15 October 2010

Geoengineering: The Embryonic Stem Cells of the Left

In The Climate Fix, I have a chapter that explains why implementation of geoengineering schemes is a bad idea (with one notable exception).  But I do not object to most research on geoengineering (however, if such research involves large-scale field tests, it may be considered experimental implementation).  But not everyone agrees that geoengineering research should be allowed.

Writing at AAAS ScienceInsider, Eli Kintisch reports that the upcoming international negotiations on the UN Convention on Biodiversity are going to consider a ban on geoengineering, including geoengineering research.  Here is an excerpt from his blog post:
Next week's meeting of the 193-nation Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan, will tackle such controversial issues as funding for the Global Environment Facility, hard-to-reach biodiversity targets, and controls on the access of genetic material in plants. If time allows, delegates to the CBD may also debate the first-ever international blanket prohibition on research related to geoengineering, the deliberate tinkering with the climate to reverse global warming.

On page 145 of the 195-page agenda for the conference is the declaration that no:
Climate-related geo-engineering activities [should] 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.
It's unclear, however, what that prohibition would mean were it to pass. Would it bar computer studies, or simply large-scale deployment of climate-altering schemes after they've been tested? The United Kingdom and the European Union are currently funding a handful of projects involving physical, atmospheric, and social research on sun-blocking techniques using particles in the sky, for example. They're on paper, in the lab, or being simulated on a computer. Would this broadly written bar apply to that work?

Concerned that the language, if passed, could prevent research that prominent scientific institutions say is important, a handful of scientists are trying to table or defeat this language.
The support of some on the political left for a ban geoengineering research has much in common with those groups on the political right who have sought to ban embryonic stem cell research (and yes, in both cases there are a variety of groups seeing various sorts of limitations).  The reaction of the scientific community in both instances has been similar. It is probably just a matter of time before those opposed to geoengineering research (and geoengineering) are called anti-science.