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Some guidance for teaching ethical topics related to geoengineering can be found in the Ethics Overview pages to the left.  A few additional topics are included below.  (Terms highlighted in bold appear in the geoengineering Ethics Glossary).

The Anthropocene:

The anthropocene is the proposed name for a new geological epoch (following the Holocene) in which human activities are the dominant force shaping natural systems.  If we really now live in the so-called "age of man" what are the implications for the proper human relationship with nature?

Relevant questions include: Do we live in an age that warrants a new geological nomenclature?  What does the anthropocene engender in terms of human responsibilities?  Is the anthropocene coincident with the end of nature?  Does the anthropocene legitimize enhanced manipulation of natural systems?  Is the anthropocene necessarily anthropocentric?  What happens to the idea of ecological restoration in the anthropocene?  Does the anthropocene require that we move beyond the use of the term “nature”?  How does humanity best make management decisions for the anthropocene?  Is the anthropocene a democratic epoch?

Crutzen, P. J., and E. F. Stoermer (2000). "The 'Anthropocene'". Global Change Newsletter 41: 17–18.

McKibben, B. (1989). The end of nature. New York, NY: Random House.

Preston, Christopher J. (2012).  "Beyond the End of Nature: SRM and Two Tales of Artificity for the Anthropocene."  Ethics, Policy & Environment,15(2): 188-201.

Steffen, W., P. J. Crutzen, and J.R. McNeill. (2007). "The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature." AMBIO: A
Journal of the Human Environment 36 (8): 614-21.

Vogel, Steven.  (2002).  "Environmental Philosophy After the End of Nature."  Environmental Ethics 24(1): 23-39.

Ecological Restoration:

This practice is defined by the Society for Ecological Restoration as “intentional activity that initiates or accelerates the recovery of an ecosystem with respect to its health, integrity and sustainability." With human impacts on planetary systems now widespread, it appears that there are plenty of ecological systems that need to be restored.  Perhaps it is not only terrestrial landscapes but also atmospheric ones that need the restoration treatment.

Questions include: Should geoengineering be thought of as a form of ecological restoration?  If geoengineering is ecological restoration, what is it trying to restore?  In a climate system that has varied dramatically over geological timescales does it make any sense to try to restore climate to any particular benchmark?  Is there any particular significance to so called “pre-industrial” climates?  What does geoengineering as restoration say about human character and virtue?  Is attempting to manipulate the climate back to some benchmark simply an evasion of current responsibility in the anthropocene?

Elliot, R. (2002). Faking nature: the ethics of environmental restoration. New York: Routledge.

Gardiner, S.M. (2012).  Are we the scum of the earth? Climate change, geoengineering, and humanity’s challenge. In A. Thompson and J. Bendick-Keymer, Ethical adaptation to climate change: Human virtues of the future (pps. 241-360).  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Harris, J. A., Hobbs, R. J., Higgs, E., & Aronson, J. (2006). Ecological restoration and global climate change. Restoration Ecology14(2), 170-176.

Sandler, Ronald (2012).  Global warming and virtues of ecological restoration. In A. Thompson and J. Bendick-Keymer Ethical adaptation to climate change: Human virtues of the future (pps. 64-80).  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Geoengineering is usually presented to the public within a particular ‘frame.’  Common frames include ‘plan B,’ ‘insurance,’ and ‘technological fix.’  Because they conjure up a certain picture of what is going on, frames sometimes come with particular values and expectations built into them.  Frames, in other words, are not often neutral.

Questions include:  Are some frames more supportive of geoengineering than others?  Are some frames deliberately misleading or inaccurate?  Do people invent frames simply to generate public interest?  Are there better frames for geoengineering that have not been discussed/created yet?  Are there some geoengineering frames that are now obsolete?  Are there some geoengineering frames that contradict each other? Do some frames appeal more to people from certain disciplines and less to people from others?  What role does the media play in generating and promulgating frames? How can the public become more alert to frames and how they influence the discourse?

Bellamy, R., Chilvers, J., Vaughan, N., Lenton, T. (2012). Appraising Geoengineering, 153. Tyndall Centre Working Paper.

Buck, Holly Jean. (2013). Framing geoengineering in the media: Spectacle, tragedy, solution? In Chris Methmann, Delf Rothe, Benjamin Stephan (Eds.) Interpretive approaches to global climate governance: De-constructing the greenhouse  (166-182). New York: Routledge.

Nerlich, B., & Jaspal, R. (2012). Metaphors we die by? Geoengineering, metaphors, and the argument from catastrophe. Metaphor and Symbol27(2), 131-147.

Nisbet, M. C. (2009). Communicating climate change: Why frames matter for public engagement. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development51(2), 12-23.

Scott, Dane. (2012).  Insurance Policy or Technological Fix? The Ethical Implications of Framing Solar Radiation Management.  In Christopher J. Preston (Ed.) Engineering the climate: The ethics of solar radiation management  (151-168).  Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Scholte, S., Vasileiadou, E., & Petersen, A. C. (2013). Opening up the societal debate on climate engineering: how newspaper frames are changing. Journal of Integrative Environmental Sciences10(1), 1-16.

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Meridians image is in the public domain. Kenyan woman image by Oxfam. Globe image by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.