House Science Committee Endorses Geoengineering Research

By Chris Mooney | November 1, 2010 7:40 am

It’s just the next stage in the mainstreaming of geoengineering: Now the House Committee on Science, chaired by Bart Gordon, has released a report supporting further research on the topic–not to the detriment of capping emissions, but because capping emissions might not be enough. Here’s the punchline:

Climate engineering, also known as geoengineering, can be described as the deliberate large scale modification of the earth’s climate systems for the purposes of counteracting and mitigating climate change. As this subject becomes the focus of more serious consideration and scrutiny within the scientific and policy communities, it is important to acknowledge that climate engineering carries with it not only possible benefits, but also an enormous range of uncertainties, ethical and political concerns, and the potential for harmful environmental and economic side effects. I believe that reducing greenhouse gas emissions should be the first priority of any domestic or international climate initiative. Nothing should distract us from this priority, and climate engineering must not divert any of the resources dedicated to greenhouse gas reductions and clean energy development. However, we are facing an unfortunate reality. The global climate is already changing and the onset of climate change impacts may outpace the world’s political, technical, and economic capacities to prevent and adapt to them. Therefore, policymakers should begin consideration of climate engineering research now to better understand which technologies or methods, if any, represent viable stopgap strategies for managing our changing climate and which pose unacceptable risks.

You can access the full report here.

Honestly, one shouldn’t find the conclusion surprising. Anyone who really understands the scope of the climate problem, and the cost considerations that go along with mitigation, ends up being forced toward a view like this one. That’s just how reality works these days.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: geoengineering, Global Warming

Comments (10)

  1. FUAG

    Politicizing the issue is the biggest part of this issue. We really need to find another tact since it’s impossible to prove what the climate will do in years to come. The “squeaky wheels” on BOTH SIDES of the debate overshadow any real discussion and get all the funding.

    Since the biggest “enemies” of greening our energy production are conservatives / Republicans. Why not sell green energy in a way that will resonate with them? Such as:

    Stop sending billions of dollars to the middle east to buy oil.
    Produce energy here to create jobs in rural communities.
    BIO Fuels to increase farming jobs.

    Also, liberals / democrats don’t get off easy on this either, such as:

    Let us build some Nuclear Power Plants already.
    Embrace carbon capture / clean coal technology.

    As far as geoengineering. The only solace I find in that term is that by definition it will affect everyone on earth. So, since that requires the UN, nothing will ever get approved… But god help us if something does get approved!

  2. FUAG

    Jon, the definition of Revanchist: Al Gore

    Please don’t pretend that it’s only the “denialists” that have such motivation.

  3. Jon

    Al Gore is almost a non-sequitur here. But on the other hand, it’s interesting that someone you’re calling a revanchist won the Nobel Peace Prize.

    Or is the Nobel Committee revanchist too?

    Who else is revanchist for you? A female grade-school teacher with an education degree from Brown or Swarthmore?

  4. FUAG

    I was just saying that Al Gore is the definition revanchist. But would also be happy to say the Nobel committee was in this case as well… It was Europe’s anti-Bush sentiment that got Al Gore the nobel prize. And Hollywood’s anti-Bush sentiment that got him an Oscar.

    The Point is, if you don’t see that Al Gore will lie, cheat, and steal for his own political and personal gain then you just can’t be seen as unbiased in this debate.

    So many of the “facts” in his movie have been proven not only wrong, but outright lies!

    So, go ahead and fire back with some links about righties that have done the same thing so that I can agree with you. These games happen on both sides, and the ring leaders (Gore at the top of the heap) have politicized it to the detriment of the rest of the world.

  5. Jon

    Right, it’s the old “Both sides do it!”

    Only, one side is backed up by peer reviewed, published scientists:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/27/AR2006062700780.html

    The other by whomever Senator Inhofe can scrape together, or not.

  6. Chris,
    It is a little surprising, to say the least, that you see Bart Gordon’s report as “just how reality works” when the context in which this report emerges is anything but simple. In fact the Committee Chairman released its report just hours after 193 nations adopted a de facto moratorium on Geoengineering activities which reads as follows:

    (w) Ensure, in line and consistent with decision IX/16 C, on ocean fertilization and biodiversity and climate change, in the absence of science based, global, transparent and effective control and regulatory mechanisms for geo-engineering, and in accordance with the precautionary approach and Article 14 of the Convention, that no climate-related geo-engineering activities[1] that may affect biodiversity take place, until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities and appropriate consideration of the associated risks for the environment and biodiversity and associated social, economic and cultural impacts, with the exception of small scale scientific research studies that would be conducted in a controlled setting in accordance with Article 3 of the Convention, and only if they are justified by the need to gather specific scientific data and are subject to a thorough prior assessment of the potential impacts on the environment.

    In fact, what happened over the past two weeks in Nagoya, is 193 UN members — including 110 environment ministers — carefully negotiated a very delicate compromise on what should and should not be done with regards to geoengineerting. While the US is not a member of the CBD, and therefore could only participate in talks as an observer, I am sure your readers would be interested in knowing more about the global context for the debate. In a nutshell, many countries are quite unwilling to give a black cheque to high-emissions countries to come up with another high-risk techno-fix. That too is reality ;). There is plenty more on this at http://www.etcgroup.org.

    All the best
    Diana Bronson
    ETC Group

  7. Jon

    Really? Cato? Heartland Institute? Petroleum geologists not down with the consensus of the scientific world on this issue? Who knew?

    On the Heartland Institute, you’d think they’d at least be able to settle on the same fringe theory that they can’t get published in any scientific journal:

    http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2009/03/shorter_heartland_conference.php

  8. Well, I’m very pleased that the committee saw things through a very realistic eye. Now if they could just convince the rest of Congress…

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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