Last week most of the world agreed a ban on geoengineering — that is, on trying to counter climate change by large-scale modifications of the atmosphere or landscape.
At the risk of revealing the Enlightenment demon inside my treehugging persona: this ban strikes me as a Bad Thing. Or somewhat backwards, at least: there’s no outright ban on activities that cause global warming, just on those aiming to control it.
Yes, there are plenty of reasons to distrust geoengineering proposals. Large-scale engineering projects have a tendency to centralise money and power, cost more than planned, cause large and unexpected side-effects, and wind up corrupt and unaccountable to the people they affect.
But a blanket ban? Surely there exists some engineering intervention which could have a good effect on the climate. As one generally critical article puts it:
everything that matters most about each of these proposals in terms of deliberation about their plausible effects, their costs, their risks, their benefits, their stakeholders differ from one another in absolutely indispensable ways. And it is hard to see why, given these differences, anything much about the relative success of one of these efforts would necessarily justify confidence that any of the others would have comparable success.
If the projects are so varied, doesn’t it make much more sense to evaluate them indivudually? Try out the safest-seeming ones, prepare for the worst, and hope the benefits outweigh the side-effects?
It probably won’t matter much, in the end. I can’t imagine global-scale projects being stopped by a vaguely-worded agreement in a mostly-overlooked international conference. Besides, it doesn’t apply to the USA — and we all know that is the best source of megalomaniac mad scientists, green or otherwise.