But critics of geoengineering research argue that regardless of the stated goals, such efforts legitimize the development and eventual use of climate interventions and are too dangerous to even consider. Jenny Stephenson, a professor of sustainability science and policy at Northeastern University, said, among other concerns, that global power imbalances cannot be managed fairly and equitably.
“There’s been a very systematic effort to find this core mechanism, and it’s working,” she says. “It’s becoming more and more legitimate as an alternative for the future, and building knowledge networks around this topic is expanding that lobbying effort as much as I can.”
Climate change will have the greatest impact on the hottest and poorest parts of the world, as higher temperatures in those areas will push conditions beyond what is sustainable for crops or safe for people and animals. These regions often lack the resources to protect against disasters such as extreme heat waves, sea level rise, drought, flooding and other climate adaptation measures such as salt marshes, seawalls or air conditioners.
For some proponents of geoengineering, it creates a “moral obligation” to at least explore the possibility that climate disasters driven primarily by atmospheric emissions will fall on the poor in rich countries.
Opponents, however, argue that studying such technologies will reduce the pressure on extracting and burning fossil fuels, which are responsible for most of the climate change. This, in turn, threatens to further concentrate global economic power and perpetuate inequality, injustice and exploitation between poor and rich nations, argued Stephens and Kevin Surprise, professors at Mount Holyoke College in a 2020 paper.
But either way, academics, activists and environmentalists in the Global North are too often simply making statements about the needs of vast and diverse parts of the world and not engaging meaningfully with researchers, non-profits and citizens in those countries, says Sekina Jinnah, in California. University Professor of Environmental Studies, Santa Cruz.
“This is really the Global North speaking on behalf of the Global South,” she says. That’s another violation of environmental justice, one that’s “embedded in the conversation.”
Several modeling studies suggest that spraying particles into the stratosphere, brightening coastal clouds, or similar geoengineering techniques could reduce global warming.