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Nature’s View of Geoengineering

(Photo: Richard Reeve)

An editorial in Nature argues that geoengineering needs a charter if research on the topic is to move forward. The journal cites the recent cancellation of the Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE) experiment due to concerns about “intellectual-property rights, public engagement and the overall governance regime for such work.” Nature argues that resolving the intellectual-property concerns may be the easiest part:

More troubling is the lack of an overarching governance framework. Although the SPICE trial has been cancelled, other tests of geoengineering technology will surely follow. Other work, such as fiddling with clouds to make them more reflective or to try to bring on rain, touches on both climate-change mitigation and weather modification.

Geoengineers should keep trying. They should come together and draft detailed, practical actions that need to be taken to advance governance in the field. Regulation in these cutting-edge and controversial areas needs to be working before the experiments begin, rather than racing to catch up.

We touched on the very tricky governance questions in our SuperFreakonomics chapter about geoengineering:

As of this writing, there is no regulatory framework to prohibit anyone — a government, a private institution, even an individual — from putting sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere. (If there were, many of the world’s nearly eight thousand coal-burning electricity units would be in a lot of trouble.)

Still, [Nathan] Myhrvold admits that “it would freak people out” if someone unilaterally built the thing. But of course this depends on the individual. If it were Al Gore, he might snag a second Nobel Peace Prize. If it were Hugo Chávez, he’d probably get a prompt visit from some U.S. fighter jets.

One can also imagine the wars that might break out over who controls the dials on Budyko’s Blanket. A government that depends on high oil prices might like to crank up the sulfur to keep things extra cool; others, meanwhile, might be happier with longer growing seasons.

(HT: Eric M. Jones)