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Marion Hourdequin Looks at Ethics of Solar Radiation Management

Associate Philosophy Professor Marion Hourdequin has written the opening chapter in a new book, "Engineering the Climate: The Ethics of Solar Radiation Management," edited by Christopher Preston. Solar radiation management (SRM) is an approach to climate engineering that aims to counteract global climate change by reflecting solar radiation back into space.

Currently, the solar radiation management technology that appears most promising is the sulfate aerosol approach, which involves injecting sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to intercept and reflect sunlight away from the earth. There are numerous ethical considerations associated with this geoengineering, which is still largely in the research stage, although some scientists have advocated for field experiments, which has been controversial.

Hourdequin's chapter, titled "Geoengineering, Solidarity, and Moral Risk" acknowledges that although solar radiation management poses a variety of risks, the risk to global solidarity is one that thus far has not been discussed much and needs to be thoroughly considered. She argues that solar radiation management is likely to be developed by research in wealthy and technologically advanced countries; benefit those same countries more than less wealthy nations; generate uneven climatic effects, to the point that some nations may experience significant harm as a result, such as the predicted disruptions in Asian monsoons; and generate considerable controversy in multiple political contexts.

She states that taken together, these issues threaten to undermine international trust and make a successful international climate agreement much less likely. Such an agreement is needed to address the root cause of global climate change, the unbridled emissions of greenhouse gases. Her conclusion: If solar radiation management geoengineering does undermine international trust and solidarity, it will reduce the prospects for a just climate regime. Thus, not only should the direct effects of solar radiation management be considered, but also the indirect effects on solidarity and the moral climate.

Hourdequin addressed the International Society for Environmental Ethics meeting in Allenspark, Colo., this summer, and will travel to the University of Montana for a panel on ethics and geoengineering this February. She teaches courses in ethics, comparative philosophy, epistemology, philosophy of science, and environmental ethics.

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