Big Names Behind US Push for Geoengineering
Coalition of the Most Powerful Academic, Military, Scientific and Corporate Interests has set its Sights on Vast Potential Profits
By John Vidal
UK scientists last week "postponed" one of the world's first attempts to physically manipulate the upper atmosphere to cool the planet. Okay, so the Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering project wasn't actually going to spray thousands of tonnes of reflective particles into the air to replicate a volcano, but the plan to send a balloon with a hose attached 1km into the sky above Norfolk was an important step towards the ultimate techno-fix for climate change.
Photo courtesy explainthestuff/NASA
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 the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) published a major report calling for the United States and other likeminded countries to move towards large-scale climate change experimentation. Trying to rebrand geoengineering as "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.
So what is the BPC and should we take this non-profit group seriously? For a start these guys - and they are indeed mostly men - are not bipartisan in any sense that the British would understand. The operation is part-funded by big oil, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, and while it claims to "represent a consensus among what have historically been divergent views," it appears to actually represent the most powerful US academic, military, scientific and corporate interests. It lobbies for free trade, US military supremacy and corporate power and was described recently as a "collection of neo-conservatives, hawks, and neoliberal interventionists who want to make war on Iran".
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 with David 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.
This column originally appeared in The Guardian, UK.