(MENAFN - Daily Outlook Afghanistan) Although the effects of climate change arebecoming increasingly apparent, the progress toward reducing greenhouse-gasemissions remains as disappointing as ever, leading some to tout newtechnological solutions that could supposedly save the day. Harvard University'sDavid Keith, for example, would have us consider geoengineering – that is,deliberate, large-scale, and highly risky interventions in the Earth's climatesystem.
This past March at the United Nationsenvironmental conference in Nairobi, Kenya, the United States and Saudi Arabiablocked an effort to scrutinize geoengineering and its implications forinternational governance. Meanwhile, Keith's Stratospheric ControlledPerturbation Experiment (SCoPEx) in the US – which aims to test a form of geoengineeringknown as Solar Radiation Management (SRM) – seems to be moving forward.
SRM depends on so-called StratosphericAerosol Injection, whereby a high-altitude balloon sprays large quantities ofinorganic particles into the stratosphere with the goal of reflecting somesunlight back into space. SCoPEx would send a balloon equipped with scientificinstruments some 12 miles (20 kilometers) above the ground to test thereflectivity of various substances.
But these technical aspects of theexperiment are far less important than its political, social, and geopoliticalimplications. After all, the risks of geoengineering could not be more serious.If deployed at scale, SRM could disrupt the monsoons in Asia and cause droughtsin Africa, affecting the food and water supplies of two billion people. The useof sulfuric acid – the most studied option, and the one SCoPEx initiallyintended to test – could further deplete the ozone layer. (More recently,SCoPEx has been mentioning only carbonates.)
The recent launch of an independentadvisory committee for SCoPEx seems to be aimed at lending legitimacy to a kindof experiment that the rest of the world has agreed is too dangerous to allow.Moreover, the panel's membership is exclusively US-based, and mostly linked to eliteinstitutions, which raises questions about whose interests are really beingserved.
These concerns are reinforced by the factthat the SCoPEx pitch is fundamentally manipulative. The results from a'small-scale experiment would not amount to a credible assessment of theeffects of deploying SRM at the scale needed for geoengineering. As climatescientists have made clear, the only way to know how SRM (or any othergeoengineering technique) would affect the climate is to deploy it over severaldecades on a massive scale. Otherwise, its effects could not be distinguishedfrom other climate variables and 'climate noise.
Given that geoengineering is, by nature,not testable, all experiments like SCoPEx can do is create momentum for largerand longer experiments. Once millions of dollars have been sunk into creatingthe relevant institutions and employing large numbers of people, it becomeseasier to argue that even more data should be collected and, finally, that thetechnology should be deployed.
In this sense, projects like SCoPEx set anew and dangerous precedent for the unilateral implementation of geoengineeringtechnologies by billionaires and vested interests. Indeed, as the Center forInternational Environmental Law and the Heinrich Böll Foundation's recentreport, Fuel to Fire, points out, fossil-fuel companies have been investing ingeoengineering for decades. For them, the promise of a technologicalget-out-of-jail-free card is an ideal pretext for continuing their highlyprofitable, destructive activities.
In fact, Keith's own company, CarbonEngineering, recently received $68 million from Occidental Petroleum, Chevron,and the coal giant BHP (Billiton) to develop another potentially dangerousgeoengineering approach – Direct Air Capture, which takes CO2 from theatmosphere, to be used or stored. Among the company's original funders is theoil sands financier N. Murray Edwards (as well as Bill Gates).
Allowing such projects to move forwardwith no political mandate or institutional oversight could entrench a system ofself-regulation that is grossly inadequate for technologies as consequential asgeoengineering. That is why the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) has askedgovernments not to allow any geoengineering activities to be carried out until'a global, transparent, and effective control and regulatory mechanism is putin place – a mechanism that adheres to the 'precautionary approach.
The CBD decision made an exception forsmall-scale experiments, but only under certain conditions, which SCoPExdoesn't meet: among them, carrying out experiments in 'controlled settings andacquiring the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples and localcommunities that may be affected. Furthermore, in the case of SCoPEx, nocritical voices from civil society or developing-country governments seem tohave been considered.
SCoPEx's promoters appear determined totake advantage of the US's failure to ratify the CBD. The fact that the SCoPExadvisory committee is chaired by a California government official, LouiseBedsworth, also raises the question of whether a state that has positioneditself as a climate leader is now embracing the most controversial form ofgeoengineering.
Rather than allow fossil-fuel companiesthat have ravaged our planet for profit to continue to act in their owninterest, the world must establish a strong, multilateral democratic regulatorymechanism, which includes the option to ban certain technologies outright.Until such an international system is in place, experiments like SCoPEx – whichthreaten to act as a Trojan horse for deploying dangerous technologies at scale– must not be allowed to move forward.