The hijackers of the planet from above, call for governance from below

The hijackers of the planet from above, call for governance from below

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By ETC Group

It is necessary to oppose geoengineers who seek to self-regulate. Civil society groups are concerned that this discussion is usurping a fundamental international debate about whether or not geoengineering should develop.

While most scientists left the Copenhagen climate summit feeling frustrated, a small group of geoengineering advocates were happy to emerge from the weak outcome of the meeting and the uncertainty of where to go. These scientists seek to pursue research and experimentation with controversial geoengineering technologies. They are especially excited by "solar radiation management" (SRM), a way of cooling the planet by reflecting a portion of the sun's rays back into outer space, using a variety of techniques ranging from placing screens in space, to sulfate aerosols or cloud whitening. These high-risk schemes of planetary alteration affect global warming without changing its origin, which is the excess of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Geoengineering as Plan B in the face of the climate crisis is presented with clever marketing: high-level debates sponsored by prestigious groups, piles of peer-reviewed articles appeared in scientific publications in January; and a panicky lineup of politicians in northern countries nervously accepting all sayings of scientists in favor of geoengineering research and development like Plan B. (1) “This geoengineering lobbying offensive has been going on for more than a year, but is now in a critical phase. The world needs to pay attention, ”says Diana Bronson of the ETC Group, a Canadian-based technology development watchdog. “Geoengineers now defend experiments in the field of some of the most risky technologies to face climate change and apparently they do not expect that there will be international agreement for their regulation. Governments need to tell you that they do not have the right to redesign the planet. We cannot trust the industrialized countries, which caused the problem of global warming in the first place, to unilaterally try technological remedies that will not have an equitable impact.

David Keith, a Canadian physicist who advises Bill Gates on his grants for geoengineering, has shown the greatest audacity, stepping on "a frontier" by experimenting with "fast, cheap and imperfect" technologies. In the scientific journal Nature (2), for example, he and his co-authors call for an international solar radiation management research program to grow from $ 10 million to $ 1 billion over the next 10 years. This would include experiments on a scale large enough to be noticeable but small enough to "limit the risks." The article, which attracted excessively popular media attention, also addresses the thorny issue of governance, framing it as a matter of “establishing legitimate collective control” over irresponsible unilateral actions. And yet Keith and his co-authors argue against the negotiation of an international treaty - or any type of international regulation - that could be "limiting" to the investigation or that could result in the prohibition of evidence. Instead, they call for “starting from the bottom” a relationship in which interest groups are “loosely” engaged, especially scientists and a select group of politicians and leaders of non-governmental organizations who would analyze options for regulating the law. geoengineering, while tests are carried out. Keith's message to politicians is simple: let's keep scientists engaged in discussion while inviting others to join; Let's ensure support for large-scale research plans and field trials and DO NOT involve the United Nations at all. (3)

Another article published two weeks ago in Science (4) refers to the "politics of geoengineering." The authors, Blackstock and Long, also argue in favor of further SRM research and subscale experiments, but advise against “climate impacts research” (ie, their use) until there is an international framework that can “facilitate this process. ”. They diplomatically ask scientists "not to conduct climate impact tests and carefully restrict subscale field tests until they are approved by a legitimate international process." They endorse a voluntary process in which scientists establish their own standards, as they plan to meet in Asilomar, California, in late March as a “first step.” (5) “The notion of a voluntary code” to regulate research and Geoengineering testing has been promoted by ocean fertilization companies as well as the Royal Society of the UK. (6) Civil society groups are concerned that this discussion is usurping a fundamental international debate on whether geoengineering should be developed or no.

In the same issue of Science, Alan Robock et al. (7), provide evidence of how dangerous the real tests of stratospheric aerosols can be, showing that the management of solar radiation "cannot be tested without doing it at full scale" and that this "could disrupt food production massively." It would take a large and continuous dose of aerosols to be able to distinguish between their actual impacts on the climate and what is known as regular climate “noise” (the small, naturally occurring climate changes).

Such a display - equivalent to an eruption like the one at Mount Pinatubo in 1991 every 4 years - could actually lower the global average air temperature. But it could also affect the food and water supplies of more than 2 billion people!

Anyone who thinks those ideas are very unfamiliar could tune in to the geoengineering debates of the science and technology committees of the United States House of Representatives and the United Kingdom House of Commons. In the last three months, a parade of promoters of geoengineering have been putting out the warning voices. Further:

* Bill Gates has injected millions of dollars into geoengineering research since 2007 (8) and the former Microsoft chief technical officer has become an SRM champion. Myhrvold's company, Intellectual Ventures, already has several pending patents related to geoengineering technologies. (9)

* Billionaire Richard Branson has created what he calls a "Climate War Room" (10) to work with the "right stakeholders" to "create a strategic roadmap for governance and regulation" in the "field battle ”of geoengineering.

* Several new research funding programs are beginning to be established, mostly in the United States and the United Kingdom.

* Vladimir Putin's senior science adviser, Yuri Izrael, led a small-scale experiment with an aerosol sulfate in Russia last year that went undetected by public radar until picked up by a popular blog. (11)

“It is one thing to examine geoengineering using computer models and laboratory tests. Another very different thing for the richest men and the richest countries in the world is to start real experiments that affect the complex climate system of the planet, which we do not fully understand. Suggesting a "bottom-up" governance process for top-down planet-altering technologies is absurd. If you want a bottom-up process, you need to start with the people from the bottom who have already been affected by industry-induced climate change. Gates, Branson, and elite geoengineers are a long way from that down. I'm sure they keep their buttocks dry — and make money at the same time — no matter what happens to the planet. The geoengineering lobby does not have a mandate and does not have the right to "manage solar radiation by anyone," says Silvia Ribeiro of the ETC Group's Mexico office.

ETC Group - February 2010


1. See for example the series of panels on geoengineering organized by the Royal Society and its partners at the Bella Center in Copenhagen, archived at…); a lengthy Fareed Zakaria interview with Nathan Myhrvold on CNN, the day after Copenhagen at…); David Keith's Nature article, “Research on Global Sunblock Needed now” (see below) records 112 entries in a Google news search; Joint hearings on the governance of geoengineering are underway in the United States and the United Kingdom, and nearly everyone invited to testify so far is actively involved in research and development in the field. See the press release, “Sub-Committee Examines Geoengineering Strategies and Hazards” at…) and the press release, “New Inquiry: The Regulation of Geoengineering” at http: //…)

2. David Keith, Ed Parsons and Granger Morgan, “Research on Global Sun Block Needed Now,” Nature, vol. 463, 28, January 2010 available (for subscribers) at

3. See also David Keith's testimony before the UK Parliamentary Committee for Science and Technology:…)

4. Jason J. Blackstock and Jane C. S. Long, “The Politics of Geoengineering,” Science, 29 January 2010, Vol. 327. no. 5965, p.527

5. See the announcement of the conference in the Google Geoengineering Group:…)

6. See Royal Society, UK, Geoengineering the Climate: Science, Governance and Uncertainty, 2009, Recommendation 7, page 61. “The California start-up Climos also promotes a voluntary code for ocean fertilization” at http: // www.

7. Alan Robock, Martin Bunzl, Ben Kravitz, Georgiy L. Stenchikov, "A Test for Geoengineering?" Science, 29, January 2010, vol. 327, no. 5965, pp. 530-31.

8. Eli Kintisch, “Bill Gates Funding Geoengineering Research,” Science Insider 26, January 2010, available at…)

9. See ETC Group, Retooling the Planet? Climate Chaos in a Geoengineering Age, Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, 2009, p. 30.

10. See

11. See Chris Mooney, "Copenhagen: Geoenegineering’s Big Break?"…). See also Yu A. Izrael et al., "Field Experiment on Studying Solar Radiation Passing Through Aerosol Layers", Russian Meteorology and Hydrology, 2009, vol 34, no. 5, pp. 265-273



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