Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Bioethics of Geoengineering

By Michael Cook

Ethical guidelines are urgent when considering high-risk technologies to avert the climate crisis.

Michael Cook is editor of the internet bioethics newsletter BioEdge.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Croatian scientist Fritz Jahr coined the word “bioethics” back in 1927 to describe the ethics of dealing with living beings, but nearly all bioethicists have limited themselves to solving human medical dilemmas. Has the time come to revive the broader global interpretation?

The issue is climate change. In the words of prominent environmentalist Tim Flannery: “The current burden of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is in fact more than sufficient to cause catastrophic climate change. Everything’s going in the wrong direction at the moment, timelines are getting shorter, the amount of pollution in the atmosphere is growing. It’s extremely urgent.”

Most agree that the obvious solution is a radical reduction in global carbon emissions. But what if that doesn’t happen? It could be the moment for geoengineering, or a more politically correct term, climate remediation.

This is not science fiction. Out of sight of the mainstream media, the debate is bubbling away. Last September, the European Parliament passed a resolution expressing its opposition and UK scientists had to defer a small-scale experiment because of opposition from environmental groups. Only a few days later, a major report by US experts cautiously backed research into it.

Broadly speaking, there are two avenues of geoengineering. The first is removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.