Thursday, July 21, 2011

Politics of Geoengineering

Greetings from the Australian National University, where
Professor Clive HamiltonProfessor Clive Hamilton, is talking on "Governance of Geoengineering". The geoengineering in this case is intended to combat the temperature increase caused by greenhouse gases. This might be done by reducing the solar radiation reaching the earth (solar radiation management), or by removing carbon dioxide from the air.

To me this form of engineering is of little practical application. It is possible to change local conditions around a building block, or a city, but not for the planet. It is feasible to reduce carbon emissions from some engineering processes at source. But there is little prospect of removing carbon dioxide from the ambient air by engineering means.

Professor Hamilton described the origins of some geoengineering as a joke and expressed concern that some current ones are get rich quick schemes. There are a small number of scientists and policy people working on this.

If there is prospect for geoengineering being deployed, then this would need to be regulated, due to the local and global impact. The UK Parliament released "The Regulation of Geoengineering", (HC 221, 18 March 2010). The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) recommended a moratorium. The Royal Society also released a report.

It seems to me that there is little risk from pure engineering forms of geoengineering, such as extracting carbon dioxide from the air, for the same reason which they are unlikely to be of practical value: they will simply not work very well . However, chemically or biologically based systems pose more of a risk, such as adding iron fertilization of the ocean to promote algal bloom, or stratospheric sulfur aerosols.

Professor Hamilton also pointed out that geo-engineering would impinge on national greenhouse gas emissions policies. This might be a way for a nation to avoid costly emissions reductions in this way.

While geoengineering schemes may seem far fetched, Professor Hamilton pointed out that the US military used a cloud seeding operation during the Vietnam war (Operation Popey), with such success that the the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques was introduced. If framed in terms of a "climate emergency" then geoengineering can be more feasible. Also it occurs to me that while the effects of large scale nuclear war would be horrendous, there are several nations which plan and practice for this and geoengineering would seem benign in comparison.

Professor Hamilton discussed economic arguments for geoengineering from the USA. However, given the USA's current economic difficulties, it might be more appropriate to to consider what China's position would be. There is a government owned "China Geo-Engineering Corporation" (CGC), but this seems to be an international civil engineering company, not working on geoengineering.There is some discussion of the effect of the sulfur from Chinese coal power stations on warming.

Professor Hamilton described his position of one investigating "egoegnineering", rather than geo-engineering. That is the egotistical idea that humans could moued the earth to their own needs caused the problem and the same approach could not solve it. He will discuss this at ANU in about four weeks.
Governance of Geoengineering

Research into geoengineering solutions to global warming is gathering pace, despite concerns that developing Plan B may reduce the pressure to pursue Plan A — cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

At present there is no legal impediment to any nation, or indeed any wealthy individual, attempting to transform the Earth’s climate through, for example, spraying sulphate aerosols into the upper atmosphere.

Attention is now being turned to the regulation of geoengineering research and possible deployment. In addition to official inquiries, the Royal Society is supporting the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative, due to report later this year. This seminar will survey the issues and consider the unique difficulties presented by regulation of solar radiation management, and other proposed geoengineering methods.

Clive Hamilton of Charles Sturt Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics and has recently returned from a visiting position at the University of Oxford where he researched the ethics of geoengineering. He is the author of Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change and is a member of the Royal Society’s SRMGI.

Speaker/Host: Clive Hamilton/RegNet
Date: Thursday, 21 July 2011
Time: 4:00 PM - 5:30 PM

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