Can Religion Figure Out Whether We Should Use Geoengineering?

by JP Kiefer

Clingerman and O’Brien (2014) believe that geoengineering has the potential to solve the disaster of climate change. Geoengineering is the process of changing the environment through any one of many diverse methods, like solar radiation management or fertilizing the ocean to create algae blooms as a means of combating climate change. Each of these methods has unintended side effects, but can be summarized as cheap, fast, and imperfect ways of reducing the effects of greenhouse gasses on the environment.

A major criticism of geoengineering is that it is a form of man attempting to “play God” by directly manipulating the atmosphere. Another is that some religious individuals protest the idea that man cannot live in harmony with nature without technology. Clingerman states that while this may or may not be true, religion needs to play a larger, more informed role in this debate. Scientists and political leaders must realize the way religion might influence public perceptions of scientific progress. While most scientists stay away from religion professionally, as it exists outside of their area of expertise, Clingerman believes that religion needs to play a larger role to morally guide scientific progress.

One need to look no farther than Galileo to see how religious institutions have stood in the way of science in the past, but this calls for a more careful engagement between the two in the present. Clingerman believes that religion can help the wider public engage the science of climate change as it is currently understood, and geoengineering as mankind might undertake it if properly integrated into the discourse. Instead of religion pitting individuals against science, it could motivate them to endorse it if viewed from the right frame. Mankind’s adjusting of the climate could be easily classified as a theological justification of human skill. When discussions of penance and conversion are added to the geoengineering debate, religion and science might come to a true consensus and properly motivate the public to act to solve this problem.

Clingerman, F., O’Brien, K.J., 2014. Playing God: Why religion belongs in the climate engineering debate. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May 2014: 27-37

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