Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Conference Probes Climate Intervention Technologies & Geoengineering

Mar 29: A week-long International Conference on Climate Intervention Technologies held in Pacific Grove, CA concluded a week (March 22-26) of conversations and discussions on climate intervention and guidelines for research and experimentation. The conference was developed by Dr. Margaret Leinen of the Climate Response Fund, a non-profit based in Alexandria, VA in partnership with Guttman Initiatives. The scientific program was organized by an international scientific committee chaired by Dr. Michael MacCracken of the Climate Institute, based in Washington, DC
    According to a release, the conference marked the first broadly attended meeting by leaders in a variety of fields convened to discuss the critical issues surrounding climate intervention and remediation research. More than one hundred and fifty renowned scientists and researchers from the world's leading academic institutions joined environmental groups, philosophers, ethicists, and specialists in economics, risk, governance, business and policy to identify the risks and social implications of research into climate intervention and remediation, sometimes called geoengineering.

    Climate intervention and remediation is a new field of research, including physical and natural sciences as well as social science and humanities, born in response to the imminent threat of human-induced climate change. It involves research into the purposeful management of the global climate should societal efforts to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions ultimately fail or come too late. The presentations, plenary sessions, and small group discussions filled 12-hour days, covering a range of subjects including approaches for potentially counter-balancing at least some aspects of human-induced climate change, the legal and societal issues raised by research needed to verify the approaches, and public perception of climate change.

    In addition, there were constructive specific discussions on how to counter-balance warming, changes in precipitation, and other consequences of the ongoing emission of greenhouse gases and on the variety of approaches for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and to sequester or store it in the ocean or the land. Participants aired doubts and fears about how research could be governed and proceed and emphasized the need for transparency and consideration of all issues from local to global perspectives. Robert Socolow, Professor, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University said, "What will happen when we get an unambiguous signal of a climate emergency? We are not ready." He urged the group to start with "the best traditions of the scientific method," and then to push beyond to ensure that all climate intervention or remediation research be considered, measured and iterative, including discussion with those outside of the research community.

    Such sentiments inspired Paul Craig, a member of the Sierra Club's National Energy Committee and Professor Emeritus of Engineering at the University of California at Davis, to observe, "I came here expecting to see a bunch of engineering types proposing to engineer the planet. But instead I saw a different conversation in which the word 'humility' actually appeared in slides. I'm leaving with a very different view of the way that these attendees are thinking about geoengineering."

    After hearing input on its first draft, the Scientific Organizing Committee (SOC) issued a Statement summarizing its conclusions and invited other participants to join them in supporting it. Many conference participants have expressed interest in signing onto the SOC statement; their names will be added and dated as they come in. The Committee also intends to develop a document on principles for climate intervention/remediation research that will also be circulated to participants for their input and, eventually, their signature. The conference's Scientific Organizing Committee will produce a report on the proceedings, slated for release in early summer.

    The SOC Statement indicates in part, "The fact that humanity's efforts to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases (mitigation) have been limited to date is a cause of deep concern. Additionally, uncertainties in the response of the climate system to increased greenhouse gases leave open the possibility of very large future changes. It is thus important to initiate further
research in all relevant disciplines to better understand and communicate whether additional strategies to moderate future climate change are, or are not, viable, appropriate and ethical. Such strategies, which could be employed in addition to the primary strategy of mitigation, include climate intervention methods (solar radiation management) and climate remediation methods (carbon dioxide removal).
   "We do not yet have sufficient knowledge of the risks associated with using methods for climate intervention and remediation, 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 essential.
    "Recognizing that governments collectively have ultimate responsibility for decisions concerning climate intervention and remediation research and possible implementation, this conference represented a step in facilitating a process involving broader public participation. This process should ensure that research on this issue progresses in a timely, safe, ethical and transparent manner, addressing social, humanitarian and environmental issues."
    Access a lengthy release and links to additional information (click here). Access the SOC Statement and preliminary list of signers (click here). Access the Climate Response Fund (click here). Access the Guttman Initiatives (click here). Access the Climate Institute (click here).