Azara Blog: British geoengineering research test put on hold

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Date published: 2011/10/01

The BBC says:

A pioneering test of a climate "tech fix" planned for October faces a six-month delay as scientists discuss the issues it raises with their critics.

The test is part of the UK-based Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (Spice) project.

It would use a balloon and a kilometre-long hose to spray water into the upper atmosphere - a prelude to spraying climate-cooling sulphate particles.

But the funders believe that more talks about the social aspects are needed.

The project is supported to the tune of £1.6m by UK research councils, including the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), whose independent advisory panel recommended the delay last week.

The test would have put the UK at the forefront of practical climate engineering research.

Dr Matt Watson of the UK's Bristol University, who leads the overall project, said he endorsed the decision, although his team had been "taken aback" when they first heard the news.

"We're talking about a pressure washer you could buy in a hardware shop, a long hose, and two bathloads of water, so you couldn't have a more benign experiment," he told BBC News.

"But in the end it's the social context that's important - and we realise there's no point in having the (ESPRC independent panel) process unless we're going to work with it."

The initial deployment, due to take place from an abandoned airfield in Sculthorpe, Norfolk, will almost certainly not take place before April.
The Spice team - drawn from a number of universities as well as Marshall Aerospace - calculates that 10 or 20 giant balloons at a 20km altitude could release enough particles into the atmosphere to reduce the global temperature by around 2C.

But opponents argue that even testing could have harmful impacts, that there are questions of ethics and international law that remain unanswered, and that even raising the prospect of geoengineering distracts from initiatives to curb emissions.

Helena Paul, co-director of environment group EcoNexus, said she was "really pleased" at the latest news.

"We are certainly not ready to carry out experiments, and this project should not just be delayed, but should be cancelled immediately," she told BBC News.

"This is particularly important because while the scientists involved keep saying that reducing emissions is the primary necessity, they risk distracting attention from that necessity at a crucial moment."
However, Dr Watson said there was a need to divorce the concept of researching these technologies from their actual deployment as a climate "fix".

"My personal framing of this is that there is a very big difference between being keen to research geoengineering and being an advocate for deployment," he said.

"I am not in any way an advocate for deployment."

Watson is being rather naive or disingenuous with his claim that this is only research. There is no point to the research unless you believe that some day it might be deployed.

On the other hand, the delay is just pandering to the usual suspects who cannot cope with life in the 20th century (never mind the 21st). No amount of conversation with these people will ever convince them to change their opinion. Scientists should have learned that lesson from the GM fiasco, where the hysterical anti-GM brigade never accepted any scientific evidence or reason. These people are against science and technology for ideological (i.e. in effect religious) reasons, not rational reasons. Indeed, the "argument" made by Paul against this research is that mankind must whip itself into a frenzy against carbon rather than trying to find a way of living with carbon. Why? Well, because these luddites say so.

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