Tamper with The System?
Well, we already are.
But there’s a difference between accidentally trickling sand into a precision gearbox versus formulating a plan to alter it on the fly with improvements in mind. One action is more or less innocently unscrupulous, the other amenable to earning an easy conscience. Low & Buck offer a critical analysis of “RRI” or “Responsible Research and Innovation” in connection with climate change in their paper The practice of responsible research and innovation in “climate engineering.” We’ve an amply bitter track record of hastily deployed technological products that swiftly became entrenched and very difficult to remove despite obvious problems. RRI seeks to draw from that history to help produce a more rational means of progress. Here it’s in connection with avoiding multiplying our problems by thoughtlessly deploying technology while seeking to mitigate an earlier unplanned technological mess of our own creation. The abstract:
Sunlight reflection and carbon removal proposals for “climate engineering” (CE) confront governance challenges that many emerging technologies face: their futures are uncertain, and by the time one can discern their shape or impacts, vested interests may block regulation, and publics are often left out of decision‐making about them. In response to these challenges, “responsible research and innovation” (RRI) has emerged as a framework to critique and correct for technocratic governance of emerging technologies, and CE has emerged as a prime case of where it can be helpfully applied. However, a critical lens is rarely applied to RRI itself. In this review, we first survey how RRI thinking has already been applied to both carbon removal and sunlight reflection methods for climate intervention. We examine how RRI is employed in four types of activities: Assessment processes and reports, principles and protocols for research governance, critical mappings of research, and deliberative and futuring engagements. Drawing upon this review, we identify tensions in RRI practice, including whether RRI forms or informs choices, the positionalities of RRI practitioners, and ways in which RRI activities enable or disable particular climate interventions. Finally, we recommend that RRI should situate CE within the long arc of sociotechnical proposals for addressing climate change, more actively connect interrogations of the knowledge economy with reparative engagements, include local or actor‐specific contexts, design authoritative assessments grounded in RRI, and go beyond treating critique and engagement as “de facto” governance.
The juggling act of addressing risks and hazards while pursuing important, compelling benefits is nicely illustrated by the beguiling article Halving warming with stratospheric aerosol geoengineering moderates policy-relevant climate hazards, by Irvine & Keith. From the abstract:
Using a linearized scaling of GLENS we find that halving warming with stratospheric aerosols moderates important climate hazards in almost all regions. Only 1.3% of land area sees exacerbation of change in water availability, and regions that are exacerbated see wetting not drying contradicting the common assumption that solar geoengineering leads to drying in general. These results suggest that halving warming with stratospheric aerosol geoengineering could potentially reduce key climate hazards substantially while avoiding some problems associated with fully offsetting warming.
It sounds great. But would we really act on this, without a public process of evaluation, consent and governance? And what’s consent, and what’s governance? Does one country and its citizens get to make decisions that don’t stay neatly within borders, decisions that may be mistaken and even so redound on all? Isn’t that kind of decision process at the root of many of the problems we face? It’s for exactly these reasons that Low & Buck and many others are attempting to illustrate processes for such grave matters that will hopefully help us to obtain better long term results than we’ve so far produced by more chaotic means.
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