Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Federal Research Program in 2012?

One of the featured speakers at yesterday's Future Tense Event in Washington, D.C., was Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN). As Chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology, Gordon oversaw a series of groundbreaking hearings on geoengineering over the past year. At the conference Monday, Gordon raised the possibility of introducing a bill to authorize a federal geoengineering research program, perhaps in late 2012. Apart from Ehsan Khan's abortive attempt to initiate research at DOE during the Bush Administration, this would constitute the first federal proposal to sponsor and support research into the feasibility of climate intervention strategies.

I would like to see more details about this proposal. What funding levels? Which technologies? Which agencies? How does this reconcile with Gordon's plans to retire after this session of Congress? This is potentially a very important development.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Holdren Back in the News

John Holdren, chief science advisor to President Obama, is making news again on the subject of geoengineering. Earlier this month, Holdren delivered a presentation titled "Climate-Change Science and Policy: What Do We Know? What Should We Do?" at a scientific conference held in Oslo. Among his list of "conceivable mitigation policies" was geoengineering. While this mention was peripheral in the context of his overall remarks, it is interesting that Holdren would raise the issue at all after the ruckus he caused last year. Regardless, this is unlikely to signal any greater openness to geoengineering on the part of the Administration.

(For those unfamiliar with the story, Holdren said of geoengineering in a 2009 interview, "It's got to be looked at. We don't have the luxury of taking any approach off the table." This caused some commotion and resulted in Holdren clarifying that these were only his "personal views.")

Friday, September 17, 2010

What Moral Hazard?

The UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) recently released a study on public opinion regarding geoengineering titled Experiment Earth?. One of the more interesting findings pertains to the "moral hazard" argument against geoengineering, that is, people will embrace geoengineering as an excuse to avoid emissions reductions, and current levels of fossil fuel consumption will persist if not increase. Moral hazard has emerged as one of the principal arguments against climate engineering, despite the fact that geoengineering advocates generally support aggressive mitigation as the preferred option, and are quick to note the limitations of specific strategies, such as continued ocean acidification and the so-called "termination problem" in the case of stratospheric aerosol injections.

Evidence from the public dialogue summarized in the NERC report indicates that participants viewed mitigation and geoengineering as complementary policies, not as mutually exclusive alternatives. Stakeholders saw a link between geoengineering and emissions controls, and preferred a suite of mitigation and geoengineering measures to reliance on any single approach. "This evidence is contrary to the 'moral hazard' argument that geoengineering would undermine popular support for mitigation or adaptation," notes the report. While this study represents only one set of empirical data gathered in one particular sociocultural context, it is to my knowledge the first time the moral hazard argument has been tested, and demonstrates little support for this proposition.

(As a side note, I am currently polishing a chapter/article for publication that takes on another major argument against geoengineering, the supposed threat of unilateral deployment. I contend that the threat of unilateralism is a myth, and that climate engineering is in fact governed by a multilateral logic.)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Lomborg Shifts ... and So Does Pachauri?

Bjorn Lomborg is turning heads with his revised position on climate policy. In his new book, Smart Solutions to Climate Change, the "skeptical environmentalist" calls for spending $100 billion per year to fight climate change. Lomborg favors a global carbon tax to pay for mitigation, adaptation, and geoengineering (including marine cloud whitening). Equally startling is an endorsement by Rajendra Pachauri of the IPCC. Pachauri states that "This book provides not only a reservoir of information on the reality of human-induced climate change, but raises vital questions and examines viable options on what can be done." Does this signal a new willingness by Pachauri and the IPCC to consider climate engineering as a "viable option?"

Attack on Biochar

Last month an intriguing study was published in Nature Communications arguing that sustainable use of biochar on a global scale could offset up to 12% of annual GHG emissions. Now opponents of biochar have struck back. In an August 30 press release, a coalition of 21 groups(including ETC Group) hostile to biochar technology accused its supporters of promoting "large-scale land grabbing in the global South." This is a curious fight to pick. In addition to carbon sequestration, biochar produces clean bioenergy, enhances agricultural productivity, and improves the condition of soils. These benefits are widely regarded as particularly advantageous to the rural poor in the developing world. Biochar is viewed by many as a good way to reduce poverty and empower poor farmers. Furthermore, biochar derives from the terra preta soils manufactured by indigenous peoples of the Amazon. In condemning this study and biochar in general, these organizations have opened themselves to charges of working against the interests of poor agriculturalists, rural communities, indigenous peoples, and the global South more broadly, which are precisely those constituencies these groups claim to represent. This is a puzzling political strategy.