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Some types of geoengineering should be banned, former UK science advisor says

13 Jan 2010

The UK Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee had a hearing today (which you can watch online) on how geoengineering could be regulated.

This is a thorny issue, as I described in my recent article, “Planning for Plan B”, since the whole idea of geoengineering is to try to cool down the whole planet to fight global warming—either directly, by blocking some of the sunlight hitting the planet, or by pulling vast quantities of CO2 out of the air.

Either way—whether direct or indirect—it would be a gargantuan task, and many of the techniques could have severe side-effects, and even while cooling down the planet as a whole, could hurt some people in the process.

Some researchers argue that tests should go forward, because it would be a good idea to start working on these options, in case global warming turns out to be worse than we thought.

But former UK science advisor David King argued before the UK Parliament committee that some geoengineering approaches are too risky to even test right now. One type of approach, known as solar radiation management, would spray tiny droplets of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere or use other techniques to block some of the sunlight hitting Earth. But a big problem with that is it doesn’t address the root cause of global warming, which is the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Also, it doesn’t do anything about the build-up of these gases in the oceans as well, which is turning the oceans acidic and could make it hard for many kinds of marine life.

So King said:

In terms of solar radiation managment, I would move fairly swiftly into a temporary ban [until] we find a feasible way forward for that. I’m not happy about smaller experiments being conducted at this stage in time, before the unintended consequences have been fully evaluated.

You can hear an excerpt from his comments here:


For more details, check out the documents submitted to the Parliament committee.


books I've read on failure & grace

The World Without Us
The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster
Hell and High Water: Global Warming--the Solution and the Politics--and What We Should Do
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
The Tipping Point
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time
The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization
Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail
The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850
Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff
Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

Mason's favorite books »