Geoengineering: Starting the Conversation

Storms over California. Image: NASA

Storms over California. Image: NASA

After five days of talks at Asilomar this week, scientists concluded that more research is needed on climate intervention strategies and their potential risks and rewards, as is a broader discussion involving governments and the public.

The meeting, hosted by The Climate Response Fund (CRF), drew more than 175  people from at least 15 countries, and from  disciplines in the natural sciences as well as social sciences, humanities, engineering, law, and policy, organizers said.

“The purpose of the conference was to figure out what are the processes and procedures that scientists should be thinking about as they undertake this research,”said Mike McCracken, who chaired the event’s Scientific Organizing Committee.  “This was not a conference about comparing geo-engineering ideas to one another, or about bringing new technological ideas to table.”

At the close of the meeting, there seemed to be more questions than answers.  What was clear from meeting discussions and Q&A sessions is that there was no single agenda shared by all participants.  Several voiced grave concerns about the potential risks of climate intervention, on several levels: environmental, social, political, and ethical.

Friday morning provided a glimpse of the tortuous path that awaits this concept, when for more than an hour, participants lined up at a microphone to voice their concerns about the language and intention of a draft news release for the event. The committee then regrouped, drafted a second version of the release, and brought it back to the gathering an hour later.  Objections remained and therefore the release is attributed to the conference Steering Committee, and not the conference as a whole.

From the statement:

“The participants explored a range of issues that need to be addressed to ensure that research into risks, impacts and efficacy of climate intervention methods is responsibly and transparently conducted and that potential consequences are thoroughly understood.  The group recognized that given our limited understanding  of these methods and the potential for significant impacts on people and ecosystems, further discussions must involve government and civil society….  We do not yet have sufficient knowledge of the risks associated with using climate intervention methods, their intended and unintended impacts and their efficacy in reducing the rate of climatic change to assess whether they should or should not be implemented. Thus, further research is indispensible.”

“I think this was the first dialogue, and it was a real dialogue,” said Margaret Leinen of the CRF.  “You have to start somewhere, and this is the beginning of the conversation, definitely not the end of the conversation. I would agree with people who say that many more voices need to come in, and I think it’s not just one additional conference. This is a process, and it’s a process of engagement.”

Those missing voices were among the chief concerns of those protesting the conference.  Diana Bronson of the advocacy organization ETC Group says that conversations about geoengineering need to take place in a UN-like forum, where people who will be most affected by climate change–and potentially by climate intervention strategies–can make themselves heard.  The conference at Asilomar, she said, did not provide that.

“This is the wrong conversation, with the wrong people, at the wrong time,” said Bronson.

Leinen countered that the very purpose of the Asilomar conference was to begin bringing diverse voices together.

“I think that one thing people were concerned about was that this was a conference of the technologists getting together in a closed room, and coming up with the rules that they would use for self-governing,” said Leinen. “That wasn’t at all what this conference was about.”

McCracken said a statement of guiding principles developed at the conference will be released in about four weeks, after it has been reviewed and commented on by meeting participants.

The conference was funded by the State of Victoria, Australia, and by private individuals and foundations.

  • MILAN MITIC

    Australia is the dryest continet for about 40 000 years.
    Find out why and what can be done about it.

    Mitic CLIMATE ENGINEERING FOR AUSTRALIAN CONTINENT.

    Using huge 12m tides for erosion assisted excavation of land channels and maintenance after
    Huge tidal erosion can revive paleo old dry dormant, once mighty rivers, creeks and lakes.
    AUSTRALIAN CLIMATE MELIORATION MODIFICATION TO PRODUCE MORE

    CLOUDS AND RAIN ACROSS AUSTRALIAN CONTINENT.

    Erosion trigger channel + huge tides = huge erosion of land tidal channels = low cost excavation with erosion = land desalination = more clouds = more rain = cooler climate = huge carbon sink

    Ask the farmer that got trouble with erosion because of rain

    what erosion would huge 12m tides do.

    Ask the scientist how big will evaporation be in bone – dry scorching hot desert if tidal system of canal and channels is made by erosion assisted excavation.

    1. evaporation from saline tidal water, canals, channels, tidal lakes, tidal marshes
    2. transpiration from mangroves and other sea water tolerating plants
    3. transpiration from rain forest around, ( tidal evaporation 1 and 2 = more rain = rainforest 3)

    Ask the engineer if it can be done.

    .
    Ask the economist would project be economical
    if less: cyclones,floods, droughts, bushfires,

    much more hydro energy

    Greener deserts, more clouds,
    more water in rivers lakes and soil
    Cooler Australian climate.

    for more see:

    http://www.royalcommission.vic.gov.au/Submissions/SubmissionDocuments/SUBM-002-010-0001_R.pdf

  • Erica Etelson

    Why are we wasting time and money on dangerous, unproven approaches when we have safe, proven technologies like solar that have been around for 50 years? For an example of a failed geoengineering experiment involving phytoplankton, see my blog post at http://blog.sungevity.com/2010/03/reason-no-2-why-we-need-solar/.

  • Bonnie Hoag

    Thank you for keeping us informed!

    Apart from the Dr. Stranglovian quality of the proposed geoengineering techniques, it may be worth mentioning that the Solar Radiation Management (SRM) technique flies in the face of NASA’s own concerns about another aerosol program, Persistent Jet Contrails, which are already witnessed globally, laid down in grids, Xs, parallel lines and other configurations. Thousands of us observe and record these PJCs as a daily occurrence, watching them plume and combine to haze to Sky and occlude the Sun.

    NASA says that Persistent Jet Contrails hold heat against the Earth and dim the Sun, neither of which is desirable for life on the planet. If so, why are the geoengineers proposing techniques that effectively do both? Ostensibly, they intend to mitigate global warming, but do we really need aerosols of sulfur dioxide or aluminum oxide raining down on us? (These are two of the reflective particles being considered for SRM.) Have they forgotten that Direct Sunlight is critical for basic life processes such as photosynthesis? And the absorption of Vitamin D.

    “Just say no” to Solar Radiation Management and other geoengineering techniques. You can read more at http://www.geoengineeringwatch.org and http://www.agriculturedefensecoalition.org.
    Or contact the Bonnefire Coalition at bonne_fire@yahoo.com.

    …because the Sky Belongs to ALL of Us!
    Bonnie Hoag
    The Bonnefire Coalition

  • Cindy Pikoulas

    The public and citizens of the world need to be brought into this discussion. There are already massive changes happening to the environment which are not being investigated thoroughly. Is it possible that some of these techniques are already in place which would explain the massive floods in NY this past weekend and three weeks ago. If the public is not aware of these conferences to discuss possible alternatives, then maybe we’re not aware that these alternatives are already in place and being tested………..

  • http://geoengineeringwatch.org mauro oliveira

    1- Geoengineering is ALREADY taking place in the form of aerosol spraying and these scientists are only reproducing THAT program…to the letter. The ongoing program is ILLEGAL and already proved a killer to the forests and wildllife.

    2- Geoegnineering is MORE a weapon than a “fix”.

    3- The same think tanks that stalled action AND DECEPTION on climate change during the BUSH ADMINISTRATION …are NOW telling us that geoengineering is the answer to all our problems.

    4- The usual powers that be are making mint on the illegal ongoing aerosol geoengineering program and they are positioned to profit like kinds in this “proposed” program.

    geoengineeringwatch dot org

  • cindy laverty

    I couldnt be more eloquent than Mauro on this subject. He is absolutely right.