The climate-trolley problem

Coming from a geology undergraduate study where I have been repeatedly exposed to artificial and natural carbon sequestration, the concepts of ocean and atmospheric circulation, and the intertwined nature of all earth systems, it does not seem far-fetched to ponder the plausibility of acting as God like figures and manipulating the dynamics of Earth systems. By no means do I intend to justify the use of geo engineering, however, I do not have the same surprise by its relevance as a new growing field of science.

As we have hit on repeatedly in this class, human nature seems to be inexplicably intertwined with this desire for dominion, while at the same time having a twisted view of how we define this relationship. We have a need to control, be it each other’s beliefs, actions, environment, each other as beings, and from this scientific perspective, to control our world. We have a newfound passion to pursue the supra Darwin an species.

In a way, geo engineering is a reaction to the inability to control others. We have proven unable to act with unity, and have remained politically divided when it comes to climate policy. Geo engineering is in many ways an attempt to place science in front of all beliefs, with the belief that science is a perfect art. We know this is not true. Geo engineering is a process we have theorized and practiced on the small scale. We do not truly know the impacts of attempting to control the large scale processes which have permitted life as long as life has persisted. We act like gods, when we are no where near that level of understanding.

Not only does geo engineering attempt to control the world around us, but also the fates of those distant from us. 1 in 6 people will be adversely effected by the processes involved in geo engineering. But this isn’t an unfamiliar problem. Any philosopher would say that it is not our responsibility to reverse the climate trend, just as it is not our job to pull the lever to kill 1 but save many. Philosophically it is not our responsibility to geo engineer, but we know the potential.

Given our history of playing God, it seems that geo engineering is the logical step for humanity, not necessarily the ethical step, but at least the logical progression given our track record. Maybe it could be in our benefit to learn from our habits and avoid playing God again before we make a discovery for which the severity of the implementation cannot be undone.

I will leave you all with one last metaphor that I learned about while reading Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle,” the concept of the black marble. In this book, a discovery is made of a crystal that can turn liquid water into ice. All water in contact with the crystal changes immediately. This powerful discovery intended to help soldiers travel across muddy fields has unexpected deadly implications when a crystal is dropped into the ocean. The analogy is as follows: you are reaching into a bag of marbles, you do not know what is inside, other than marbles. You have pulled white marbles from the bag for as long as you can remember, but who is to say there is not black marble. We have been making discoveries in the name of science for years. These discoveries are intended to help us understand and grow. But there may be a discovery along the way which may appear to be a blessing, but is truly a curse. When dealing with God like control, we must ask ourselves if we may have a black marble in our hands.

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