Who would control geoengineering?


in Politics, Science, The environment

Sasha Ilnyckyj's eyes

Over at Slate there is an interesting article about the geopolitics of geoengineering: specifically, the ramifications of the fact that any major nation could choose to deliberately modify the planet’s climate. As the author identifies, this is in some sense the reverse of the ordinary climate change problem. So far, the issue has been how to produce a global action when states disagree on what should be done, how quickly it should occur, and who should pay. By contrast, the problems with the politics of geoengineering are making sure that any states that undertake it do so with the interests of all states (and future generations) in mind.

This is especially problematic because the side-effects of geoengineering might fall disproportionately on certain states, probably the ones who would not be in control of the policy. For instance, consider the so-called ‘Pinatubo option’ of particulate injection into the upper atmosphere. It might help cool the planet overall, but could severely disrupt patterns of precipitation and wind. It would also do nothing about the problem of ocean acidification. Who would decide if the possible advantages outweighed the risks? Who would pay for the side effects? Who could decide to shut the system down, if the effects in some places prove too painful?

Another issue with the ‘Pinatubo option’ is that it would need to be constantly maintained to keep working. This could be an advantage, since we could ‘turn it off’ if it proved too problematic. It could also be a disadvantage, since disabling the system would bring about abrupt and dangerous warming.

All this may be moot, if no forms of geoengineering actually work, or if the danger of unintended consequences is sufficient to deter states from trying. That being said, I see geoengineering (regrettably) as a real possibility. If we don’t reduce emissions fast enough and start to really feel the full brunt of climate change, it will become harder and harder to argue against. As such, it is good that we are starting to consider both the physical and political elements of geoengineering now.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

f-22 raptor May 1, 2009 at 1:41 pm

hello….i’m sorry but….they are already doing it…..it’s call “atmospheric geoengineering”…..chemical trails people….”chemtrails”…..they mix something with the jet fuel…….look in the sky people THEY ARE ALREADY DOING IT



they are trying to create an artificial sunscreen.

geoengineering it’s REAL, and it’s happening right now

Milan May 1, 2009 at 1:45 pm
. May 1, 2009 at 1:46 pm

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Contrails (short for “condensation trails”) or vapour trails are visible trails of condensed water vapour made by the exhaust of aircraft engines. As the hot exhaust gases cool in the surrounding air they may precipitate a cloud of microscopic water droplets. If the air is cold enough, this trail will comprise tiny ice crystals.

The wingtip vortices which trail from the wingtips and wing flaps of aircraft are sometimes partly visible due to condensation in the cores of the vortices. Each vortex is a mass of spinning air and the air pressure at the centre of the vortex is very low. These wingtip vortices are unrelated to the exhaust from the engines.

Depending on atmospheric conditions, contrails may be visible for only a few seconds or minutes, or may persist for many hours.

. May 1, 2009 at 1:47 pm

Chemtrail conspiracy theory
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The chemtrail conspiracy theory holds that some contrails are actually chemicals or biological agents deliberately sprayed at high altitudes for a purpose undisclosed to the general public. Versions of the chemtrail conspiracy theory circulating on the internet and radio talk shows theorize that the activity is directed by government officials. As a result, federal agencies have received thousands of complaints from people who have demanded an explanation.[2] The existence of chemtrails has been repeatedly denied by government agencies and scientists around the world.

The United States Air Force has stated that the theory is a hoax which “has been investigated and refuted by many established and accredited universities, scientific organizations, and major media publications”. The British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has stated that chemtrails “are not scientifically recognised phenomena”. The Canadian Government House Leader has stated that “The term ‘chemtrails’ is a popularized expression, and there is no scientific evidence to support their existence.”

The term chemtrail is derived from “chemical trail” in the similar fashion that contrail is an abbreviation for condensation trail. It does not refer to common forms of aerial spraying such as crop dusting, cloud seeding or aerial firefighting. The term specifically refers to aerial trails allegedly caused by the systematic high-altitude release of chemical substances not found in ordinary contrails, resulting in the appearance of supposedly uncharacteristic sky tracks. Believers of this theory speculate that the purpose of the chemical release may be for global dimming, population control, weather control, or biowarfare and claim that these trails are causing respiratory illnesses and other health problems.

. April 19, 2010 at 10:00 am

We all want to change the world
Dealing with climate change might mean tinkering with the oceans and the atmosphere. Those who could do so would like the regulations to be clear

Mar 31st 2010 | ASILOMAR | From The Economist print edition

In retrospect, the Asilomar meeting may come to be seen as a step towards that respectable system, but probably only a small one. The participants did not produce clear recommendations, but they generally endorsed a set of five overarching principles for the regulation of the field that were presented recently to the British Parliament by Steve Rayner, a professor at the Saïd Business School, in Oxford.

The “Oxford principles”, as they are known, hold that geoengineering should be regulated as a public good, in that, since people cannot opt out, the whole proceeding has to be in a well-defined public interest; that decisions defining the extent of that interest should be made with public participation; that all attempts at geoengineering research should be made public and their results disseminated openly; that there should be an independent assessment of the impacts of any geoengineering research proposal; and that governing arrangements be made clear prior to any actual use of the technologies.

The conference’s organising committee is now working on a further statement of principles, to be released later. Meanwhile Britain’s main scientific academy, the Royal Society, and the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, which has members from around 90 countries, are planning further discussions that will culminate at a meeting to be held this November.

. April 22, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Mother Earth Has a Fever
Should geoengineering tests be governed by the principles of medical ethics?
By Eli Kintisch
Posted Thursday, April 22, 2010, at 9:41 AM ET

Nearly 200 scientists from 14 countries met last month at the famed Asilomar retreat center outside Monterey, Calif., in a very deliberate bid to make history. Their five-day meeting focused on setting up voluntary ground rules for research into cloud-brightening, giant algae blooms, and other massive-scale interventions to cool the planet. It’s unclear how significant the meeting will turn out to be, but the intent of its organizers was unmistakable: By choosing Asilomar, they hoped to summon the spirit of a groundbreaking meeting of biologists that took place on the same site in 1975. Back then, scientists with bushy sideburns and split collars—the forefathers of the molecular revolution, it turned out—established principles for the safe and ethical study of deadly pathogens.

The planners of Asilomar II, as they called it, hoped to accomplish much the same for potentially dangerous experiments in geoengineering. Instead of devising new medical treatments for people, the scientists involved in planet-hacking research are after novel ways to treat the Earth. The analogy of global warming to a curable disease was central to the discussions at the meeting. Climate scientist Steve Schneider of Stanford talked about administering “planetary methadone to get over our carbon addiction.” Others debated what “doses” of geoengineering would be necessary. Most crucially, the thinkers at Asilomar focused on the idea that medical ethics might provide a framework for balancing the risks and benefits of all this new research.

What would it mean to apply the established principles of biomedical research to the nascent field of geoengineering? The ethicists at Asilomar—particularly David Winickoff from Berkeley and David Morrow from the University of Chicago—began with three pillars laid out in the landmark 1979 Belmont Report. The first, respect for persons, says that biomedical scientists should obtain “informed consent” from their test subjects. The second, beneficence, requires that scientists assess the risks and benefits of a given test before they start. The third, justice, invokes the rights of research subjects to whatever medical advances result from the testing. (The people who are placed at risk should be the same ones who might benefit from a successful result.)

. July 21, 2010 at 10:06 am

The geography of geoengineering

Jul 20th 2010, 21:39 by The Economist online

IN DISCUSSIONS of climate change it is an article of faith that there are no winners, only losers. This is in part an expression of bien-pensant solidarity, but it is also realistic. It recognises the degree to which current human arrangements—farming practices, positioning of cities, etc—are adapted to current climatic conditions, and that shifts in those conditions will impose transition costs even if not in absolute terms dreadful. It also acknowledges the world’s ever greater level of interdependency. If the local effects of climate change in Syldavia, say, are pleasing to the residents, those benefits can still be offset by a loss in trade with the much worse affected Ruritania, or through conflict over water resources with now-parched Borduria, or by influxes of refugees from Vulgaria, and so on.

Underlying all this is a concern about uncertainty. There are various places where small shifts in climate might seem locally desirable. But uncertainties in both climate science—how strongly, and with what geographic pattern of effects, does the earth respond to increased greenhouse gases?—and political economy—what levels of greenhouse gas will the earth be subjected to?—make it impossible to guarantee the small shifts that people in those places might like. They might well instead end up with larger changes they liked much less. Better to assume that everyone is a loser, because thanks to the uncertainties it is undoubtedly the case that everyone could be.

In discussing geoengineering schemes, though, talk of winners and losers is rife. Increasingly, the question asked about any scheme to alter the climate in a way that acts to counter greenhouse warming—by scattering sulphates in the stratosphere to cut down incoming sunlight, for example—has been “whose hand will be on the thermostat?” The assumption has been that while geoengineering schemes might help some people and places they will harm others, and that this will lead to inequity and conflict.

. September 24, 2010 at 4:50 pm

“An updated version of [The Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques] ENMOD could require anyone funding a geoengineering project to post an environmental assurance bond (PDF) big enough to pay for a reasonable-worst-case catastrophe. (“Sulfate dust blows up the planet” wouldn’t count, but stopping the monsoon might.) The people issuing and applying for the bonds might well have unique insights about potential risks, and if they were forced to have skin in the game, they could feel some pressure to use them.

peer reviewed science November 22, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Nature | Comment
Environmental science: Good governance for geoengineering
Phil Macnaghten

Journal name: Nature
Volume: 479, Page: 293
Date published: (17 November 2011)
Published online 16 November 2011

Phil Macnaghten and Richard Owen describe the first attempt to govern a climate-engineering research project.

Climate-engineering research must have strong governance if it is to proceed safely, openly and responsibly1, 2. But what this means in practice is not clear. The Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE) study demonstrates the difficult judgements involved. As chairman of the panel that supported decisions by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) as to whether and how this project should proceed (P.M.), and the architect of the project’s governance process (R.O.), we draw lessons from these challenges.
In mid-September 2011, SPICE announced the go-ahead for the United Kingdom’s first field trial of climate-engineering technology. SPICE aims to assess whether the injection of sulphur particles into the stratosphere would mimic the cooling effects of volcanic eruptions and provide a possible means to mitigate global warming. An equipment test — spraying water at a height of 1 kilometre — was proposed (see ‘SPICE field trial’). No climate engineering would result from the test, but response to the announcement was dramatic, and the project was soon at the centre of a storm of criticism.

Careful review

On 26 September 2011, the EPSRC, one of the study’s main funders, postponed the trial after a review. Later the same day, the council received a letter and open petition3, also sent to UK energy and climate-change secretary Chris Huhne and signed by more than 50 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil-society organizations, demanding that the project be cancelled. The signatories saw the research as a first, unacceptable step towards a fix that would deflect political and scientific action away from reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Others, by contrast, saw the research as urgently needed to find possible ways of coping with climate change4. The question at the heart of this debate was: should work in this controversial field proceed at all, and if so, under what conditions?

. August 24, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Implicit promises
A geoengineering experiment has come unstuck. But there will be more

May 19th 2012 | Mainz | from the print edition

. October 16, 2012 at 8:45 am

Environmental controversy erupts on Canada’s Pacific coast

Raveena Aulakh
Environment reporter

The Pacific Ocean, just off Canada’s west coast, has a new suspect ingredient: 100 tonnes of iron sulphate.

An American entrepreneur with a controversial past in geoengineering dumped the iron dust into the Pacific near the Haida Gwaii islands in July after allegedly telling local villagers that the “experiment” was a salmon restoration project, according to ETC Group, an international environmental watchdog with offices in Canada.

Russ George, a U.S. businessman, “blatantly violated” two international moratoria when he dumped the iron dust, Jim Thomas of ETC told the Star on Monday — a UN convention and the London Convention on the disposal of wastes at sea.

“There are very clear international agreements that there is (to be) no ocean fertilization,” he said. “Except if the permit (is) granted in very limited set of circumstances. It didn’t happen in this case.”

Ocean iron fertilization — a highly controversial practice — means stimulating plankton blooms in open water, which then seize carbon from the atmosphere and, on sinking to the bottom of the ocean, store it away. Earlier experiments, about a dozen mostly done by universities, have shown mixed results.

George did not respond to requests for comment from the Star but told the Guardian the two moratoria are a “mythology” and do not apply to his project.

anon October 16, 2012 at 9:21 am

Oh good. I was hoping wealthy liars with no respect for international law, acting on their own initiative, would take the lead in experimenting with climate modification.

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