Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Ethical Hypocrites

Ben Hale at Cruel Mistress points to a new paper of his with Lisa Dilling, on Geoengineering, Ocean Fertilization, and the Problem of Permissible Pollution which interested bunnies (pay attention you in the back) can download and read. Rather than reproducing the abstract, available at Cruel Mistress, Eli wants to pick at their ground rules in the context of current drive bys. Their basis is a set of rules for ethical responses to climate change set up by Dale Jameson

the following conditions must be met: ‘‘(1) the project is technically feasible; (2) its consequences can be predicted reliably; (3) it would produce states that are socioeconomically preferable to the alternatives; (4) implementing the project would not seriously and systematically violate any important, well-founded ethical principles or considerations’’ (Jamieson 1996, 326).
Jameson himself was, shall we say, not very hopeful that these conditions could be met, but Hale and Dilling are downright super unhopeful. They allow that while 1-3 are not today technically possible today, further research and development could, for ocean fertilization and other geoengineering remediation be possible, but the ethical barriers are impossibly high.
Our argument turns on three basic moral claims. Any of these claims in isolation may not be sufficient to disallow ocean fertilization, but taken together, they compel the conclusion that ocean fertilization is not permissible. The first claim is that the antecedent condition, that is, the identification of carbon dioxide as a polluting substance to the atmosphere, cannot be disentangled from the decision to counteract its presence in the atmosphere by fertilizing the ocean with iron. In other words, we would not be contemplating the idea of ocean fertilization were it not for the problem of carbon dioxide being released into the air by human activities. For this article, we stipulate that what is wrong with individual-level pollution is that it is disrespectful of others. Given that the release of carbon dioxide has been identified as a wrong action, simply conducting an ex post facto remediating action to repair damages does not alone authorize or permit the action (Hale and Grundy 2009).
The second claim rests on notions of justification and obtaining assent from affected parties for the remediating action (Habermas 1991). To evaluate whether it is possible to reach a mutually respectful outcome, we must be able to identify a position that ‘‘any reasonable person would (or could) accept as permissible’’ (Habermas 1991, 66). If assent cannot be obtained, the risk of wrong to parties affected is reasonable and possible. Given that the ocean is a global reservoir, connected to a global atmosphere, actions to fertilize the iron would potentially need justification from the world’s population, a practical and political unfeasibility. Thus, the justificatory burden cannot be met.
Eli disagrees with this, it is, after all a rejection of representative government. IEHO permission from governments representative of a majority of people on the planet could legitimately take such action. In that manner, such a decision even though not unanimous, could be properly taken. Dilling and Hale continue
Third, we suggest that the fact that ocean fertilization moves the world to a new, unknown state, rather than returning the world to its original condition before the initial polluting act makes it different than other cases of more limited remediation, which seek to return the world to its original state. These three claims underpin our argument that ocean fertilization is a morally impermissible solution to counter climate change.
The third point is one that the recent flooding in Pakistan and the Russian heat wave have moved to the fore. On blogs (see, you should read preprints), it was Michael Tobis who raised this point originally and then proceeded to extend it here, and here and here. This has been picked up by Brad Johnson, the New York Times and others. Eli boiled it down to
we are entering a period when weather conditions, which were in any meaningful sense impossible before, are going to be commonly encountered. That friends is scary anthropic global climate change or SAGCC
We now see that this has been an important part of the attack on Michael, and to a lesser extent, Eli by Keith Kloor who bleated that because they did not advocate as strongly for adaptation as to mitigation they were ethically challenged. Now some, not Eli, he hastens to add, might actually have read what Tobis and Eli wrote, and having done so, some, not Eli, the Rabett hastens to add again for emphasis, might understand that Kloor, sorry gentlebunnies there are no other words for it, really was behaving unethically, aka lying. MT and Eli have always known and stated that adaptation is needed, but also maintained that adaptation alone to climate change is futile without mitigation. Hale and Dilling describe the ethical problems with techno-breakthrough policy fairy dust
Second, what we have aimed to show is that no act of remediation can be understood independently of the acts that necessitate remediation in the first place. If the remediation is oriented around an ongoing anthropogenic cause, and that cause continues to be generative of the problem that is necessitating the remediation, then it requires extra justificatory work to demonstrate its permissibility. This is so not because it amounts to ‘‘treating the symptoms’’ of the problem instead of the root cause, though this may be a concern as well. This is so not because it initiates a so-called moral hazard in which individuals do not need to bear the risks associated with their actions. But rather, it is so because the act of remediation is tied tightly to the same principle that enabled action in the first instance, and insofar as this act is impermissible, so too are subsequent acts that piggyback upon it.
The same arguments apply to sulphate (happy now Wm?) aerosol injection, but may not, at least in the view of Hale and Dilling apply to air capture. However Eli believes that they underestimate the intrusiveness of air capture, the chemical wastes that it would generate as well as the issues surrounding disposal of the CO2. The necessary size of the enterprise will make it universally intrusive in the same magnitude as the fossil fuel industry, with episodic random disasters.


Anonymous said...

So once we work out that we are screwed, we are not allowed to do anything about it. Punching more holes in the lifeboat is a bad idea, but does that mean we do not bail out the water?

It would seem useing geoengineering is admiting that adding too much CO2 is bad. So as long as we don't admit it, all is OK.

Sorry, I do not accept the logic.

Little Mouse.

Michael Tobis said...

Nobody is arguing against adaptation.

Most adaptation is after the fact. For instance, Moscow and the neighborhood of Moscow could build air conditioned and filtered refuges form heat and smoke, now that we know that heat and smoke are possible in Moscow. But we did not know that two months ago. So such an adaptation would have made no sense.

Arguing for resilience (or what Roger calls robustness) is another matter. Resilience just means overbuilding and overplanning. Don't build the levee for a cat 3 storm, build it for a cat 5+. Don't build reservoirs and water pipelines for anticipated water use, double it. Build substantially above historical flood levels. Work really hard on the institutional structures of emergency response. Have a formal, international emergency assessment and response mechanism. All very expensive. I think for the most part people will not put up with much resilience these days, given the fact that it has been in obvious decline for decades, at least in this part of the world. I'm in favor of it myself, but Keynesians are not in favor these days.

This was also much like the civil defense mentality of yore. Fortunately, all the atomic weapons and rockets have been disarmed and destroyed, right?

EliRabett said...

What Hale and Dilling imply, but don't necessarily say directly, is needed are substitution of non-fossil fuel energy sources, and efficiency increases.

William T said...

The way I understand the argument is simply the old saying "two wrongs don't make a right". These technological "fixes" are being promoted as allowing us to continue our activities that add to climate disruption. However as discussed there are likely to be other side effects that might not be so pleasant for some people at least.

To take your boat metaphor LM, it's like saying "it's fine to keep on punching holes in the boat, because we can always install a bigger pump to get the water out again". This course of action doesn't make sense - it seems far better to start by finding a way to change the activities that are causing the holes to be punched in the side of the boat. You might still need some pumps, but not a perpetually increasing amount of them.

Hank Roberts said...



You win. They take the credit:

"... As a cause is mainstreamed, the power to tell its story passes to very different people--not outsiders who thunder about right and wrong, but those closer to power who think in terms of the horizon of the practical. In other words, those who once dismissed an idea must become its advocates, as those who pioneered the idea lose ownership of it....
... the case for nuclear abolition in Countdown to Zero is made largely by people who would not have touched the cause with a 10-foot pole in the 1990s...."

Anonymous said...

The life boat already has too many holes.

It is likely that the consequences of geoengineering will end up very nasty. The more we cut CO2 emissions now, the less nasty those consequences need be.

Despite the nasty consequences, we may have no choice.

People need to know just how nasty geoengineering could get, then mitigation might not seem so bad.

Switching analogies. With John Holdrens car with the dodgy brakes, we may have no choice but to tree the car, the slower we are going the less of an impact. Damaging the engine by using a too lower gear will not seem such a problem if you hit the tree at speed.

Little Mouse

Anonymous said...

I wonder how soon it will be before somebody suggests dropping nuclear bombs in volcanoes in order to trigger volcanic eruptions to cool the planet.

BTW, ever see the last episode of Dinosaurs?


David B. Benson said...

Berbalang --- Well, that's one way to dispose of all those otherwise useless useless bombs.

But I suggest reprocessing into IFR fuel makes more sense.

Steve Bloom said...

It's not possible to adapt very well to the sort of huge precipitation event that's just happened in Pakistan, other than in a Darwinian sense.

I suppose RP Jr. would suggest that they should make themselves rich enough that they can commute to their fields from secure (from flooding, although perhaps not earthquakes, but it's just not reasonable to ask us to put on our adaptation pants more than one leg at a time, eh?) higher-elevation locations and don't care that their crops and agricultural infrastructure are destroyed year after year. No problemo, as they say in Ciudad Juarez (where even as we speak they are comfortably adapting to the consequences of U.S. drug policy).