Saturday, October 15, 2011

Lessons from the SPICE Delay

The SPICE stratospheric aerosol testbed delay has been much discussed inside and outside the geoengineering community. To recap what is known, it appears that the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) independent panel advising SPICE expressed concern over insufficient stakeholder engagement in the run-up to the pipe-balloon engineering test, originally scheduled for October. The advisory panel recommended a six-month delay in testing, and project managers agreed. During this interlude, the SPICE project team will conduct a more thorough round of consultations with stakeholders and other interested parties. The ETC Group predictably claimed credit for the delay, although SPICE project manager Matt Watson attributes the postponement to issues raised by a broader set of actors.

There are a couple of lessons to take away from this episode. First, public engagement will be essential to the success of any large-scale geoengineering experiment. This point was made well by Jane Long, co-chair of the group responsible for the recent Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) report on climate engineering research (see BPC Report, 10/6):

Public engagement may be slow, time-consuming, and even frustrating, but the alternative is greater controversy and a more energized opposition.

Second, whether or not ETC Group was actually responsible for the testbed delay, once again we see a loud, organized opposition to climate engineering, but no countervailing voice of reason to make the case for a robust research program. The geoengineering community is essentially networked. While this structure is advantageous for generating ideas and discussion, it is disadvantageous when it comes to promoting concrete action in the political arena. The SPICE delay just reinforces the need for more organization among advocates of climate engineering research. Fortunately, an effort is currently underway (involving myself and others) to bring a greater level of coherence and institutionalization to geoengineering research advocacy. With more organization in place, future debates and controversies related to climate engineering should be more balanced and informative, with outcomes that are more responsive to the planetary emergency we face.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Josh,

    I'd really like to get this cleared up properly and I'm looking for ways to do that which would reach as many people as possible (hence little on my blog recently). I think Jane's criticism is a little unwarranted, given the amount of effort we've gone to to 'self-govern' although she may argue otherwise. It's unclear if the 'they mismanaged it' is aimed at the scientists or not?

    I hope you're efforts are successful and, having been unfamiliar with 'organised opposition' until recently, I wonder if it is because we feel bound by rules about honesty and transparency those who are ideologically driven don't adhere to?