Geo-Engineering Could Save the Planet â€¦ and in the Process Sacrifice the World
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Maybe it's nothing. Perhaps these worries are overblown. After all, humans have been warping the planet since the Neolithic revolution. Having long ago changed the course of the world's most powerful rivers, having manipulated the genes of plants and animals, we are well beyond sentimentality for an unaltered Eden.
Bunzl pointed out that we have already made changes to the whole biosphere that are considered morally acceptable. A perfect example is the eradication of smallpox. Through concerted effort, the world's governments exterminated a virus that for millennia had played an important role in global ecology, serving as a check on human numbers. Hardly anyone would argue that this wasn't a good thing.
Other moral arguments could justify geo-engineering. The Doctrine of Double Effect, first formulated by Thomas Aquinas, says that it is permissible to engage in an act even with knowledge that the consequences may be deadly as long as the intention is pure. For example, a doctor may try a risky procedure to save a patient even if there is a chance the patient may die.
We should at least be honest: There is scant difference between doing something unintentionally and knowing it's harmful, and intentionally, but riskily, trying to fix it. For 20 years, we have understood the consequences of pumping the atmosphere full of CO2 and still we persist. We crossed a moral line long ago.
Our double bind is this: Either we keep our hands off the sky, and hope we act in time to prevent the destruction of Arctic ecosystems, the desertification of the Amazon, the abandonment of ancient cities. Or we try our luck at playing Zeus, knowing that it could make matters worse. No matter what, we risk losing Creation.
In contemplating geo-engineering, I keep returning to the words of the eco-theologian Thomas Berry. In the introduction to his book The Dream of the Earth , he wrote: "Our own well-being can be achieved only through the well-being of the entire world around us. The greater curvature of the universe and of planet Earth must govern the curvature of our being."
Yes, geo-engineering might be able to save the planet's body. But only at the cost of sacrificing its soul.
Jason Mark is the co-author, with Kevin Danaher, of "Insurrection: Citizen Challenges to Corporate Power." He is researching a book about the future of food.