March 15, 2009


DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is
convening an unclassified meeting next week to discuss geoengineering, ScienceInsider has learned. DARPA is the latest in a number of official science funding agencies or top scientific societies that are exploring the controversial idea. But one leading advocate of the work opposes the military developing geoengineering techniques.
According to Wikipedia

Geoengineering is the idea of applying planetary engineering to Earth. Geoengineering would involve the deliberate modification of Earth's environment on a large scale "to suit human needs and promote habitability". Typically, the term is used to describe proposals to counter the effects of human-induced climate change. However, others define it more narrowly as focusing only on the mineralogy and hydrology of the Earth. The term geoengineering is distinct from environmental damage and accidental anthropogenic climate change, which are side-effects of human activity, rather than an intended consequence. Definitions of the term are not universally accepted.
Though I seem to have missed out on earlier discussions, this is evidently not a new topic of conversation as witness this article in Time magazine:

Geoengineering has long been the province of kooks, but as the difficulty of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions has become harder to ignore, it is slowly emerging as an option of last resort. The tipping point came in 2006, when the Nobel Prize—winning atmospheric scientist Paul Crutzen published an editorial examining the possibility of releasing vast amounts of sulfurous debris into the atmosphere to create a haze that would keep the planet cool. "Over the past couple of years, it's gone from an outsider thing to something that is increasingly discussed," says Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University.
Returning to our article in ScienceInsider we learn:

The 1-day meeting, to be held Wednesday at Stanford University, will be led by University of Illinois Urbana-Champlaign engineering professor Bill King under the auspices of the Defense Sciences Research Council, which advises DARPA. An agenda for the unpublicized event viewed by ScienceInsider listed top researchers who have studied geoengineering as speakers, including geochemist Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science and astrophysicist Gregory Benford of University of California-Irvine.

More and more prominent climate and energy scientists have expressed support for studies into various geoengineering approaches, such as sequestering carbon in the ocean by growing large swaths of algae.

And in the last 6 months top institutions have launched efforts to study the subject. The U.K. Royal Society has a study due out in the summer; the U.S. National Academies is hosting a workshop in the summer as well. The semi-secret JASONS group will be discussing the topic in a session in the coming months; the British Parliament has a commission examining whether the U.K. government should fund research into the matter.

No mainstream scientists are advocating using geoengineering techniques right now, but more and more researchers feel that a worsening picture of global climate change warrants studying such interventions in case of a climate emergency in the future. "We don't want to do geoengineering but we're in increasingly dire straits," says climate expert Michael MacCracken of the Climate Institute in Washington D.C., who has advocated publicly for research into geoengineering. He says that DARPA support for such work "could be good for the field."
Not sure, but I think this intrigues me more than it scares me (maybe I'm already about as scared as I can get about the coming impact of global warming on all of us (us=all living organisms). But it bears watching and all of us, to the extent that we can, need to be a part of the conversation.

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