Views on Geoengineering cock up

 

I have been on the fringes of some of the Geoengineering work – attended various Royal Society and POST events since 2009, read the public dialogue project and various reports with interest, track a few Geoeng people on twitter, that sort of thing.

So, I was surprised to see the SPICE (Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering) Geoengineering feasibility study announced as going ahead in September, starting October, and thought I must have missed quite alot of the underpinning work.  This was not someone practicing a bit of actual Geoeng, but seeing what happened if you sprayed some water from a hose suspended 1km in their air from a hot air balloon, with the idea that it may be useful to inject particles of something or other at 20km to reflect the suns rays back for climate cooling purposes.

The ensuing backlash from a number of groups, including ‘Hands of Mother Earth’ (HOME) group (‘a global campaign to defend our one precious home, planet earth, against the threat of geoengineering experiments’) seems entirely predictable and in many ways, not that unreasonable.

My initial ‘top of the head’ reaction is that this is a cock up and some of the reasons may be as follows:

Business as usual?
Whilst I understand that this is will not be in any way harmful, it does demonstrate a ‘business as usual’ attitude to the research on Geoeng which is at odds with the caution expressed by the Royal Society and agreed to at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) last year. Geoeng is a special case and needs special treatment.

It does look divisive
The Hands of Mother Earth project suggests that it is unacceptable to chair panels at the CBD whilst simultaneously planning tests for geoeng interventions,though the CBD does allow for small scale tests. (The row is also about if this is in fact one of those.) Let’s say it is ‘allowed’, none of this nuance appears to have been communicated by the NERC group or the scientists involved which seems to me to be inadvisable.

What about the Governance framework?
It has been widely agreed that some sort of international agreement should be in place regarding Geoengineering – shouldn’t this have waited at least to have some sort of draft framework to reflect in the design and communication of the project? Or failing that at least have a clear demonstration as part of the announcement that something such as the Oxford Principles for Geoeng was being followed (though they are dreadfully bland, woolly and signify nothing in my opinion from first glance!) Or failing that something about their system of oversight and things they have considered? The announcement, website and previous announcements should have set this out more clearly. Maybe I have missed something.

Where is their response to their multi-disciplinary panel?
It is clear that they have considered this, in that they have a multi-disciplinary panel of experts to advise them, though this is a UK only group, which also seems particularly narrow. I think this group may be the Integrated Assessment of Geoengineering Proposals , though not sure. This appears to be a sensible group with good people involved. But the framing of it, ie assessing the research proposals, indicates a green light and it is just a matter of seeing what works best. This is perhaps unfair, but certainly could be interpreted as that by the uninitiated.

But it isn’t clear what the findings and advice of this panel (which includes FOE) is in this regard and the publications are pretty much unfathomable to the likes of me and there is nothing which summarises their thinking or what they had to say about this test. It may be somewhere, but I can’t find it after a ten mins of google searches, which says something again about the comms if not the strategy itself.

What did the public say?
They have also done some public engagement about the test itself, which is of course a ‘good thing’. But where is the announcement of what the public said about the idea of the test and how it influenced their design of the test? Did they give feedback to the public they asked as to what they were going to do, how their input had influenced the work, or not, and what other influences they had taken into consideration. What questions did they ask, who did the work, what were the findings?

What about www.geoengineering&me.org!?
It is not beyond the wit of the UK government to at least have a publicly accessible Geoengineering website where it explains itself, why it thinks it might need to be done, what it is doing, what the rest of the world is doing. I would link to the HOME, CBD project and others. A bit like our www.nanoandme.org. This is a big deal and the public needs to be kept informed.

Where is the government’s multi-stakeholder panel?

Though the work of the Royal Society has been admirable, it is still scientists saying actually we may need geoengineering.  It may be unfair to say ‘To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’ as their report is very good, but the government should have it’s own multi-disciplinary panel to consider these issues over and above the work of the RS, NERC, IAGP. This should feed in the international work going on and consider all of this work in an international context.

The stage-gate process of reflection and action?

The Responsible Innovation work being undertaken by the EPSRC with Professor Richard Owen at Univ Exeter and our own work proposes a stage gate approach to the introduction of new technologies. I can see that this small test is part of that stage gate, but this needs to be much more explicit, as to where this fits on trajectory of development, what has gone before and may or may not come afterwards. There is nothing about that in the launch announcements or any report I can see.

The ‘isn’t this exciting’ announcement – a mistake
The test appeared to be announced in a sort ‘here’s some great new science, isn’t it exciting’ sort of way at the Bradford Science Festival. There had to be a better way.

Get better at communicating – fast!

The Hands off Mother Earth campaign is rather brilliant, simple, clear, compelling, all the tricks of the trade.  I am glad they are there, though they are sometimes a bit ranty for me.  However, the communications is great.  But it sits in a vacuum of communication from the ‘other side’.  For the public, other stakeholders and people like me who may be wanting to know what others think but can’t find anything sensible except a boring thing in wikipedia.  Get with it people or the issues will be polarised and the ‘battle’ for public opinion won before you know what’s hit you!

Now what?
The test is postponed for what I understand is ‘more consultation’!  Consulting who, about what, for what purpose, with what aim?  Oh dear here we go again!

FYI – My views on Geoengineering
Finally, I better say that I am certainly not pro geoeng, it could easily be a distraction from doing the hard stuff, a quick fix and a potentially catastrophically bad idea.

However, I consider that we may have really messed up this time and might need all the help we can get, including scary technologies, so some sort of understanding of what may or may not work may be valuable.

On the other hand again, I really can’t see how we will have enough information to understand the potential effects of any Geoeng interventions to give them the green light at any stage given our past history of good intentions which turn bad.

One Response to “Views on Geoengineering cock up”

  1. [...] am actually still pretty happy with the conclusions mentioned in my original post called ‘Views on Geoengineering Cock Up’  and which are not a million miles away from their conclusions, but would like to make a few [...]

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