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Geoengineering as a Potential Part of the Climate Change Solution

Scott Cooney | Thursday February 4th, 2010 | 2 Comments

Geoengineering has been tossed around as a potential solution for climate change.

Jamais (Ja-may) Cascio, Senior Fellow of The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, presented an informative session on Geoengineering at the 2010 State of Green Business Forum in San Francisco.  Geoengineering can be described as the use of  large-scale manipulation of our environment in order to counteract the climate altering effects of changes in atmospheric chemistry.  Think large scale solar shields that reflect much of the sun’s energy and shade the earth below them.  Think fertilization of the ocean so that it will produce huge algal blooms that will eventually die, sink to the bottom of the ocean, and act like a giant carbon sink.  Think lining clouds with elements that are more reflective so that more of the sun’s energy is reflected back into space.

Terrifying?  Perhaps. In small amounts, geoengineering is underway everywhere.  Have you bought a carbon offset lately?  Odds are, someone somewhere is using that money to reforest a cattle-degraded hillside in the tropics.  It’s manipulating the environment in order to lock away carbon.  As it is scaled up, however, geoengineering takes on much larger ramifications.

The potential in geoengineering is there for last-ditch efforts to save the planet when and if climate catastrophes come.  But the potential for so much more…is also there.  Is it that hard to imagine Halliburton getting a no-bid government contract from America’s 54th President, Dick Cheney, Jr., for trillions of dollars under the pretenses of ‘saving the ski industry’ in the U.S.?  Who will govern such projects?  Who will decide when they are done, and how?  Cascio, of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, studies the phenomenon, and offers 5 steps to safer geoengineering. Cascio is the first to admit that these steps do not make geoengineering safe.  These only reduce the risk potential.

1.  Transparency.  Open source models allow for greater analysis of potential flaws.

2.  Ongoing International Advisory Group.  There’s a need to have coordination and cooperation among countries, so that everyone feels they have a say in what’s happening.

3.  A ‘bottom-up’ EcoScientists Without Borders.  A group to hold geoengineers’ feet to the fire, and to do so in a way that they are not tied to any particular entity or country.

4.  Clear mechanisms for resolving disputes.  How do we determine responsibility and who pays when something goes wrong?

5.  A ban (with teeth) on non-state projects.  The private sector clearly would have the financial resources to pay for initiatives like this.  Why would they want to?  Who knows, but a clear potential is there for people to believe themselves to be heroes, and despite good intentions, the potential for disaster is inevitable.

Scott Cooney, Co-Founder of GreenBusinessVillage.com, an incubator for social entrepreneurship, is covering the State of Green Business Conference in beautiful San Francisco.  Got a question for the conference?  Send to Scott [at] GreenBusinessVillage.com.


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  • kwhilden

    It's true that geoengineering is already happening on a giant unintentional scale. 'Climate change' is geoengineering, plain and simple. I agree with all of the points made up until the last one. It makes no sense whatsoever to outright 'ban' private funds from paying for geoengineering activities. It's hard enough to find funding for this research regardless of the source of funds. As long as points 1-4 are put in place, then it won't matter where the source of funding and action comes from.

  • kwhilden

    It's true that geoengineering is already happening on a giant unintentional scale. 'Climate change' is geoengineering, plain and simple. I agree with all of the points made up until the last one. It makes no sense whatsoever to outright 'ban' private funds from paying for geoengineering activities. It's hard enough to find funding for this research regardless of the source of funds. As long as points 1-4 are put in place, then it won't matter where the source of funding and action comes from.