The Instigator
Con (against)
The Contender
Pro (for)

Environmental movements should support climate engineering

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Voting Style: Open Point System: Select Winner
Started: 8/5/2016 Category: Politics
Updated: 2 months ago Status: Debating Period
Viewed: 131 times Debate No: 94453
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (5)
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Thanks to our opponents, Sine Nomine, for debating us on this intriguing topic.

The full resolution is as follows:

"Environmental movements should support climate engineering that fundamentally alters the environment to combat global warming."

"Environmental movements" encompass any group " governmental or otherwise " that either advocates for or engages in shifts in global climate policy. Global warming represents temperature shifts seen on a global scale, meaning that we're addressing climate systems, not local weather patterns.

Climate engineering also refers to the climate system. It refers to "deliberate and large-scale intervention[s]" that break out into "two types of measures: carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation management. Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) addresses the cause of climate change by removing one of the greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide) from the atmosphere. Solar radiation management (SRM) attempts to offset effects of greenhouse gases by causing the Earth to absorb less solar radiation."

If any of this is unclear to or problematic for our opponents, they should contact us before accepting the debate to change them.

Let"s start with overviews.

OV1: We can all agree in this debate that small scale research pursuing alternative means for addressing global warming is reasonable. That's not what this debate is about. We are not discussing the research itself. We are discussing implementation specifically, and for that matter, large scale intervention. Addressing global warming cannot ever be as simple as implementing a new engineering scheme in a lab somewhere or in one small region. Pro will have to defend at least one large scale intervention, and show that it's net beneficial to pursue it.

OV2: Building on this, recognize that we're talking about the present tense, i.e. whether or not the technology is already at the point where it could be implemented as a means of climate control. At some point in the distant or not-so-distant future, technologies may come along that de-risk climate engineering. We are not discussing those potential technologies. If the technology doesn't exist today, then it's not relevant to this debate.

OV3: As we establish the risks and benefits of climate engineering, we will also be discussing its likelihood of implementation. No climate engineering technology has been implemented on a large scale (this is especially true of SRM [1]), so not only should this be taken into consideration with regards to their efficacy and risks, but also we should consider the willingness of any nation to engage in these practices. Even a potentially good policy has no meaning without implementation, so Pro will have to show that such implementation is probable, not just possible.

Onto our case.

1. CDR

The theory behind this is that we can remove gases already released into our atmosphere and those found in carbon sinks. There are a number of different examples, and we encourage discussion of them.

No matter the strategies employed, CDR fails. Studies have shown that CDR is extremely slow to act, requiring long-term political and engineering programs to be effective. Even after an exceedingly ideal set of circumstances are implemented, the only substantive temperature effects have been found to occur within the atmosphere itself, as the surface warming effects of CO2 continue for centuries.[2] This means that the only way to garner any substantial effect is to remove carbon from the oceans and land themselves, both of which are major carbon sinks, since that's the source of these surface warming effects. This spells trouble for our opponents, since research has shown that "even massive deployment of CDR schemes cannot reverse the substantial impacts of [CO2] emissions on the marine environment". Acidification of oceans has extended the timeline to several millennia, making it nearly impossible for us to reverse the effects of CO2 warming on our oceans now, let alone as we continue to increase the levels of CO2 in our oceans.[3]

But let's assume that there is a benefit. CDR requires a reduction in CO2 to some unknown low level followed "by continued removal of CO2 released from the land biosphere and ocean; thus such a program entails a long-term commitment to atmospheric CO2 removal."[2] Studies have clearly shown that reducing atmospheric CO2 concentrations alone, even in the long term, won't be sufficient to reduce CO2 concentrations in the ocean and land.[3] This means that, not only will such efforts have to include massive undertakings by multiple countries to remove CO2 from the atmosphere with absolutely no guarantees that they could reach a threshold level required for heat reduction, but nearly every country would have to make similar commitments to reduce CO2 concentrations in their lands and oceans. And that's all assuming we can have any effect at all. Both of these studies employed systems that were well above what we could reasonably expect in terms of CO2 removal, even if there was widespread cooperation on such measures. Even that level of cooperation doesn't exist, mainly because of costs and uncertainties. There hasn't been a large scale venture of this sort before, and even optimistic estimates set the cost at $600 per metric ton of CO2.[4] To put that in context, "the world's nations combined pumped nearly 38.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air" just last year.[5] This means that small groups or even individual countries may be the only ones capable of implementing this, reducing buy-in and dooming the program.

2. SRM

Unlike CDR, this method doesn't affect greenhouse gasses. Instead, the idea is to reduce global warming by affecting the amount of sunlight hitting the planet. Again, we won't focus on examples with SRM as a whole.

Almost all of the tests done of SRM come from models and computer simulations, which don't and cannot take into account all potential variables. The reasons for that are simple: we don't know even the short term effects of the methods in complex environments, we can't know their long-term effects, and even the models often disagree.[6, 7] It doesn't help that any implementation of SRM is based on estimates of the amounts of greenhouse gasses that could be released into the atmosphere over time. If those estimates are too low, SRM risks being ineffective, and if they"re too high, then the response may initiate global a reverse effect of global cooling that causes its own set of harms.

All of this uncertainty wouldn't be a problem if there weren't clear and obvious risks. It's been established that SRM can be used to bring either temperature changes or hydrological changes to a point of stability, not both.[8] As we're talking about affecting global warming, this is a matter of temperature. That means that hydrological cycles, i.e. the process of evaporation, condensation, and precipitation that is extremely important for providing much of the world with water from oceans and other sources, are weakened, reducing rainfall.[9] Mass droughts would be the result. Couple that with the possibility of ozone depletion, and you've got a system that is more likely to produce disastrous consequences than any potential benefit. The effects on plant life, the availability of solar energy, and even the formation of clouds could be adversely affected. [10-12]

But even if you find that the benefit outweighs, its transience makes it problematic. "Modeling indicates that SRM methods, if realizable, have the potential to substantially offset a global temperature rise, but they would also modify the global water cycle, and would not reduce ocean acidification... [If] SRM were terminated for any reason, there is high confidence that global surface temperatures would rise very rapidly to values consistent with the greenhouse gas forcing."[13] So even if the temperature reduction is a huge benefit (and we would say it's dwarfed by these short and long-term consequences), it only lasts for as long as SRM is implemented, which means any change in buy-in by any country stands to completely obviate any benefits we receive from it.

At best, SRM is a mask that we'd be putting over persistent problems with greenhouse gas emissions, and since it requires no change to carbon emissions, its use reduces incentive to engage in any policy that would seek to do so. At worst, SRM causes a bevy of extremely damaging problems can last anywhere from years to centuries.


Climate engineering is not a lab experiment. While many brilliant minds are working on the technology, the only way they will ever implement it in such a way as to affect change is if it"s done on a large scale, and yet in doing so, we are turning the entire planet into an experimental system. When doing so bears a substantial risk to life on this planet, that demands our attention. So do the costs involved, and their likelihood of failure. We"ve shown how the risks involved can be tremendously and broadly damaging, how costly many of these methods can be, and shown just how easy it is for these technologies to fail. That likelihood of failure is made all the higher by the lack of unity between countries on international climate-based proposals like the Kyoto Protocols and the lack of large, individual country leadership backing that these policies.[14] Without that support, there is little reason to believe that these policies will grow large enough to be effective or even to survive the test of time, and yet both of these are exactly what CDR and SRM depend upon. Pro will have to show that these can be managed.

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Debate Round No. 1
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Debate Round No. 2
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Debate Round No. 3
5 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Posted by whiteflame 2 months ago
Well, after you accept, you'll have 3 days to post. Take whatever time you need.
Posted by 1harderthanyouthink 2 months ago
Yeah, I'm leaving the state Sunday morning and coming back Wednesday in the afternoon, and I have to do 4 or 5 essays by Wednesday (the 17th), so I'll probably do those while out of state so I can focus on the debate when I'm back.
Posted by whiteflame 2 months ago
Alright, sounds good.
Posted by 1harderthanyouthink 2 months ago
I plan on accepting this early Thursday - probably between 3 and 6 AM eastern time.
Posted by fire_wings 2 months ago
This will be fun.
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