Carbon Emissions, Stratospheric Aerosol Injection, and Unintended Harms

| December 2017
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Abstract: In the rapidly expanding literature on the ethics of climate engineering, a lot has been made of the fact that stratospheric aerosol injection would for the first time create a world whose climate had been intentionally shaped by deliberate human decisions. Intention has always mattered in ethics. Due to the importance of intention in assigning culpability for harms, one might expect that the moral responsibility for any harms created during an attempt to reconstruct the global climate using stratospheric aerosols would be considerable. This article investigates such an expectation by making a comparison between the culpability for any unintended harms resulting from stratospheric aerosol injection and culpability for the unintended harms already taking place due to carbon emissions. To make this comparison, both types of unintended harms are viewed through the lens of the doctrine of double effect. The conclusion reached goes against what many might expect. The article closes by suggesting that a good way to read this surprising conclusion is that it points toward the continuing moral importance of prioritizing emission reductions.

Keywords: climate engineering, stratospheric aerosol injection, carbon emissions, unintended harms, doctrine of double effect

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Category: Article, Climate Change, Issue 31.4

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