Concerns Abound as Geoengineering Conference Opens

Craig Miller

Photo: Craig Miller

This week in Monterey, an international group of scientists and policymakers are  are gathering to hash out some ground rules for experimenting with climate intervention, or “geoengineering”–what many are calling “Plan B” for dealing with climate change.

There are two main categories of geoengineering strategies: one focuses on blocking solar radiation that reaches the Earth’s surface, the other aims to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.  The goal of both is to pull an emergency brake on global warming, using technology that is, in many cases, experimental.

Ideas for blocking the sun include science-fiction-sounding ideas like spraying sulfur aerosol into the stratosphere (which we explore in a radio feature on The California Report), launching reflectors into orbit, and spraying seawater at clouds to make them brighter and more reflective.

Because much of the technology remains untested, and because, given the complexities of the climate system there’s no real way to test them out in a lab, (not to mention the philosophical issue of interfering in such a direct way with the Earth), the very idea of geoengineering is controversial (watch this space for more about that in the week ahead) But as it turns out, this week’s conference in Monterey is shaping up to be controversial on its own.

The stated goal of the Asilomar International Conference on Climate Intervention Technologies is “to develop norms and guidelines for controlled experimentation on climate engineering or intervention techniques.” Some big names in climate circles are expected to be in attendance, including the Climate Institute‘s Michael McCracken, who is chairing the conference, and former IPCC lead author Richard Somerville, now retired from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla.

Other leading scientists, however, have chosen to skip the conference, including Stanford’s Ken Caldeira, Martin Bunzl, who directs the Rutgers Initiative on Climate Change and Social Policy, and Braden Allenby, a professor of Engineering and Ethics at Arizona State University, both of whom participated in a lively panel on geoengineering at the AAAS annual meeting in February. Bunzl told Climate Watch Senior Editor Craig Miller that the five-day event was too much time to devote to the topic, and Allenby called the conference premature.

Many scientists say that more research needs to be done to determine whether these strategies would even work, before we start hashing out how to to deploy them, even if only on a limited, experimental basis.  Others fear a focus on intervention might lead to complacency and distract from the immediate task of reducing CO2 emissions.

The latest controversy surrounding the conference, however, revolves around accusations of a conflict of interest.  The Climate Response Fund (CRF), which is organizing the conference, has ties to a geoengineering firm, San Francisco-based Climos.  Climate blogger Joe Romm (who is admittedly “not a fan of geoengineering”) writes about these connections in-depth at Climate Progress, and details email exchanges he had on the subject with Margaret Leinen of the CRF, David Keith of the University of Calgary and Caldeira of the Carnegie Institute for Science, all of whom reportedly expressed concerns about the potential conflict of interest (one reason Caldeira cites for skipping the conference).

Meanwhile organizers will try to enforce media restrictions almost unheard of in the Internet age, including a ban on daily reporting from the conference, and on quoting presenters without their express consent.  The rationale was laid out in an email from the conference organizers:

“The conference is designed to allow the conferees to consider multiple points of view during the course of the meetings.  Reporting before participants have had the opportunity to consider the full mix of views will necessarily be incomplete and therefore risk being misleading.  This also is  matter of courtesy to your fellow conferees, will help in maintaining the focus of the discussions and efforts to achieve the Conference objectives, and will help reduce the likelihood that Internet exchanges about the Conference will break out before we all have an opportunity to be participating in them, as appropriate, based on our actual experiences here at Asilomar.”

Some form of announcement is scheduled for Friday, when the meeting comes to a close.

Update 3/22/10
The Board of Directors of the Climate Response Fund has issued a statement addressing the concerns raised about a potential conflict of interest.  It states that CRF “will not fund field experiments for any climate intervention technique now or in the future.”  This reportedly has assuaged some scientists’ (and journalists’) concerns about the intentions of the organization and the purpose of the Asilomar conference.

  • Bonnie Hoag

    Thank you so much for this reporting!

    Can you get it to all NPR/PBS affiliates? WVPR, in Vermont, and WAMC in Albany, NY, need to begin informing their listeners of this conference and geoengineering techniques/hearings, et cetera.

    Those of us who have been following this issue have been left to do our own investigative journalism, and then find a media blackout when we try to bring it into public awareness.

    THE PUBLIC IS NOT represented at this conference and yet those who are attending it are writing the guidelines for implementation (field-testing)of geoengineering techniques as insane as Solar Radiation Management. Yes, insane is the only accurate word.

    Where are the defenders of our natural resources, of our health? Where are our legislators!? Where are those who envision other solutions/remedies for our previous/continued poor choices?

    For those who are not yet aware of how the Earth’s atmosphere is already being used as a experimental laboratory (ex. HAARP, CARE) please email me at bonne_fire@yahoo.com. I will email you documents re: patents and programs already in place.

    Thanks again.
    Bonnie Hoag
    The Bonnefire Coalition
    …because The Sky Belongs to ALL of Us!

  • http://geoengineeringwatch.org mauro oliveira

    Left out of this article:
    1- In San Diego AAAS conference the geoengineers said they were switching from sulfur to ALUMINUM for their aerosol spraying (SRM) model
    2- THey have NOT ONE hour of research into the affect of their proposed 100-200 MILLION METRIC TONS PER YEAR of aluminum to be “deployed” into the atmosphere (on humans or otherwise)

    The top geoengineers have their own companies that will profit from this. David Keith admitted that to congress then went on to say that “the richest men in the world could afford their own ice age”.

    And Calderia (and keith) get paychecsk and funding from Bill Gates.

    No problem, if they destroy the world, Gates can sell it back to us using his seed bank in Norway.

    THese men have no Love for GOD, the Creation or all of children of the Earth. Dr. Bunzl told Caldeira on the BBC that his reports (Rutgers) COULD put 2 billion people without food in monsson asia.

    Caldeira said ” we should have institutions that will feed them and give them resititution for the harm we cause”

    How about just shutting down the criminals instead?
    Chevron, Exxon, Big Coal, THESE SCIENTISTS and their backers??

    Alot simpler than burying billions of bodies.

    • http://www.kqed.org/climatewatch Gretchen Weber

      Mauro,
      Thanks for your comment. Could you please provide us with links that back up the assertions you make about (and quotes you attribute to) Keith, Calderia, and Bunzl?
      Thanks,
      Gretchen

  • http://geoengineeringwatch.org mauro oliveira

    geoengineeringwatch dot org

  • Vivian Warkentin

    It has been a long time coming to see anything in the media about this issue, and I thank you for your article. This is nothing less than a coup by scientists and their paymasters, (the US military and huge corporations)to take over the natural weather and climate of our planet. If the average citizen only knew what these fiends were up to they would tear them limb from limb.

    There is plenty of hard evidence that these criminals have already been using our atmosphere for their field experiments. (Via weather modification, HAARP, CARE Rocket) But you have to look for it, and it’s only on the internet.

    I saw an article about geoengineering which included a picture of a jet with huge white plumes being emitted from behind. I almost laughed at the caption under the picture. “This is what geoengineering MIGHT look like.” I see this NOW every day over my home.

    You in the media are charged with giving people the news they need to know. Please make this a new trend.

    Sincerely, Vivian Warkentin

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