The Ethics of Cooling the Planet through Geo-Engineering, Part I

Date & Time

Wed, 10/06/2010
5:30-700 p.m.


The Ethics of Cooling the Planet through Geo-Engineering, a three part series.

Part I: Will Aerosol Particles Prevent Global Warming?


A recent report of the National Academy of Sciences finds that, “A strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, it is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.” The average Earth temperature has already risen 1.4° F since pre-industrial times and, if climate change is not abated, it is expected to rise an additional 2 to 11.5 º F this century. Fears of the possible catastrophic consequences of such a rise have lead some people to propose that we prepare to intentionally cool the planet, not by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but by geo-engineering schemes, such as seeding the oceans with carbon chomping algae and releasing sun blocking aerosols into the atmosphere.

Geo-engineering proposals such as these raise many ethical questions:

  • What would the side-effects be?
  • How much do we know?
  • Does pursuing this sort of research distract expertise and money away from projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
  • Who has the right to intentionally alter the Earth’s climate?
  • Is a workable system of cooperative international governance for geo-engineering possible or would geo-engineering lead to international conflict?


“The Need for Geoengineering Research”

KPBS These Days: “Ethics Forum: Should We Use Technology To Fight Global Warming?”

Our Flickr Page: “The Ethics of Cooling through Geo-Engineering”



This series is co-sponsored by the Institute for Ethics and Public Affairs at San Diego State University



Lynn Russell
Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Lynn M. Russell is a Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Her research interests are in aerosol evolution composition, and dynamics in the troposphere. Dr. Russell received her B.S. in chemical engineering and A.B. in international relations from Stanford University. She received her Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology.


Darrel Moellendorf (Moderator)
San Diego State University

Darrel Moellendorf is a Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Institute for Ethics and Public Affairs at San Diego State University. He is the author of Cosmopolitan Justice (Westview Press, 2002) and Global Inequality Matters (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). His research has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Deutsche Akademische Austausch Dienst. He has been a visitor at the Institut für Interkulterelle und Internationale Studien, Universität Bremen, the Forschungskolleg, Johann Goethe Universiät, and a member of the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study. He is the author of several papers on climate change and morality and is currently writing a book on that topic.

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