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.