23 March 2010

Stealth Advocacy and Geoengineering

Wired has an interesting story on a meeting being held this week at Asilomar on the governance of geoengineering. Several of my colleagues are in attendance. I was invited but decided to spend my spring break otherwise ;-)

The meeting is interesting because it is sponsored by a group with a financial interest in geoengineering. From the Wired story:
While many of the field’s top scientists are attending the meeting, it has drawn criticism from high-level scientists with an interest in geoengineering like Stanford’s Ken Caldeira and the University of Calgary’s David Keith.

“My only concern about this meeting is that the convening organization, [Climate Response Fund] is nontransparent and appears to be closely tied to Climos which was conceived to do ocean fertilization for profit,” Keith wrote. “While I am happy to see profit-driven startups drive innovation, I think tying ocean fertilization to carbon credits was a sterling example of how not to govern climate engineering, and I am therefore concerned to see a closely linked organization at the center of a meeting on governance. A meeting on governance ought to start by having transparent and disinterested governance.”

Despite Keith’s strongly worded statement about the conference, he has decided to attend to, as he put it, “speak out.” Caldeira declined his invitation, telling Wired.com that he preferred governance meetings held by “established professional societies and non-profits without a stake in the outcomes.”

The choice of venue was by design:

The group is meeting at the Asilomar resort in California, a dreamy enclave a few hours south of San Francisco. The gathering intentionally harkens back to the February 1975 meeting there of molecular biologists hashing out rules to govern what was then the hot-button scientific issue of the day: recombinant DNA and the possibility of biohazards.

The 1975 process wasn’t perfect, but after a fraught and meandering few days, the scientists released a joint statement that placed some restrictions and conditions on research, particularly with pathogens. That meeting is now held up as a model for how researchers can successfully assume the mantle of self-regulation.