Printed: 2019-05-24

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies





IEET Link: https://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/treder20090515

Planet-scale Engineering

Mike Treder


Ethical Technology


http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/IEETblog

May 15, 2009

Given the accumulating effects of global warming and the increasing potential for disastrous climate change, some form of geoengineering likely will be attempted within the next decade or two. As advanced nanotechnology moves ahead, it could enable—for better or for worse—truly epic planet-scale (re)terraforming projects.

With sufficient study of the issues involved, and with some imagination, it’s not difficult to project a continuum between global warming, climate chaos, geoengineering, and planet-scale engineering.

  1. Global warming is well underway, and in fact has been accumulating for more than 100 years. Long-term feedback cycles—such as ocean acidification, forest die-back, desertification, species migrations, methane clathrate releases, and ice cap melts in the Arctic, Greenland, and Antarctica—could be nearly impossible to change, and likely will accelerate overall warming trends.
  2. Climate chaos, in the form of more frequent and more powerful hurricanes/typhoons, longer and more severe droughts, extreme and unprecedented rainfall and flooding, crop failures, famines, and massive refugee movements—all this will force governmental authorities to seriously consider drastic solutions.
  3. Geoengineering, also known as (re)terraforming, is almost certain to be attempted at some point, by one or more measures and to a greater or lesser degree. Chances are, the more severe the problems are from climate chaos—and the less that has already been done by that time to confront the global warming challenge—the more extreme will be the response. Whether or not those attempts at geoengineering will be carefully evaluated, wisely chosen, and will have the desired impact without disastrous unforeseen side effects is a risk we’ll have to face.
  4. Planet-scale engineering will become possible only after the development of molecular manufacturing—but at that point the full implications of nanotechnology + globalization may become apparent. For the first time in history, a simple, inexpensive, and (potentially) widely available technology could be put to use on projects of a truly global scale. Meanwhile, the continued growth of multinational corporations through globalization will have made them both more powerful and more influential in government decision-making.

Put those four things together and you can easily envision a future where things get worse, people grow more unsatisfied, and politicians feel the need to act.

By the time we reach the final stage above, the actions those political leaders decide to endorse could be of epic proportions, bringing science fictional projects, infrastructures, and impacts to the Earth—and even beyond—for better or for worse.

All of this could take place within the next decade or two. Will we be ready by then to make wise and responsible choices?


Mike Treder is a former Managing Director of the IEET.

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