The clique that is trying to frame the global geoengineering debate
Clive Hamilton | guardian.co.uk,
Suspicious of the UN, resistant to regulation and leading inquiries – how has this group become the ‘go-to scientists’?
The contradictory and ambivalent recommendations of the report of the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative (SRMGI), published last week, reflect the emerging faultlines in the global debate overgeoengineering.
The global debate has been heavily dominated by a very small group of North American scientists actively engaged in geoengineering research. They are present in almost all of the expert deliberations, including SRMGI. They have been the leading advisers to parliamentary and congressional inquiries and their views will, in all likelihood, dominate the deliberations of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC) as it grapples for the first time with the scientific and ethical tangle that is climate engineering. In sum, they have made themselves the “go to guys” on climate engineering.
The scientists in this group– dubbed the “geo-clique” by author Eli Kintisch – also allocate much of the funds to geoengineering research via a private trust, bring together young researchers from around the world to swap ideas under their auspices, and own patents and investments in geoengineering technologies. The latter is either a case of putting your money where your mouth is or a blatant conflict of interest.
Most importantly, they bring a distinctively American world view to geoengineering. They have the kind of faith in humanity’s ability to overcome threats and master the environment that defined the science-as-saviour culture of the United States in the post-war decades. While they are worried about the damage being done to the environment, they cannot see any intrinsic reason why, if we have the means, we would not take control of the planet as a whole.
The geo-clique are lobbying for a huge injection of public funds into geoengineering research, justified on the grounds that “the world” (read America in the era of the Tea Party) will never countenance the carbon abatement policies we so badly need.
They are suspicious of “the UN” and resist moves to regulate research and testing of geoengineering, insisting that “professional norms” are adequate, which is why, incredibly, the SRMGI could not collectively call for a moratorium on deployment. After the “recklessness” of the decision by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity to move against ocean fertilisation experiments, one argued, we shouldn’t “encourage international bodies to go around declaring moratoria”.
Aware that very few members of the public have yet formed an opinion on geoengineering, or have even heard of it, the geo-clique is working at framing geoengineering positively. So they have attempted to make the acronym SRM stand not for “solar radiation management” but for “sunlight reflection methods” to avoid the sinister-sounding “radiation”.
In this effort they have been joined by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a conservative Washington non-profit, whose report last month rebranded geoengineering “climate remediation” so as to make sulphate aerosol injections into the stratosphere sound healthful. The geo-clique dominated that inquiry too.
Now that the Beltway is getting involved, the pressure is on for the United States to take control of the geoengineering agenda. While the subject was regarded as taboo only five years ago, the normalisation of geoengineering as a legitimate response to global warming is now proceeding rapidly. The next IPCC report will take a giant stride in that direction.
So everything is going to plan. Except that, on the fringes, counter views are starting to be heard. Even among scientists, I have noticed a marked difference in attitude to geoengineering in America and Europe. The Promethean dreams of the geo-clique – perhaps expressed most starkly by its sometime mentor, Pentagon “weaponeer” Lowell Wood, when he declared: “We’ve engineered every other environment we live in, why not the planet?” – are harder to defend in Europe.
In Europe, and especially Germany, geoengineering is treated with much more circumspection and nervousness. In short, the complexity and capriciousness of the Earth are accorded a much greater respect, and there is a historical reservoir of mistrust for the good intentions of humans intoxicated with technological power.
Let’s hope their nervousness does not keep them out of the debate. For as the world flounders in the mire of climate politics, one thing is certain: geoengineering is here to stay and the pressure to deploy schemes to regulate the planet as a whole will become extreme. Anyone with a modicum of foresight can see that the geopolitical stakes are immense.
• Clive Hamilton is professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra and the author of Requiem for a Species. He is a member of SRMGI.
original article at the Guardian