Highlights of one of ORBIT’s Foundations workshops

In the past months, a new paper by Wolovick & Moore was published which focused on mitigating sea level rise. The work done by the authors is in the field of geoengineering, which consists in the manipulation of earth’s climate system in order to reduce the effects of global warming.

In particular, the paper focused on tackling and potentially stopping Marine Ice Sheet Instability (MISI), a process that can cause ice sheets to melt due to detachment from the ground. The technology developed consisted in an ice-ocean simulator to explore the possibility of using ether a continuous artificial sill or isolated artificial pinning points to counter an ongoing MISI. This would reduce the melting of ice sheets and glaciers and, in turn, mitigate sea level rise.

The paper was used as a case study for one of the ORBIT Foundations workshops that took place at the end of last month at Southampton University. During a group discussion on the potential implications of such a technology, one of the main points raised was how we decide who has agency? Assuming that the technology being developed will actually be successful at countering Martine Ice Sheet Instability, who would pay for such an expensive technology to be implemented in the glaciers? On one hand the world belongs to everybody and as such every country should contribute equally and pay for it. On the other hand some countries are richer than others. Is it fair to ask poor and under-developed countries to pay for this? Especially considering that global warming is the cause of sea level rise and the countries responsible for it are usually the wealthiest. It should also be kept in mind, within this discourse, that some countries would benefit from preventing a sea level raise more than other countries. For instance, lands by the sea would surely benefit more from it as this would lead to less land loss and consequently less migrations. Thus, why would a country that does not have boarders by the sea would be interested in paying for these artificial sills?

When a technology has such a big impact on the planet, who has agency to decide whether to implement and pay for it? This is probably still one of the biggest questions that we will need to face more and more with the raise of new technologies.

 

Wolovick, M. J. and Moore, J. C.: Stopping the flood: could we use targeted geoengineering to mitigate sea level rise?, The Cryosphere, 12, 2955-2967, https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-12-2955-2018, 2018.
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