Another scientist is taking a different approach to geoengineering. Instead of looking to the sky for solutions, he’s looking to the ocean. Victor Smetacek, a German oceanographer, is trying to cool the planet by growing carbon-absorbing gardens in parts of the ocean with little life.
In 2009, Smetacek and a team of Indian and German scientists added 6 tons of iron into a section of the Southern Ocean, which rings Antarctica, to see if they could get a massive bloom of algae to flourish. Read More
This is the second in a series of guest posts by science writer Eli Kintisch, author of Hack the Planet: Science’s Best Hope–or Worst Nightmare–for Averting Climate Catastrophe, and climate change reporter for Science magazine. We’ve invited Kintisch to contribute regular guest posts at the Intersection on the topic; my take on his excellent book, just out from John Wiley, is here.
In this latest post, Kintisch has contributed a small excerpt from Chapter 10 of his book, on the subject of how conservatives are exploiting geoengineering. Some lines have been edited for clarity in this shortened form, and the full chapter quotes this essay by Alex Steffen.
Why do some of the same people who believe human activities are not warming the globe—or that climate change isn’t a crisis—feel that geoengineering is required to fix the problem?…
Like a climate policy Swiss Army knife, geoengineering has proven useful to support a number of talking points on the subject. First, the promise of geoengineering as a technical fix to the problem has allowed conservatives to present a solution to global warming instead of being seen as simply blocking liberals’ proposed carbon regulations. Furthermore, strategies that involve blocking the sun turn a pollution problem–there’s too much carbon dioxide in the air—into a temperature problem—it’s too hot. By championing a technique that directly alters the temperature of the planet instead of the composition of the atmosphere, conservative advocates of geoengineering have a “solution” that fits the argument they been making all along. And conservatives cite liberal distrust of planet-hacking as evidence that they don’t really want to solve the problem—or even that they have more ulterior motives.
The spring of 2008 would see geoengineering emerge as a new focus for the right wing of the climate policy crowd. In June of that year, the American Enterprise Institute, Washington’s premier right-wing think tank, embraced the push for geoengineering research with the first of six planned workshops on the topic. Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and leading nuclear hawk Fred Ikle of the Center for Strategic and International Studies were part of an invitation-only discussion of geoengineering hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. Read More
The show just went up–you can stream the audio here and download to iTunes here. I have to say, I think this is the best episode of Point of Inquiry that I’ve hosted yet. But judge for yourself; here’s the write up:
For two decades now, we’ve failed to seriously address climate change. So the planet just keeps warming—and it could get very bad. Picture major droughts, calving of gigantic ice sheets, increasingly dramatic sea level rise, and much more.
Against this backdrop, the idea of a technological fix to solve the problem—like seeding the stratosphere with reflective sulfur particles, so as to reduce sunlight—starts to sound pretty attractive. Interest in so-called “geoengineering” is growing, and so is media attention to the idea. There are even conspiracy theorists who think a secret government plan to geoengineer the planet is already afoot.
This week’s Point of Inquiry guest, Eli Kintisch, has followed these scientists’ endeavors—and their ethical quandaries—like perhaps no other journalist. He has broken stories about Bill Gates’ funding of geoengineering research, DARPA’s exploration of the idea, and recently attended the historic scientific meeting in Asilomar, California, where researchers gathered to discuss how to establish guidelines for geoengineering research.
And now, the full story is related in Kintisch’s new book Hack the Planet: Science’s Best Hope—or Worst Nightmare—for Averting Climate Catastrophe.
Eli Kintisch is a staff writer for Science magazine, and has also written for Slate, Discover, Technology Review, and The New Republic. He has worked as a Washington correspondent for the Forward and a science reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In 2005 he won the Space Journalism prize for a series of articles on private spaceflight. He lives in Washington, D.C.
Over at the Point of Inquiry forums, I’ve just started a thread inviting listeners to pose questions for the author of Hack the Planet: Science’s Best Hope–Or Worst Nightmare–for Averting Climate Catastrophe.
Kintisch is a reporter for Science magazine, and has also written for Slate, Discover, MIT Technology Review and The New Republic. He has worked as Washington correspondent for the Forward and science reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In 2005 he won the Space Journalism prize for a series on private spaceflight. His new book, Hack the Planet, will be available April 19, and was just excerpted by Wired online.
So head on over to the forums to ask your questions, or post them in the comments below….
The idea of deliberately manipulating the weather or the climate is an especially powerful notion. We equate weather with mood because our bodies are so affected by temperature and moisture and light. Storms trouble our minds as well as threaten our coasts. Climate is our experience of the weather over time and space, the way weather shapes our summers or our neighborhoods. To control climate — especially now, at a time when it seems so unpredictable — promises stability and peace for us and our children.
The seductive idea of weather and climate control has been a constant trope in the human imagination. The sorcerer Prospero in Shakespeare’s Tempest conjures bad weather to drive his enemy’s boat ashore. In the 1985 film Brewster’s Millions, Montgomery Brewster, played by Richard Pryor, invests in a scheme to haul icebergs to the Middle East to provide water. Advanced societies control the weather as a matter of course in the worlds of Star Trek and Dune. When it comes to our air and rain, our control fantasies are strong….
Of course we can’t tame this planet. Not in the next few decades, when we might have to. We may have to try, but attempting to dictate how much solar energy strikes the planet is a dangerous endeavor, perhaps involving just as much chance as our current course. Being forced to geoengineer would be a dismal fate. It would be the solution we deserve, as a friend put it. One finds one’s ten-year-old son smoking a cigarette? Put him in the closet and make him smoke the whole pack.
This is the first in a series of guest posts by science writer Eli Kintisch, author of the forthcoming book Hack the Planet: Science’s Best Hope–or Worst Nightmare–for Averting Climate Catastrophe, and climate change reporter for Science magazine. We’ve invited Kintisch to contribute regular guest posts at the Intersection on the topic; my take on his excellent book, due out April 19 from John Wiley, is here.
I was speaking to a contact of mine on Capitol Hill and we both agreed: there’s been next to no public controversy about geoengineering yet, but the storm from enviros and others is certainly coming. But the green community is split. Some think even coming up with voluntary rules to govern work on the controversial topic is a bad idea. Most of the big organizations, even if they have kept quiet up till now, think scientists ought to begin to understand what the unthinkable would entail.
The ETC Group, an Ottawa-based civil society organization that’s been opposing various efforts in geoengineering since 2006, last week published an open letter opposing the upcoming privately organized meeting on geoengineering in Asilomar, California:
As civil society organizations and social movements working to find constructive solutions to climate change, we want to express our deep concerns with the upcoming privately organized meeting on geoengineering in Asilomar, California… The priority at this time is not to sort out the conditions under which this experimentation might take place but, rather, whether or not the community of nations and peoples believes that geoengineering is technically, legally, socially, environmentally and economically acceptable. Read More
Last Friday, my friend and colleague Eli Kintisch of Science magazine had a piece in Slate about the latest in geoengineering research, a field that continues to burgeon. Now, scientists are talking about the possibility of conducting real geoengineering trials, on both the small and the medium scale–right up to the verge of climatic detectability. But as Kintisch reports, while some scientists think there could be a “safe” geoengineering trial, others argue there’s really no such thing. Perturb the planet enough that you see a climatic effect, goes the thinking, and there are going to be a cascade of other consequences.
The implication of this dispute, writes Kintisch, is disturbing:
…[the] back-and-forth over which experiments might be best and what sort of political treaties would be necessary raises a distressing possibility: It’s not just that geoengineering tests will be difficult. It’s that the problems they invite would be so diverse—and their results so inconclusive—that we’re likely to skip the testing altogether. If countries are going to hack the stratosphere, they may just do it full-bore in the face of disaster.
Or, perhaps some rogue countries will do large scale geoengineering tests and defy the rest of the world. As the Russian scientist Yuri A. Izrael has rather ominously written, “Already in the near future, the technological possibilities of a full scale use of [aerosol-based geoengineering] will be studied.”
Speaking of study, I have a recommendation. Anyone interested in the geoengineering debate ought to click over to Amazon right now and pre-order Kintisch’s forthcoming book, Hack the Planet: Science’s Best Hope–or Worst Nightmare–for Averting Climate Catastrophe. I’ve read an early version and give my full and enthusiastic endorsement. If our society is going to properly weigh the costs and benefits of geoengineering, we need a citizenry literate in and knowledgeable about the issue, and right now, there is no better way to achieve such literacy than to dig into this text….as someone who has followed the geoengineering debate for years now, I can guarantee it.