The reason the British scientists gave for pulling back was that more time was needed for consultation. In retrospect, it seems bizarre that they had only talked to a few members of the public. It was only when 60 global groups wrote to the UK government and the resarch groups behind the project requesting cancellation that they paid any attention to critics.
Over the Atlantic, though, the geoengineers are more gung-ho. Just days after the British got cold feet, the Washington-based thinktank theBipartisan Policy Center (BPC) published a major report calling for theUnited States and other likeminded countries to move towards large-scale climate change experimentation. Trying to rebrand geoengineeringas "climate remediation", the BPC report is full of precautionary rhetoric, but its bottom line is that there should be presidential leadership for the nascent technologies, a "coalition of willing" countries to experiment together, large-scale testing and big government funding.
Their specially convened taskforce is, in fact, the cream of the emerging science and military-led geoengineering lobby with a few neutrals chucked in to give it an air of political sobriety. It includes former ambassadors, an assistant secretary of state, academics, and a chief US climate negotiator.
Notable among the group is David Whelan, a man who spent years in the US defence department working on the stealth bomber and nuclear weapons and who now leads a group of people as Boeing's chief scientist working on "ways to find new solutions to world's most challenging problems".
There are signs of cross US-UK pollination – one member of the taskforce is John Shepherd, who recently wrote for the Guardian: "I've concluded that geoengineering research – and I emphasise the term research – is, sadly, necessary." But he cautioned: "what we really need is more and better information. The only way to get that information is through appropriate research."
It also includes several of geoengineering's most powerful academic cheerleaders. Atmosphere scientist Ken Caldeira, from Stanford University, used to work at the National laboratory at Livermore with the people who developed the ill-fated "star wars" weapons. Together withDavid Keith, a researcher at the University of Calgary in Canada, who is also on the BPC panel, Caldeira manages billionaire Bill Gates's geoengineering research budget. Both scientists have patents pending on geoengineering processes and both were members of of the UK Royal Society's working group on geoengineering which in 2009 recommended more research. Meanwhile, Keith has a company developing a machine to suck CO2 out of the year and Caldeira has patented ideas to stop hurricanes forming.
In sum, this coalition of US expertise is a group of people which smell vast potential future profits for their institutions and companies in geo-engineering.
Watch out. This could be the start of the next climate wars.
MICCO, Fla. (CBS Tampa/AP) – Florida officials are abuzz as to how millions of honey bees were killed in Brevard County.
Several beekeepers in the county have reported lost colonies this week. Charles Smith of Smith Family Honey Company told Stuart News Thursday he lost 400 beehives. He says the bees appeared to have been poisoned.
“I’ll never get completely compensated for this unless someone handed me 400 beehives,” Smith told Stuart News. “I lost the bees, the ability to make honey and the ability to sell the bees.”
State officials are testing the bees to determine what type of chemicals contributed to their deaths.
Experts say pesticides might be behind the lost beehives.
“The fact that it was so widespread and so rapid, I think you can pretty much rule out disease,” Bill Kern, an entomologist with the University of Florida’s Research and Education Center, told Florida Today. “It happened essentially almost in one day. Usually diseases affect adults or the brood, you don’t have something that kills them both.”
The case in Micco, 18 miles south of Melbourne, is being investigated by state agriculture officials and the sheriff’s office.
FIELD trials for experiments to engineer the climate have begun. Next month a team of UK researchers will hoist one end of a 1-kilometre-long hose aloft using a balloon, then attempt to pump water up it and spray it into the atmosphere (see diagram).
The water will not affect the climate. Rather, the experiment is a proof of principle to show that we can pump large quantities of material to great heights. If it succeeds, a larger-scale version could one day pump sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere, creating a sunshade that will offset the greenhouse effect.
The trial, led by Matthew Watson of the University of Bristol, UK, is part of a £2 million project called Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE). Funded by two UK research councils, it also aims to find out the ideal particles to use in an atmospheric sunshade and will attempt to model their effects in greater detail than ever before. The test is not alone: a string of other technologies that could be used to "geoengineer" our environment are being field-tested (see "Coping with emissions").
In his blog, The Reluctant Geoengineer, Watson argues that we need to investigate the effects of sulphate aerosols as a last-resort remedy should the climate start to change rapidly. Researchers contacted by New Scientistagreed with Watson that such research should continue, if only to find out whether the techniques are feasible. "I'd say there's a 50-50 chance we'll end up doing it, because it'll get too warm and people will demand the planet be cooled off," says Wallace Broecker of Columbia University in New York. But there was less enthusiasm for SPICE's approach to the problem.
There are "large gaps" in our understanding of geoengineering, says Thomas Stocker of the University of Bern in Switzerland. Stocker helped to organise an expert meeting on geoengineering in June for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It identified key unanswered questions that should be a focus for research. However, it is not clear that field trials like Watson's will provide the answers.
One area of doubt over injecting aerosols into the stratosphere is whether it will change the behaviour of high-altitude clouds. That could in turn affect the climate in ways beyond what was intended - and for now, we don't know how, or how much. Aerosols could also deplete the ozone layer, contribute to air pollution and may alter visibility in the same way as large volcanic eruptions can.
The SPICE test won't answer any of these questions, says David Keith of Harvard University. "I think it's a little reckless." The most interesting result will be how the public reacts, he says.
What's more, Keith adds, in the long run delivering sulphates to the stratosphere with a hose would be a bad idea. Spraying aerosols locally allows the particles to clump together, making them less effective at reflecting sunlight and more likely to be swept down by rain (Environmental Research Letters, DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/4/4/045108).
The point, says Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California, is that experiments like Watson's, which test relatively simple delivery systems, address the issue of cost. But, since the Aurora study has shown that cost is not a critical factor - a sunshade will be relatively inexpensive - the critical questions relate to potential risks.
More importantly, since a stratospheric sunshade is intended to have a global impact, all countries must agree to such a project and to its precise extent,which is unlikely to happen.
One possibility that may help countries agree is that the sunshade need not be applied evenly across the globe. Caldeira has created, in a climate model, a sunshade with much larger quantities of aerosols above the poles than above the tropics. This produced a temperature distribution much closer to the pre-industrial climate than could be achieved with a uniform sunshade (Environmental Research Letters, DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/5/3/034009).
Caldeira and others are now toying with the idea of regional geoengineering, or "geoadaptation". Some techniques, such as making clouds over the seas more reflective, should have localised effects, so countries could in theory tinker only with their own climate.
But here too uncertainties need to be resolved. Gavin Schmidt of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York points out that changes in one area will have a knock-on effect on the other side of the planet. "What happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas," he says. We could perhaps predict these long-range effects, but we cannot eliminate them.
Schmidt says that what we need is not field tests, but better modelling studies. Most simulations of geoengineering are "naive", he says, and cannot model all the possible side effects. "People are not doing the right kinds of experiments to assess these effects," he says.