Rachel Smolker Co-director, Biofuelwatch
In the wake of the climate negotiations in Warsaw, the consensus appears near universal: the international process is not going to deliver, and it is up to countries and communities to go it on their own. For some, that means taking serious and dramatic steps to reduce emissions. For others, like Bangladesh or the island nations, it means finding a way to survive the consequences of climate change with little help from the international community. For all of us, it means facing a future of weather extremes, crop failures and potential disruption of virtually everything on an unprecedented scale. For advocates of climate geoengineering, the failure of global agreement is wind in their sails: “More reasons” why drastic measures such as spewing sulphate particles into the stratosphere, or “fertilizing” the ocean with iron filings, or burning and burying billions of tons biomass (as biochar or “bioenergy with carbon capture and storage”) should be seriously considered and research should be gloriously funded.
Of course the converse argument is that if global agreement on addressing climate change cannot be achieved, how can we possibly expect any global consensus on, or governance of “technomanagement” of the atmosphere where the risks of serious negative consequences, for some people in some places, at least, are so grave?
This worries me profoundly, and apparently others as well. It is why faculty from Johns Hopkins University and American University recently launched a new, Washington DC based “Climate Geoengineering Consortium“.The stated goal of the consortium, perhaps laudable, is “to generate space for perspectives from civil society actors and the wider public, to produce a heightened level of engagement around issues of justice, agency, and inclusion.” Perhaps I am too skeptical, but “generating space” for a debate seems a bit vague. This new consortium recently organized a meeting, slated as a “closed door” meeting of civil society representatives. Closed meetings for civil society always make me a little nervous. Especially when the topic is planetary scale interference with the global commons — the life support systems of our planet!
I’m not sure really how I ended up on the list of invitees, but I decided to attend. The meeting was held in a stark space at Johns Hopkins, with the requisite sleek furnishings and snack plates wrapped securely in sparkling plastic. Nobody in attendance was a shade darker than a bowl of oatmeal, all were dressed in drab, illuminated by glowing computers, tablets and smartphones. Represented were staff from Johns Hopkins and American University, as well as the conservative American Enterprise Institute (Lee Lane), Bipartisan Policy Center, NASA (Mike McCracken), the renowned blogger, Joe Romm, and long time (but now retired) Friends of the Earth director, Brent Blackwelder. There were representatives from U.S. Climate Action Network, Greenpeace, Food and Water Watch and various others. Certainly more diverse than some meetings, but even I could not avoid the sensation of being sort of a token.
Strikingly absent from the event was the single organization (ETC Group) that has been for years already working to raise awareness of climate geoengineering proposals among civil society via their “Hands Off Mother Earth” campaign, and also via their dogged and successful effort to promote a defacto ban on geoengineering through the Convention on Biodiversity. No other NGO has devoted anywhere near the attention to the issue, and yet oddly they were not behind these closed doors.
As expected, the opening remarks focused on reconfirming for us a sense of desperation, as we face global warming already on track to utter catastrophe. No disagreement there. We were told that climate scientists are running scared and so they are increasingly, even if reluctantly, turning to a “Plan B” for the planet. Plan B of course, being none other than, say, dumping sulphate particles into the stratosphere, pouring iron filings into the ocean, or perhaps charring and burying vast quantities of “biomass”.