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Re-Thinking the Unthinkable: Environmental Ethics and the Presumptive Argument Against Geoengineering


  • Christopher J. Preston


The rapid rise in interest in geoengineering the climate as a response to global warming presents a clear and significant challenge to environmental ethics. The paper articulates what I call the 'presumptive argument' against geoengineering from environmental ethics, a presumption strong enough to make geoengineering almost 'unthinkable' from within that tradition. Two rationales for suspending that presumption are next considered. One of them is a 'lesser evil' argument, the other makes connections between the presumptive argument, ecofacism, and the anthropocentrism/non-anthropocentrism debate. The discussion is designed to prompt reflection on how environmental ethicists should orient themselves to the rapidly moving geoengineering debate and what they should think about the moral significance of the earth's large-scale biogeochemical processes compared to the moral significance of individuals, species, and ecosystems.

Suggested Citation

  • Christopher J. Preston, 2011. "Re-Thinking the Unthinkable: Environmental Ethics and the Presumptive Argument Against Geoengineering," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 20(4), pages 457-479, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:env:journl:ev20:ev2022

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Stephen M. Gardiner, 2011. "Some Early Ethics of Geoengineering the Climate: A Commentary on the Values of the Royal Society Report," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 20(2), pages 163-188, May.
    2. Benjamin Hale & W.P. Grundy, 2009. "Remediation and Respect: Do Remediation Technologies Alter Our Responsibility?," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 18(4), pages 397-415, November.
    3. Christopher J. Preston, 2008. "Synthetic Biology: Drawing a Line in Darwin's Sand," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 17(1), pages 23-39, February.
    4. Scott Barrett, 2008. "The Incredible Economics of Geoengineering," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 39(1), pages 45-54, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Clive L. Spash, 2012. "Response and Responsibility," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 21(4), pages 391-396, November.
    2. Richard S.J. Tol, 2016. "Distributional Implications of Geoengineering," Working Paper Series 08316, Department of Economics, University of Sussex.
    3. repec:tpr:glenvp:v:17:y:2017:i:2:p:125-143 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    Geoengineering; presumptive argument; environmental ethics; lesser of two evils; anthropocentrism; fundamental biogeochemical processes;

    JEL classification:

    • Q25 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation - - - Water


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