Marine Cloud Brightening Project: Geoengineering Experiment Briefing

» Download this briefing [pdf]

Location: Moss Landing, California, USA (Between Monterey and Santa Cruz)

Budget: $16.3 million

Summary:

The Marine Cloud Brightening Project (MCBP) aims to test the premise that spraying a fine mist of sea water into clouds can make them whiter, reflecting more sunlight back into space. The MCBP, a form of Solar Radiation Management (SRM) began with indoor development and testing of spray nozzles, and is moving toward a land-based field test in 2018, followed by ship-based tests and a larger-scale sea test later on.

Armand Neukermans discusses his plans with a Bay Area TV station.

After previous attempts to test “cloud brightening” as a geoengineering technique (e.g. the Silver Lining project) were cancelled after a public outcry, the project’s leaders have taken a smaller-scale, more public relations savvy approach.

Funding:

Initial support for development of hardware came from the Bill Gates-backed Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research (FICER). It is unclear where the funding for the project’s planned field tests is coming from.

Key dates:

Field tests were initially slated for as early as 2016, but have been delayed for lack of funding. The first land-based experimental use of cloud brightening hardware is now expected to take place in August 2018. The project hopes to move to ship-based tests within 2 years and then a large cloud brightening experiment 2-3 years after that.

Key players in MCBP:

Thomas Ackerman
Professor in Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington

Robert Wood
Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington

Philip J. Rasch
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)

Armand Neukermans
Former engineer at Xerox Labs, HP

Kelly Wanser
CEO of Luminus Networks

Stephen Salter
Emeritus Professor of Engineering Design, University of Edinburgh

John Latham
Professor emeritus at the University of Manchester (UK)

Regulatory status:

The UN Convention on Biodiversity has passed a moratorium on geoengineering deployment and experimentation (2010) that covers SRM, including experiments like this one. However, the US is not a party to the CBD. The US is a party to the London Convention and Protocol (on marine pollution) that has declared itself competent to rule on “marine geoengineering.” While spraying from land is not “marine.” future ship-based steps do clearly fall under the London Convention.

“We could… consider the climate system as a piano in which the spray regions are the keys, some black some white, on which a wide number of pleasant (or less unpleasant) tunes could be played if a pianist knew when and how hard to strike each key.” –Stephen Salter

The US is also a party to the UN Environmental Modification Convention (ENMOD) prohibits hostile use of environmental modification technology globally. Marine tests are also governed by the provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and as tests move offshore, the current negotiations over activities affecting Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) become highly relevant.

Cloud brightening is on of an array of geoengineering techniques that aim to reflect sunlight back into space on a mass scale.

Under US Federal law (National Weather Modification Policy Act of 1976), any modification of the weather is required to be reported to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the results of research must be made public.

The proposed tests are taking place on Popeloutchom, the traditional territory of the Amah Mutsun Tribe, an Indigenous group dedicated to protecting its terestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Future large-scale marine cloud brightening trials could potentially affect the weather and airspace of several Indigenous communities in California’s central coast region.

For Indigenous Nations, territorial sovereignty spans land, underground and airspace as a whole. When it comes to legal precedent, one California-based lawyer has made a persuasive case that tribal governments’ sovereignty extends to the airspace over their lands under US law as well.

Possible impacts:

The effects of large-scale testing of MCB geoengineering techniques are unknown, but could affect rainfall in the immediate area, as well as creating unpredictable changes to regional weather patterns at a distance. For example, marine cloud brightening in the Pacific and elsewhere may lead to reduced rainfall in the Amazon basin.

Blocking sunlight on a scale on a scale big enough to modify global temperatures would have massive effects on weather patterns, which could lead to weaponization of geoengineering. Computer models suggest that Solar Radiation Management methods like cloud brightening could lead to drought in the Sahel region of Africa or South America. In the likely scenario that SRM creates winners and losers in terms of rainfall or other weather factors, the techniques would inevitably become a tool of geopolitics.

The area surrounding Moss Landing is also a major strawberry growing region, a form of agriculture that depends heavily on rainfall, and has been experiencing prolonged drought. If precipitation is altered by cloud brightening, this could negatively affect agriculture in the region. The proponents have said that the first experiments will not directly whiten clouds (only test out the hardware) but later experiments will do so.

So far, cloud brightening has struggled to find funding due to the controversial nature of its proposals, but a successful small-scale test could help to legitimize geoengineering research and open the door to larger-scale implementations and much more funding. If the tests proceed, and lead to full implementation, the implications could become planetary in scale. These experiments are the first step on a path to unilateral implementation of geoengineering, exploitation of “alternatives” to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by fossil fuel companies, and military uses of the technology.

The California coast (and the entire Pacific coastline down to Peru) are regarded as some of the most promising locations for SRM projects. If larger tests and deployment proceed, the North and South American Pacific coastal regions are the most likely locations.
The vision of the key players remains the creation of a planetary scale technology that can change the global temperature and be flexibly operated to cool and alter different regions. As MCB proponent and researcher Stephen Salter put it in a research paper, “We could… consider the climate system as a piano in which the spray regions are the keys, some black some white, on which a wide number of pleasant (or less unpleasant) tunes could be played if a pianist knew when and how hard to strike each key.”

Project details:

The first major open-air experiment was to be overseen by a US Silicon Valley entrepreneur Kelly Wanser, who established a company, Silver Lining Inc, later renamed The Silver Lining Project, in San Francisco. Leading Geoengineering researchers David Keith and Ken Caldeira steered some funding from the Bill Gates-backed FICER fund to project leader Armand Neukerman – the inventor of the earliest inkjet printers who worked at Xerox Labs and Hewlett Packard. Neukerman’s goal has been to develop the nozzle for ships that would fire saltwater as tiny particles into the clouds, at a rate of trillions per second. The nozzle must emit particles that are small enough – 0.2 to 0.3 micrometers – to rise and remain suspended in air. In 2010, Wanser announced a large-scale experiment involving 10 ships and 10,000 square kilometres of ocean that would take place in three or four years. But after media reported on the experiment, including the involvement of Gates in funding Neukerman’s work, all traces of the project and its scientific collaborators disappeared from the Projec’s website.

A few years later, the same proposals resurfaced as the Marine Cloud Brightening Project, still with Kelly Wanser as the executive director. In media coverage, they have focused on presenting themselves not as a commercial outfit but as a folksy collection of harmless, retired engineers tinkering in their labs instead of hitting the golf range – referring to themselves as the “Silver Linings.” Thomas Ackerman, a scientist at Washington University and one of the formulators of the Nuclear Winter theory, joined the project as a principal investigator in 2014.

Under the aegis of the University of Washington, their first land-based field experiment is slated to take place at Moss Landing, Monterey Bay, California. Tom Ackerman told a geoengineering conference in 2014 that they would set up nozzles on the shoreline and spray clouds as they roll in, observing if they were whitened, while sensors on the land would assess if this led to less incoming solar radiation.

More recent press reports include the test organisers stressing that the first experiments will not whiten any actual clouds, just test the hardware. They have already conducted wind-tunnel testing of a prototype nozzle in 2015 in the California’s Bay Area. Reports have also emerged that Kelly Wanser has been scouting to hire for a public relations whiz for the Monterey experiment – perhaps with the hope of not replicating the Silver Linings Project media fiasco. They would then move experimentation to sea, for a 2-3 year phase propelling droplets from a small ship. After that, the project would move to a larger at-sea cloud whitening test initially slated for the summer of 2017, but has since been delayed. The land-based experiment has been delayed for lack of funding but is expected to move ahead in August 2018.

Sources:

digitalcommons.law.ou.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1022

www.washington.edu/news/2017/07/25/could-spraying-particles-into-marine-clouds-help-cool-the-planet

www.mercurynews.com/2015/07/11/cloud-brightening-experiment-tests-tool-to-slow-climate-change/

Briefing prepared by ETC Group. etc@etcgroup.org

The Ice 911 Project: Geoengineering Experiment Briefing

» Download this briefing [pdf]

Locations: Near Barrow, Alaska; the Beaufort Gyre (an ocean current flowing past Nunavut and Alaska); and Fram Straight (between Greenland and Svalbard)

Budget: $97,630 (based on 2015 crowdfunder1, which raised $3,103 from 24 donors, but full implementation would cost millions)

Summary:

The Ice 911 project2 proposes to scatter millions of tiny glass bubbles over arctic ice, which would reflect sunlight, slowing the melting process in the summer months. The project’s proponents are pitching the project as a form of “soft geoengineering”, which they claim is less damaging and more reversible than other techniques. Their initial plan is to use their glass bubbles to prevent strategic areas of ice from melting, which could block larger ice sheets in the Arctic Ocean from floating south (where they would melt faster).

Experiments are deploying millions of tiny glass spcheres to reflect sunlight and delay melting of ice.

The effects of a large-scale geoengineering experiment like Ice 911 are difficult to determine. Just like other solar radiation management experiments, Ice 911 would develop infrastructure and technology that aim to change global weather patterns. Reflecting sunlight back into space on a massive scale in the Arctic could have unanticipated changes on precipitation, temperature and humidity all over the globe.
In addition to potentially catastrophic unanticipated effects, anticipated effects could be the most dangerous: the ability to change weather on other parts of the planet could become a powerful weapon wielded by governments or private actors.

Key Players:

Project leader Leslie Field-Barth is an electrical engineer and researcher who has worked for Chevron and various Silicon Valley firms, and currently runs a nanotechnology consultancy. She also teaches at Stanford.

Key dates:

According to the project, Ice 911 has already conducted experiments that covered 17,500 square metres of ice with their glass spheres in 2017 in Alaska.

In 2018, the Ice 911 project intends to cover .25 km of ice with its materials. In 2019, their stated plan is to scale that up by 20x on ice sheets in the Beaufort Gyre or Fram Strait.

Potential Impacts:

Ice 911’s goal is to spread millions of hollow glass beads the size of grains of sand over ice in order to reflect sunlight and slow the melting of ice, blocking the southward flow of larger bodies of ice and preventing those from melting as well. This could affect weather patterns locally and globally, habitat and animal migration in the Arctic, as well as other unanticipated effects,

While increasing the albedo of ice might seem more innocuous than, for example, spraying thousands of tonnes of sulphites into the stratosphere, it could have similar effects on weather patterns if implemented on a large enough scale to have an impact on the climate. Computer models show that “albedo enhancement” and “solar radiation management” (SRM) projects – especially coupled with a continued increase in atmospheric CO2 – could have profound effects on rainfall patterns in vulnerable regions like the Sahel and the Amazon basin, leading to droughts that could affect millions of people and threaten biodiversity.

To the extent that Ice 911 is succesful at changing global temperatures, it can become a tool of geopolitical power, with powerful nations claiming that they’re modifying global weather patterns for the good of the planet while they may be putting at risk the sources of food and water for many million peoples in Asia and Africa.

As such, the same concerns about weaponization that have been raised about other SRM projects apply. Once Ice 911 has been implemented on a large scale, data can be collected about effects on global weather patterns.

Reflecting sunlight back into space on a scale big enough to modify global temperatures would have massive effects on weather patterns, which could lead to weaponization of geoengineering. Computer models suggest that Solar Radiation Management methods like cloud brightening could lead to drought in the Sahel region of Africa or South America. In the likely scenario that SRM creates winners and losers in terms of rainfall or other weather factors, the techniques would inevitably become a tool of geopolitics.

To the extent that Ice 911 is succesful at changing global temperatures, it can become a tool of geopolitical power, with powerful nations claiming that they’re modifying global weather patterns for the good of the planet while they may be putting at risk the sources of food and water for many million peoples in Asia and Africa.

In the Arctic, rapid changes to the pattern of ice floes could impact animal migration as well as local weather patterns. Climate change is already having profound effects in the Arctic, but that doesn’t mean major changes to the circulation of ice and ocean currents would be an improvement. Without significant study, major unanticipated negative impacts could result, affecting conditions for hunting, fishing and trapping in nearby communities, animal habitat, plant growth, and changes to quality of life in settled areas. Indeed, it’s possible that major unanticipated effects could negate the “positive” effects anticipated by the authors of Ice 911.

Another source of unanticipated effects could be the glass bubbles themselves. Ice 911 compares its tiny spheres to sand and claims they are harmless to ingest, but there are key differences: hollow sphere may float, creating unanticipated changes in ocean temperature or photosynthesis of ocean life downcurrent; the highly reflective nature could affect animal behaviors, cause disorientation or be mistaken for food sources; and the spheres may have different effects on soil conditions, plant life or organisms that eat them, or further up in the food chain.

Regulatory Status:

The UN Convention on Biodiversity has passed a moratorium on ocean fertilization (2008) and on geoengineering (2010) that cover experiments like this. However, the US is not a party to the CBD. The UN Environmental Modification Convention (ENMOD) prohibits military use of weather modification technology globally.

The London Convention (the International Maritime Organization body that oversees dumping of wastes at sea) has also banned all ocean-based geongineering.

Under US Federal law (National Weather Modification Policy Act of 1976), any modification of the weather is required to be reported to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the results of research must be made public.

A polar bear on an ice floe in the Fram Straight. Covering ice with millions of tiny glass spheres could have many unanticipated effects on the local food chain, from sea life to whales, bears and Indigenous Inuit communities who depend on hunting. Photo: Creative Commons/Fruchtzwerg’s World

The area around Ukpeaġvik (also known as Barrow) where Ice 911’s 2017 experiment was staged, is owned by the Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation, whose shareholders are people of Iñupiat descent.
The Beaufort Gyre covers the northernmost part of the Arctic Ocean on the Canadian side, and comes into contact with the area of the Nunavut Land Claim. The Land Claim, signed in 1993, grants regional Inuit organization rights to water, and compensation if the “quality, quantity or flow” of water they depend on is affected by a “project or activity”.

The Fram Straight is located between autonomous Danish territory of Greenland and the Norwegian territory of Svalbard. Both countries are signatories to the UN Convention on Biodiversity.

Action required:

The Ice911 project has been developed under the radar of current applicable regulations, and no critical assessment of its impacts has been made. While the existence and immediate impacts of the project are concern enough, the cumulative and future impacts of a scaled up version require the immediate attention of regulatory bodies and civil society organizations.

Sources:

1. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/ice911-preserve-arctic-ice-to-slow-climate-change#/

2. http://stormquell.org/

Briefing prepared by ETC Group. etc@etcgroup.org

The Big Bad Fix

ETC Group, BiofuelWatch and Heinrich Boell Foundation present a comprehensive argument against geoengineering in this report.

Click here to download the full report (pdf)

As a rapidly warming world manifests heat waves, floods, droughts and hurricanes, geoengineering – large-scale manipulation of the Earth’s natural systems – is being presented as a strategy to counteract, dilute or delay climate change without disrupting energy- and resource-intensive economies. Alarmingly, current debates about this big techno-fix are limited to a small group of self-proclaimed experts reproducing undemocratic worldviews and technocratic, reductionist perspectives. Developing countries, indigenous peoples, and local communities are excluded and left voiceless.

As this report details, each of the proposed geoengineering technologies threatens people and ecosystems. Holistic assessments of the technologies also show that if deployed they are highly likely to worsen rather than mitigate the impacts of global warming.

The irreversibility, risk of weaponization, and implications for global power dynamics inherent in large-scale climate geoengineering also make it an unacceptable option.

Current Geogengineering Attempts Briefing: SCoPEx


Download PDF version: ETC-briefing-SCoPEx

Location:

World View Spaceport

Tucson, Arizona, USA

Key Players:

Frank Keutsch, David Keith, John Dykema, and Lizzie Burns, all Harvard Professors. Burns and Keith head the Harvard Solar Geoengineering Research Program.

Budget:

$20 million ($7m raised as of Oct. ‘17)

Summary:

The Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx) is a planned experiment in a form of geoengineering known as Solar Radiation Management (SRM). SRM techniques aim to block or reflect sunlight before it reaches the earth’s atmosphere, which would hypothetically slow down  global temperature rise. SCoPEx aims to develop a form of SRM known as Stratospheric Aerosol Injection.

The SCoPEx project would spray water, finely-ground chalk and sulfur particles into the upper atmosphere from a high-altitude balloon and measure  how effectively the resulting clouds block sunlight, while also tracking any effects on the air in the upper atmosphere. While the environmental impacts are currently unknown, the political effects of the project, however, are the  most consequential: if the experiments are allowed to proceed, they would legitimize geoengineering and move us one step closer to a global sun-block and more geoengineering in the region.

Funding:

Funding comes from Harvard University and its Solar Geoengineering Research Program, which is funded by Bill Gates, several venture capitalists and hedge fund higher-ups, a former senior VP at Google, the Hewlett and Alfred P. Sloan foundations (among other philanthropic organizations), and a foreign policy research centre with military ties.

Key dates:

Project initiated: 2015

Research activities: 2017-2024

First field tests programmed: 2018

Regulatory status:

The UN Convention on Biodiversity has passed a moratorium on ocean fertilization (2008) and on  geoengineering (2010) that cover SRM and experiments like this. However, the US is not a party to the CBD. The UN Environmental Modification Convention (ENMOD) prohibits military use of weather modification technology globally.

Under US Federal law (National Weather Modification Policy Act of 1976), any modification of the weather is required to be reported to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the results of research must be made public.

The O’odham Nation, represented by a  handful of tribal governments, have lived in the area around the World View Spaceport for thousands of years. The reservations where the tribal governments exercise extra-constitutional sovereignty under US law cover a vast area of southern Arizona, with traditional territories extending into Mexico. For example, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe’s offices are a 20 minute drive from the Spaceport that will be the SCoPEx staging area.

While the sovereign rights of tribal governments over airspace is an emerging legal area, the Air Force and others have signed Memoranda of Understanding with the tribal governments about their use of O’odham airspace, indicating that government agencies are aware that they have some rights. One lawyer has made a persuasive case that tribal governments have sovereignty over what happens in the airspace over their lands.

Possible impacts:

The environmental effects of SCoPEx are mostly unknown. The project’s web site claims that the amounts released by the project will be “very small compared to other routine releases of material into the stratosphere by aircraft, rockets, or routine balloon flights.”

However, the political effects of the project are easier to predict. As governments continue to fall short of climate targets, David Keith and other geoengineers will be able to point to research findings to bolster the case for larger geoengineering experiments. However, these are not dispassionate scientists, but entrepreneurs backed by venture capitalists who stand to become fabulously wealthy if governments should opt to move forward with an SRM project in the future.

If SCoPEx moves forward, it will contribute to entrenching technology, capital and public relations power of geoengineering and divert resources away from real climate solutions.

Project details:

David Keith, among others, has proposed a suite of field experiments, some to test the effectiveness and risks of geoengineering and others to develop technologies for larger-scale deployment. The closest to execution is SCoPEx. This experiment would try to understand the microphysics of introducing particles into the stratosphere to better estimate the efficacy of different materials to reflect sunlight as part of an effort to develop SRM techniques. They first plan to spray water molecules into the stratosphere from a balloon 20km above the earth, to create a massive icy plume to be studied from the flight balloon. They then aim to replicate it with limestone or calcium carbonate, followed by sulphates.

David Keith’s Earlier Attempts

In 2012, news broke that David Keith and Harvard engineer James Anderson were planning the first outdoor experiment in solar geoengineering. This would have involved the release of particles into the atmosphere from a balloon flying 80,000 feet over Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Their stated aim was to measure how releasing sulfate would impact ozone chemistry, and to test ways to make the aerosols the appropriate size.

The announcement came soon after a controversial proposed field test of another SRM scheme – the British government-funded Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE) – was cancelled after a global outcry. Keith bemoaned its fate: “I wish they’d had a better process, because those opposed to any such experiments will see it as a victory and try to stop other experiments as well.”

After media revealed Keith’s own experiment, it too was cancelled, and Keith shifted energies to a new incarnation of the project. In early 2017, he helped launch Harvard’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program, backed by several million in funding by billionaires and private foundations.

Now, Keith is covering his bases politically: he claims the amounts of particles released will be small, and  in an attempt to win support among civil society, the project says it will have an independent advisory process for the experiments. This is in keeping with what constitutes a problem with all small-scale experiments like this: the slow and careful accumulation of mainstream legitimacy for large-scale experiments in solar geoengineering in the media, scientific bodies, and institutions of governance, both regionally and globally—ultimately leading toward full deployment.

SCoPEx Funders include:

William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; The Open Philanthropy Project; Pritzker Innovation Fund; The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; VoLo Foundation; The Weatherhead Center for International Affairs; G. Leonard Baker, Jr.; Alan Eustace; Ross Garon; Bill Gates;  John Rapaport; Michael Smith; Bill Trenchard.

–November 2017 , info@etcgroup.org

Hydroxyl and methane? SRM proponents fail to consider key aspect of atmospheric chemistry

By Dr. Rachel Smolker

Hydroxyl (OH) is a simple, very short lived but “radical” marriage of one hydrogen and one oxygen molecule. Being “radical” means that it reacts very readily with other chemicals, being an important agent of change. Hydroxyl radicals are referred to as an atmospheric “detergent” because they play a key role in oxidizing, and thereby decomposing various air pollutants, including carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, and methane. OH chemistry is closely associated with ozone dynamics – since most OH is formed from UV mediated breakdown of ozone.

A study just published in July 2017 looked at the impact of stratospheric aerosol injection of sulfate particles (SAI), a proposed “solar radiation management” (SRM) approach to geoengineering, on methane. OH converts methane into water and CO2, over time. The longevity, and in turn the concentration of methane in the atmosphere therefore depends in large part on the concentration of OH.[1]

What they found (using models) is that sulfate aerosol injection would have several effects – on planetary albedo, on UV scattering and on circulation of air and sulfate particles between layers of the atmosphere. The two models used by the researchers suggest that those impacts, taken together these would result in an increased longevity of methane by as much as 16% – which would mean 16%more methane in the atmosphere at any one time. This would greatly exacerbate (“force”) warming.[2]

The idea of using SAI has been bandied about for over a decade. David Keith, one of the most avid proponents recently opened a laboratory at Harvard University, with grants from the Gates Foundation and others. This is one of several new academic institutes that have taken up research on geoengineering with grant moneys flowing. The Royal Society and National Academies, among others have written assessments, and reports and debates are increasingly, and disturbingly, more commonplace. Keith and colleagues have announced plans for an open-air experiment in the southwestern USA in 2018.

So how is it, that all of these academics, and all the king’s men have not taken into consideration the impacts of SAI on OH breakdown of methane, until now? My long-time colleague and codirector of Biofuelwatch, Almuth Ernsting, has no Ph.D. in, or formal training in atmospheric chemistry. But she has long been wondering about that possibility. She first learned the importance of hydroxyl in the atmosphere from reading a 2006 book by Fred Pearce, which included a chapter on hydroxyl (“The Last Generation”). Later, in 2011, while participating in a Convention on Biological Diversity civil society meeting on climate geoengineering, attended by various “experts” on geoengineering, Almuth raised the question about how injection of sulfate aerosols might impact OH behavior, but no answer was offered.

The fact that the vitally important question whether SAI might impact on the lifespan and thus the concentration of methane in the atmosphere was never publicly asked or acknowledged by geoengineering advocates until now, is deeply troubling. OH is not something totally new. It has long been known as a factor in atmospheric chemistry, discussed in the IPCC climate science reports for over a decade. The potential for SAI to cause ozone depletion, (which is mediated by OH), was identified, but nothing appears to have ever been written about the potential effects on methane.

Surely, anyone seriously contemplating the injection of massive quantities of sulfur into the stratosphere SHOULD have taken careful consideration of the impact that doing so would have on all of the OH–mediated chemical reactions, including methane.

This apparent oversight could be viewed as a textbook example of how a severely narrow, reductionist engineering world view fails us. The complex interdependence of multiple, ever-changing, physical and chemical factors that results in our life-supporting atmosphere is not amenable to understanding in linear, binary, widget-tweaking terms. We can at least hope that it was in fact an “oversight” and not deliberate shrouding of the issue: potentially the impacts on methane longevity could entirely offset any purported cooling from SAI – or worse. One methane molecule is estimated to cause 28 times as much warming over a century as one CO2 molecule. This new “risk” thus utterly undermines proclamations (grants, careers and all) of its’ effectiveness as a means of cooling.

Had SAI already been deployed, we might now be learning the hard way via experience about OH/methane interactions. Or even worse, even if the effects were exactly as predicted by the models used in the recent study, there would be so many other possible reasons for rising methane levels that it could still be difficult to prove the link to SAI. Fortunately, with a de-facto moratorium on geoengineering, (via the Convention on Biological Diversity), widespread deep public skepticism towards climate geoengineering in general, and serious concerns about governance, we have not gone down that road yet. Many are banging the geoengineering drums with increasing persistence however, calling for “desperate measures” as the climate heats up.

This study is an important wake up call. Several prior studies indicated that SAI would be problematic for various reasons – from regional impacts on rainfall and weather, to impacts on ozone. This latest study provides a compelling reason to steer entirely clear of SRM. Virtually all climate geoengineering technofixes that are under consideration not only distract from the urgency of immediate emissions reductions – but also it is clear that they simply won’t work! In fact, deploying any of the proposed geoengineering techniques is likely to only make matters worse. As we race headlong into climate chaos and face calls for desperate measures, this would be a key point to keep in mind!

[1] OH also plays a key role in sulfur chemistry in the atmosphere. See for example: http://www.nature.com/articles/284330a0

[2] Visioni, D., Pitari, G., Aquila, V., Times, S., Cionni, I., Genova, G. and Mancini, E. 2017. Sulfate goengineering impact on methane transport and longevity: results from the Geoengineering Model Intercomparison Project.(GeoMIP). Atmos. Chem. Phys., 17: 11209-11226

 

Governance for a ban on geoengineering

[Originally posted by Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative.]

by Lili Fuhr

All geoengineering approaches are by definition large-scale, intentional, and high-risk. Some have well-known negative impacts, threatening the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and undermining fundamental human rights (for example Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage). Others have great uncertainties when it comes to their potential impacts, that will never be fully known before actual deployment (mostly Solar Radiation Management).

There is a very important principle in international and national environmental law when it comes to dealing with uncertainties and risks – the precautionary principle. Based on this principle, the outdoor testing and deployment of SRM technologies, because of their potential to weaken human rights, democracy, and international peace, should be banned outright. This ban should be overseen by a robust and accountable multilateral global governance mechanism.

Other technologies that require great scrutiny are Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) projects that threaten indigenous lands, food security, and water availability. Such large-scale technological schemes must be assessed diligently before setting up proper regulations, to ensure that climate-change solutions do not adversely affect sustainable development or human rights. Any intentional large-scale deployment of transboundary nature (and with potential transboundary risks and harms) needs to be assessed by an agreed UN multilateral mechanism, taking into account the rights and interests of all potentially impacted communities and future generations. Most CDR schemes currently proposed would very likely fail such a rigorous assessment.

A ban requires governance

So why should I be interested in a debate on governance of a set of technologies that I would like to see banned? The answer is clear: a ban requires governance to ensure it is being implemented and enforced. And furthermore: governance of geoengineering is not just about the rules, procedures and institutions controlling research and potential deployment, but it is also about the process and discourse leading up to it. Unfortunately, current debates about climate engineering are undemocratic and dominated by technocratic worldviews, natural science and engineering perspectives, and vested interests in the fossil-fuel industries. Developing countries, indigenous peoples, and local communities must be given a prominent voice, so that all risks can be fully considered before any geoengineering technology is tested or implemented.

The good news is that a debate of governance of geoengineering does not take place in a legal or political vacuum. There are a number of important decisions to build upon. In 2010, 193 governments – parties to the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – agreed to a de facto international moratorium on all climate-related geoengineering. More thematically focused, the London Convention/London Protocol (LP) to prevent marine pollution adopted a decision in 2013 to prohibit marine geoengineering (except for legitimate scientific research). The decision (adopted but waiting to enter into force) applies to the technologies that are included in an annex, which for now only lists ocean fertilization, as other techniques have not been thoroughly considered by the LP yet.

Beyond climate change

But geoengineering is about much more than climate change. Many geoengineering techniques have latent military purposes and their deployment could violate the UN Environmental Modification Treaty (ENMOD), which prohibits the hostile use of environmental modification. The Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (ENMOD) has been in force since 1978 and has been ratified by 77 states. It prohibits the use of environmental modification and commits parties “not to engage in military or any other hostile use of environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting or severe effects as the means of destruction, damage or injury to any other State Party” (Article I). Article II defines environmental modification techniques: “any technique for changing – through the deliberate manipulation of natural processes – the dynamics, composition or structure of the Earth, including its biota, lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere, or of outer space.” This definition encompasses many geoengineering technologies currently under active research and development.

Today, with powerful advocates generating so much pressure to bring geoengineering technologies out of the lab, soft bans with little enforcement mechanisms like the CBD decision are no longer sufficient. The world urgently needs an honest debate on the research, deployment, and governance of these technologies. The CBD and the London Protocol are essential starting points for these governance discussions, but these are certainly not enough.

Using the precautionary principle

In our civil society briefing on the Governance of Geoengineering “Riding the Geostorm” – that the Heinrich Böll Foundation published jointly with ETC Group – we highlight some key criteria for a legitimate discussion on geoengineering governance. In our view it should be based on the precautionary principle and not be confined to climate-related issues, as the consequences are more far-reaching than the climate, including weaponization, international equity, intergenerational justice, impacts on other ecosystems, such as biodiversity and oceans, impact on local and national economies dependent on those, indigenous and peasant rights.

Any debate on geoengineering, in our view, needs to be entwined with and informed by a rigorous discussion on ecologically sustainable and socially just alternatives to confront climate change and its causes, that shows that geoengineering is not a physical necessity or technical inevitability but a question of political choices.

Multilateral, participatory discussions 

Discussions on the governance of geoengineering need to be multilateral and participatory, transparent and accountable. They need to allow for the full participation of civil society, social movements and indigenous peoples. All discussions must be free from corporate influence, including through philanthro-capitalists, so that private interests cannot use their power to determine favourable outcomes or to promote schemes that serve their interests. This also means that initiatives like the C2G2 need to have obligatory, public and non-ambiguous conflict of interest policies in place, that prevent researchers with commercial interests in geoengineering to act as “independent” expertise.

An agreed global multilateral governance mechanism must strictly precede any kind of outdoor experimentation or deployment. And a ban on geoengineering testing and deployment is a governance option that I would certainly like to keep on the table.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a long-standing partner of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, received the Nobel Peace Prize this year “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons”. Maybe this shows that despite a rather negative outlook on the future of multilateralism today, there’s an appetite to take bold and clear action when it comes to enclosing high-risk technologies.

Lily Fuhr is Department Head, Ecology & Sustainable Development, Heinrich Böll Foundation.

Riding the geostorm: Is it possible to govern geoengineering?

The prospect of controlling global temperatures raises serious questions of power and justice: Who gets to control the Earth’s thermostat and adjust the climate for their own interests? Who will make the decision to deploy if such drastic measures are considered technically feasible, and whose interests will be left out? This briefing from civil society on Geoengineering Governance was was produced by ETC Group and the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

New briefing: Climate change, smoke and mirrors

For the past decade, a small but growing group of governments and scientists, the majority from the most powerful and most climate-polluting countries in the world, has been pushing for political consideration of geoengineering, the deliberate large-scale technological manipulation of the climate.

Geoengineering is inherently high-risk and its negative effects will likely be unequally distributed. Because of this, geoengineering has often been presented as a “Plan B” to confront the climate crisis. But after the Paris Agreement, which set the ambitious goal of keeping the temperature to well below 2°C and possibly even 1.5°C, the discourse has changed. Now, geoengineering is increasingly being advanced as an “essential” means to reach this goal, through a mix of risky technologies that would take carbon out of the atmosphere to create so-called “negative emissions” or take control of the global thermostat to directly lower the climate’s temperature.

A new briefing paper by ETC Group and Heinrich Böll Foundation in advance of the UNFCCC intersessional meetings in Bonn, May 2017, gives an overview of what geoengineering is and why it is dangerous, as well as up-to-date information on proposed geoengineering technologies and governance.

A crucial read for anyone engaged in the fight against climate change.
Read the briefing paper here.

New briefing: Why are Solar Radiation Management Experiments a Bad Idea?

by ETC Group.

A new briefing from ETC Group outlines the ethical, political and environmental arguments against solar radiation management (SRM), and explains why even SRM experiments are a bad idea. The backgrounder was released in late March 2017 after Harvard University announced they are planning open-air SRM experiments  in Arizona in 2018. Read the briefing and related materials at: http://www.etcgroup.org/content/why-srm-experiments-are-bad-idea

ETC Group also issued a news release and supporting materials explaining how the new US administration could “inflate geoengineers’ balloon” and create favourable circumstances for geoengineering experiments now and in the future.

Climate Change Policy and The Super-Hero Syndrome

Jeremy Thompson/Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0
Jeremy Thompson/Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0

by Roger Boyd (Resilience)

There is a genre of Hollywood “feel-good” disaster movie, where everything seems nearly hopeless until the end, and then suddenly, many times against all hope, the super-hero (or super-heroes) saves the day. Whether it be human heroes that blow up the Earth-killing asteroid just in the nick of time; good mutants that defeat the bad mutants just in time; bad mutants turned good mutants that destroy the stayed-bad mutants just in time; future humans and non-human allies that save the Galaxy from the Empire. Anyway, you get the general storyline. The bad people/organisms /things win for the first 95% of the movie then the good people/organisms/things win against all the odds in the last 5%.

The United Nations Climate Change bureaucracy, which tends to be full of economists, engineers and enviro-managers rather than actual climate scientists and ecologists, seems to have been watching too many of these feel-good disaster movies. Seems we need to make them watch the “feel bad” disaster movies instead, like the one where the Sun eats up the Earth, or perhaps a steady diet of the unlimited supply of zombie apocalypse movies. They need something a lot darker, where super-heroes don’t save the day. Then again, maybe they should just grow up and accept that super-heroes only exist in movies. Or maybe they should just listen to the scientists and ecologists a lot more.

The United Nation’s main super-hero is called BECCS (Bio-Energy Carbon Capture & Storage). I know, not exactly as catchy as Superman, Thor, Cat Woman, or Wolverine, but what would you expect from a bunch of climate bureaucrats? BECCS is a true super-hero. The Bad Carbon will continue spewing itself into our atmosphere for decades to come, threatening to remove the ecological basis for modern human civilization. BECCS’s friends, Energy Efficiency and Clean Power, will have held back Bad Carbon a bit, but could not stop BC in time! Then at the last minute, just before human civilization melts down, BECCS sucks up BC and deposits it deep in the Earth never to return (well at least for a few thousand years hopefully).

The problem is that BECCS is not real; it’s a bunch of hopes and a religious belief in technology wrapped together. It assumes that we can set aside about a third of the current arable land on the planet to grow energy crops, instead of food. Then we can burn all those energy crops to help power our modern civilization, and can store all of the resulting carbon dioxide (billions of tons of the stuff) underground safely for thousands of years. That’s a lot of carbon dioxide per year, needing an infrastructure equivalent to the current oil & gas industry to transport it and pump it into the ground. What tiny-scale testing of the CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) part of BECCS that has been carried out so far could most politely be described as “deeply disappointing”.  Ignoring this, the U.N. people assume that BECCS will start riding to the rescue on a major scale within 20 years or less.

What if BECCS isn’t up to the task? Other eco-technocrats have an army of super-heroes ready to help. These eco-techies seem to be into super-hero ensemble movies – maybe we should call them “The C-Men”. If EE, CP and BECCS cant beat the deadly BC, there is always – wait for it, drum roll please… DAC!!!! (Direct Air Capture) will save the day! BECCS couldn’t suck up enough of the highly concentrated carbon dioxide at the power plant exhaust, but DAC can get enough of it after it has become highly diffuse in the air! If that doesn’t work there is EW (Enhanced Weathering: dig up truly colossal amounts of a certain type of rock, turn it into powder and spread it over the Earth), OF (Ocean Fertilization: fertilize carbon capturing organisms in the ocean), and SRaM (Solar Radiation Management: block/reflect the Sun’s energy to cool the planet).

Why do we need all these super-heroes? Because without these super-heroes we would have to accept that large-scale government intervention will be required to fundamentally change our societies to use a lot less energy. A lot like a war-style economy. A lot less belief in “free markets”, perhaps no economic growth for a while, a ton of pressure for a more equitable sharing of income and wealth, and a lot less use of fossil fuels. Not a reality that the powers-that-be want to deal with. So we get the mythical super-heroes instead.

Those that consider a Trump presidency to be a disaster do not understand that we are already in the disaster. Trump may speed up the disaster a little and is certainly more “in your face”, but he is just a symptom of a larger problem. In a way, you could say he is being a bit more truthful about his version of reality-denial. The problem is the inability of even the “progressives” among the powerful to accept the reality that the time for small measures is gone, and that drastic action is required now. In the early 1990’s, those actions may have been relatively mild. Now, they are much bigger and the longer we wait, the bigger and riskier they get. Only denial, facilitated by mythical technocratic future super-heroes, can keep us from this truth.