Monday, January 28, 2013

ETC Group Warns of "SRM Wars"

In a recent post (WEF Warns of Unilateral Deployment, 1/10), I mentioned a newly released report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) warning of threats to "global stability" caused by unilateral deployment of geoengineering technology leading to a "hijacked" climate.  As I noted, such scenarios are very unlikely to unfold, yet presenting them in serious policy terms as WEF does gives cover to less responsible critics who present even more outlandish claims.  Right on cue, the ETC Group has provided a case in point.

In a new "communique" titled "The Artificial Intelligence of Geoengineering," the ETC Group makes a rambling argument about artificial intelligence, the human genome, climate change, SRM, unilateralism, "complexity levels," and military conflict.  What begins as a meditation on complexity ends with the following:

SRM wars: Both unilateral global geoengineering initiatives and unilateral regional geoengineering initiatives represent a direct threat to global security and invite – almost require – responses from other governments. Especially, ocean and solar radiation management (SRM) interventions will start an escalation of meteorological experimentation that could quickly spin out of control. Geoengineering experimentation, then, is a transgression of the ENMOD (Environmental Modification) treaty of the 1970s and governments and/or the United Nations should immediately bring this concern before the International Court of Justice. In keeping with the geoengineering moratorium adopted by member governments at the UN Biodiversity Convention in 2010 and until the court makes its decision, no experimentation – outside of laboratories – can be allowed. (p. 7, boldface original)

This conclusion is full of inaccuracies and misleading statements.  Most egregious is the central assertion that climate interventions will trigger an experimental free-for-all, which will threaten global security, which unquestionably constitutes a violation of the ENMOD treaty.  In reality, the convention applies to actual utilization of technologies rather than theoretical potential; an uncoordinated climatological "arms race" is highly unlikely to occur given the technically complex nature of regional- and large-scale field trials; and, even if some sort of escalation did occur, there would clearly be no violation of ENMOD since the treaty applies strictly to "hostile" uses while expressly permitting environmental modification for "peaceful purposes."  ETC Group is likely to make such charges regardless of the broader discursive environment, yet speculations of the sort put forward by the WEF tend to lend such ravings a level of credibility they would not otherwise attain.

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