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Volume 25 • Number 3

July 2011



Sulfate Aerosol Geoengineering: The Question of Justice

by Toby Svoboda, Klaus Keller, Marlos Goes, and Nancy Tuana

Although proposals for geoengineering, or the intentional, large-scale modification of the environment (Keith 2000, p. 245), have been made for decades (Fleming 2007; Keith 2000; Matthews and Turner 2009; Orville 1957; Wexler 1958), there is now renewed interest in this issue (Barrett 2008; Crutzen 2006; Wigley 2006). This is due to the potential of geoengineering to counter some of the most harmful effects of climate change, leading some climate scientists to call for serious research on the subject (Crutzen 2006; Keith et al. 2010). One of the most discussed varieties of geoengineering is deploying sulfate precursor (such as SO2) aerosols into the stratosphere to mimic the global cooling effects of a volcanic eruption. Sulfate Aerosol Geoengineering (SAG) is expected to counteract global warming by increasing the Earth’s albedo and thus reflecting a fraction of solar radiation into space, thereby reducing average global temperature and avoiding some of the expected harmful effects of climate change, such as sea level rise from melting polar ice sheets (MacCracken 2009). H owever, implementing SAG could be ethically problematic (Gardiner 2010; Goes et al. 2011) because SAG faces difficult challenges in meeting the requirements of distributive, intergenerational, and procedural justice. We identify three cases in which SAG could be problematic from a justice perspective. First, SAG is expected to alter regional precipitation patterns and thereby threaten some persons’ access to adequate food and drinking water resources (Matthews and Caldeira 2007; Robock et al. 2008; Trenberth and Dai 2007), thus posing a challenge for SAG to meet the requirements of distributive justice.

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ISSN: 2152-0542