Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Can "Enlightened Capitalism" Geoengineer?

Sir Richard Branson has declared that "enlightened capitalism" must play a leading role in constructing arrangements to govern geoengineering research. Is this the case? There are many philosophical, moral, ethical, and political arguments against commercial participation in climate engineering, particularly SRM. Whatever their various merits, the intensity of opposition to commercial involvement in SRM research is a good reason, from a practical political point of view, to consider excluding private firms from initial research and development. If deployment becomes necessary, multilateral consensus will be essential to successful implementation. For better or worse, commercial participation would present one of the most significant threats to such a consensus.

Apart from the political aspect, private capital has so far failed to drive any serious advances in geoengineering research. In 2007, Branson organized the Virgin Earth Challenge offering $25 million to any inventor of practicable CDR technology. The contest has attracted problematic entries and suffered numerous other setbacks, and the prize money has not been awarded. Time will tell, but the market may be the wrong way to pioneer climate engineering.

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