Then it gets a bit crazier.

“Uncertainty about who might do best from what sort of project allows discussions of geoengineering to take place without the parties to the debate knowing in any detail where any nation’s specific interests might lie.”

The problem here is that the kind of uncertainty discussed here is very different from the kinds of scientific uncertainty that surround geoengineering and its impacts.  An uncertainty that would make it hard to understand any detail of how another party may or may not benefit from a scenario suggests a scenario where it would be impossible to determine possible consequences and the extent of those consequences.  In other words, ‘we don’t know what will happen to people in X.’

But current thinking in geoengineering allows for some understanding of consequenes, and some way of estimating how likely such consequences might be and how significant such consequences might be.  In other words, ‘we predict the following things could happen, with probability and severity calculations for each.’  The Rawlsian veil of ignorance described in the piece, where everyone negotiates from an equal level of ignorance, won’t be nearly as thick as it needs to be to work.  And what’s left of the analysis in The Economist piece crumbles away.  I read it, you don’t have to.


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