Green Activists Oppose U.K. Climate Engineering Experiment

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Activists would rather risk frying.

Some researchers in Britain are planning to test a system in October in which a hose held up by a helium balloon spews water into the atmosphere. The SPICE experiment (Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Enginieering) is a baby step toward evaluating a proposal to cool down the planet by injecting sulfur particles high into the stratosphere where they would reflect sunlight back into space. This idea mimics a proposal made in Reason back in 1997 by physicist and sci-fi writer Gregory Benford and more recently suggested by Nathan Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures project.

Now a bunch of activist groups (congregated at the website Hands Off Mother Earth) is asking other groups and individuals to sign an open letter urging the British government to stop the experiment. Why? The letter asserts:

We believe that such research is a dangerous distraction from the real need: immediate and deep emissions cuts. Some of the global political and ecological dangers of stratospheric aerosol injection have been identified through modeling studies and examination of the impacts of sulphuric dust emitted by volcanoes. Those impacts include the potential for further damage to the ozone layer, disruption of rainfall, particularly in tropical and subtropical regions, and potentially threatening the food supplies of billions of people. Furthermore, emergent SRM [solar radiation management] technologies will leave high levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, worsen ocean acidification and condemn future generations to continue a high-risk, planetary-scale technological intervention that is also likely to increase the risk of climate-related international conflict. The involvement of organizations and/or corporations associated with the military – as is Marshall Aerospace – increases that risk.

If this experiment is allowed to go ahead, many governments of the global South and many civil society organizations will conclude that the UK is not negotiating in good faith to reduce emissions, but is instead preparing to proceed down an alternative, very high-risk technological path. We hope you will make clear that is not the case.

What the opponents overlook is that this preliminary research is aimed at finding out just how risky this type of geo-engineering is. I suspect that one of the biggest risks they fear is that geo-engineering might actually work well. As Princeton Rutgers University environmental scientist Alan Robock has observed [PDF]:

"If humans perceive an easy technological fix to global warming that allows for 'business as usual,' gathering the national (particularly in the United States and China) and international will to change consumption patterns and energy infrastructure will be even more difficult."

The activists already assume that man-made global warming is a big problem. If that is so and there's a significant chance it might come on faster than is currently projected, it is just plain stupid to oppose research that could lead to the development an emergency cooling system for the planet. 

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  1. We believe that such research is a dangerous distraction from the real need: immediate and deep emissions cuts.

    Never about the environment was it?

    1. This so-called “research” is a dangerous distraction from the need for us to be given complete soul-crushing control over the pathetic lives of all you wretched little people who don’t know what’s best for you!

  2. Climate change activism isn’t about the problem, its about the solution. If it turns out that the problem doesn’t exist, a new problem will be found (or invented) to which the same solution will be applied.

    1. Very astute way of putting it.

    2. Back in the ’70s when the fear mongering was about a new Ice Age the “solutions” were the same as today – anti human and anti progress.

  3. Luddites.

  4. The argument presented by these activists is no more sophisticated than I threw it on the ground.

  5. With as little as we really know about how things work, geo-engineering seems like a really, really stupid idea. Unintended consequences and all. Kinda like messing with the economy.

    1. Yeah, you’re right. If only there were a way to do some sort of small-scale, carefully monitored experiment that would let us try to understand the potential risks and scope of any unintended consequences…. Sigh. Probably best to just junk the idea altogether and switch to fluorescent light bulbs.

      1. See below.

    2. I don’t disagree with that. At the same time, a coordinated attempt to decrease the total amount of carbon emitted by human activity in a geologically short time window is a form of geo-engineering. It would be foolish to assume that the result must be a return to the climate status quo of a hundred years ago.

    3. I agree. Notice that the two things we have done so far about global warming (ethanol from corn and fluorescent ‘mercury bulbs’) may end up having serious environmental consequences. Also, are we really certain that global warming is the problem we think it is?

      I still think its funny that the people who think we are approaching a climate catastrophe are against this possible solution, as though it would be cheating somehow.

  6. MissBrooks: Research is the way to find “about how things work.”

    1. Yeah, I know. My point is that research is done in a relatively controlled environment. While it can give us new information, it’s not going to give us all of it. There are too many variables about climate, etc., of which scientists are ignorant (as evidenced by the inability of climate models to predict (project, forecast, whatever) accurately) for them to go messing around with the atmosphere. Stupendously dumb idea.

      1. Yeah, because a limited, small scale test couldn’t possibly provide data useful to both a understanding about how the climate works in general and how climate engineering could effect the world on a global scale. It’s just too risky to do anything. C.c

  7. Actually I am a professor at Rutgers University, and not at Princeton.

    Alan Robock

    1. Whoops. Sorry for the error. The correction has been made. Thanks for alerting me to it so promptly.

    2. Regardless, you still scored the money quote for the article. smh.

    3. You have a Google News alert on your name, huh?

      1. Not necessarily. I mean, who doesn’t check in on reason.com to see what the brilliant minds at H&R are discussing?

    4. You are just an o and c away from an awesome name, professor.

  8. That would be: find out “about how things work.”

  9. In the old days, residents of the New Jersey barrier islands lived in homes that they could relocate every few years as the shoreline crept towards their front steps. Today, environmentalists demand authority over all gas exchanges so that they can allegedly stop the shoreline from moving. I say, we should adjust our sails rather than try changing the wind.

    1. But we can control the wind, all we need are TOP MEN.

  10. We believe that such research is a dangerous distraction from the real need: immediate and deep emissions cuts.

    And of course, there’s a contingent of the environmental movement, much like so-con moral busybodies, who this kind of self-deprivation as an end in itself.

  11. We believe that such research is a dangerous distraction from the real need: immediate and deep emissions cuts.

    The purity of this quote is amazing. It’s not about solving climate change. It’s about destroying capitalism.

    1. On occasion these people can be caught in a truth, but it is rare.

  12. I still cant believe how carbon got my spot light!

    I mean come on! I CAUSE combustion for christs sake! Agreeed apon by consensus! By TOP MEN!

    And now their gonna fix things with a garden hose and balloons? That sounds like a kids back yard birthday party!

    Where’s the distillation of piss to extract phosphorus? The inhalation of ethers? Random application of electric shocks to the women? Now THAT’s Science! And a heck of a party!

  13. Injecting elemental sulfur or sulfur-oxides? Because if it’s the latter let’s just quit stripping the stuff out of coal and diesel.

    1. but then the acid rain wouldn’t fall in the ocean where there are no lakes to destroy.

    2. You are right, the root cause of global warming is the catalytic converter. Global temperatures starting rising after its introduction.

      Unfortunately most of the stuff stays close to the ground. The problem is getting it high enough in the atmosphere without bothering the neighbors.

      We need to move factories and power plants away from cities and give them really tall smokestacks.

    3. China’s probably taking the lead.

  14. More evidence that environmentalism is a religion and no friend to science.

  15. The science is settled: Capitalism and technology are to blame for everything and any deviation from that narrative is distracting and unhelpful

    I’m not sure I follow the ‘Hands Off Mother Earth’-team’s doomsday scenario

    (e.g. “… damage to the ozone layer, disruption of rainfall, particularly in tropical and subtropical regions, and potentially threatening the food supplies of billions of people. Furthermore, emergent SRM [solar radiation management] technologies will leave high levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, worsen ocean acidification and condemn future generations to continue a high-risk, planetary-scale technological intervention …”)

    they suggest even, “Allowing the experiment” (everything not mandated is forbidden?) would trigger a slide into pursuit of ‘dangerous geo-engineering’?

    It seems that they expect said experiment to be a *wild success* if thats what one single experiment would lead to?

    If they think this particular process was actually *so bad*, you’d think they’d be thrilled to have the experiment go forward, and be demonstrated to be unfeasible…?

    They think the *idea* of geo-engineering is a horrible thing because it suggests there’s possible “solutions” other than handing over all future economic growth to a global team of technocratic regulators. Or something like that. Also, it will make Africa mad at us, or something….

  16. We also feel that ‘science’ which fails to empower our organization and increase our authority on earth should be repressed.

  17. The involvement of organizations and/or corporations associated with the military ? as is Marshall Aerospace ? increases that risk.

    Is it just me, or is this some kind of bastard offspring of the ad hominem and the non sequitur?

  18. “If humans perceive an easy technological fix to global warming that allows for ‘business as usual,’ gathering the national (particularly in the United States and China) and international will to change consumption patterns and energy infrastructure will be even more difficult.”

    Translation: It was never ever about controlling Global Warming, you dolts! It has been and always will be about controlling YOU!

    1. Pretty much. It’s like abstinence only education — even if distributing condoms protected kids from the widely agreed upon evils of STDs and unplanned pregnancy, fundies would oppose it because they don’t care about the negative consequences of sex, they care about the fact that people are having it. I guess you could say the same about e-cigs or any number of other things, though.

  19. Let’s just go back to everyone cooling the Earth by opening their refrigerators and iceboxes at the same time. That plan should satisfy HOME’s concerns about atmospheric engineering.

  20. We believe that such research is a dangerous distraction from the real need: immediate and deep emissions cuts.

    What really chaps my hide is that this method simply will not work. Demographically, economically, socially–it’s impossible. Hanging my clothes out to dry and planting a tree is not going to solve global warming, so if it’s as bad as these guys say it will be, we absolutely have to be trying out geoengineering solutions. Right? Right?

  21. “it is just plain stupid to oppose research that could lead to the development an emergency cooling system for the planet.”

    ‘Bout as stupid as anti-tobacco activists protesting the use of snuff or e-cigs.

    If this stuff pans out, there goes their rice bowl.

  22. What’s next? Louis Farrakhan’s spaceship or magical Sasquatch unicorns, or intergalactic leprechauns any time soon?

    I understand that nobody wants to feel like a fool, and so there is a sort of cognitive dissonance at work here in which people who bought into the AGW scam don’t want to admit to themselves that they got snookered. But what-on-earth, man? An “emergency cooling system” for the earth? Spraying water to try and cool the atmosphere?

    This is idiotic.

    Have you ever flown to Hawaii? Around 5 hours of flight at over 500 miles per hour ground speed, and all you see is ocean from horizon to horizon. When you land, you’re only about halfway across the Pacific.

    The Challenger Deep is over 35,000 feet below mean sea level (msl) and the troposphere extends to 11 or more miles above msl at the equator, with the stratosphere continuing on to as much as 31 miles above msl. In other words, this planet, and its atmosphere, are UNBELIEVABLY, INCREDIBLY, HUGELY GI-FRICKIN’-NORMOUS!

    You can’t cool it down.

    You can’t warm it up.

    [Rips hair out, spins around in a tantrum or exasperation, falls out the door muttering to himself…]

  23. worsen ocean acidification and condemn future generations to continue a high-risk, planetary-scale technological intervention that is also likely to increase the risk of climate-related international conflict.
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