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article imageThe plan to save the world from climate change: Plan B

By Stephanie Dearing     Feb 22, 2010 in Science
Plan B. It doesn't sound dangerous or insidious. It sounds more like being prepared for the unexpected, for contingencies. But a Canadian organization, Etc. Group has issued a warning about the Plan B conspiracy.
Ottawa, ON - The Canadian non-profit called Etc. Group, has issued a press release titled ' Top-down Planet Hackers Call for Bottom-up Governance -- Geoengineers Bid to Establish Voluntary Testing Regime Must be Opposed.' Known for having criticized geoengineering as 'geo-piracy,' the group is warning the world about Plan B, saying "... a small group of geoengineering advocates came away [from Copenhagen] emboldened by the summit’s weak outcome and uncertain road ahead. This group of scientists aims to get on with research and experimentation in controversial geoengineering technologies."
Now most people are scratching their heads and wondering what all the fuss is about. Geoengineering -- that's where they're heating and cooling houses by running hoses down into the earth, right? Actually, geoengineering is a term that covers a lot of ground, and encompasses techniques designed to reduce the effects of climate change and global warming.
It's strange that geoengineering hasn't been in the public eye much, as the science has been promoted to government leaders for the past ten years as a viable way to prevent continued heating of the earth through reflecting some of the sun's rays back into space. Geoengineer pioneer Edward Teller characterized the science as "sunscreen for the planet." Teller had proposed seeding the atmosphere with chemicals and microscopic particles that would reflect sunlight back into space.
While most of the people who are working to curb climate change want to change human behaviour and values before our activities permanently affect the earth's biospheres, geoengineers propose utilizing techniques that will prevent climate change without requiring any changes. The appeal is enormous, and when coupled with the promulgation of the science as our last chance to save the earth, the appeal of geoengineering is downright seductive.
One key promoter of geoengineering is the Canadian-based scientist, David Keith. Keith has himself pitched a proposal for a giant mirror stationed in space between the earth and the sun. His idea for a 600,000 square mile deflecting mirror got the attention of the American government in 2001. Keith not only acts as a spokesman for the science, he is a University of Calgary professor, and has started up his own geoengineering company, Carbon Engineering Ltd.
The idea of geoengineering the climate raises the hackles of most environmentalists, and Etc. Group said Solar Radiation Management (SRM), the ominously identified "Plan B," will proceed whether approved by world leaders or not. Diana Bronson from Etc. Group warned “This lobbying offensive has been underway for more than a year now but it has moved into a critical new phase. The world needs to pay attention. Geoengineers are now advocating real-world experiments with some of the most high-risk climate changing technologies and many of them have no intention of waiting for an international regulatory agreement."
The influential David Keith has got the ear of Bill Gates, warns Etc. Group. Keith has been advocating for "... an international programme of SRM research to grow one-hundred-fold (from $10 million to $1 billion over ten years). This would include experiments at a scale that is large enough for the climate to notice but small enough to “limit risks.”" Keith says action is required soon because climate change has the potential for impacting the earth for a very long time -- and because we really do no know what all the risks are. Thus Keith advocates for 'heading off climate change at the pass,' so to speak.
According to reports, the Gates Foundation itself is not supporting geoengineering. Rather, Bill Gates is said to be directly funding research on the science from his own bank account since 2007. So far, Bill Gates has not funded any real-life experiments. However, this is about to change, warns Etc. Group. With heavy hitters like Richard Branson staking out a piece of the climate pie, there is a possibility that experimentation with SRM techniques may enter the activation phase through experiments, which are being advocated by Keith.
A new organization has sprung up to finance geoengineering efforts. Called the Climate Response Fund, the non-profit was "... created to stimulate and support discussion and research into 'geoengineering' or climate intervention techniques and other activities needed to explore innovative solutions to the climate crisis facing the world."
The problem, according to Etc. Group, is that geoengineering is dangerous. The primary danger is the erosion of choice, should a handful of scientists and their backers proceed with experiments. There are the unknown physical effects, which vary depending on the method of SRM being examined. Another danger is attempts to alter human behaviour to prevent climate change will fail because of the ease and simplicity of dealing with climate change through solar radiation management.
Solar radiation management techniques are being favoured because of their comparatively low-cost to implement as well as their capacity to be de-activated quickly.
And the likelihood that geoengineering techniques will be deployed, even as experiments? The jury is still out, but there has been strong interest in the science for the last year from the United States. The real push, though, has come from the scientists experimenting with geoengineering techniques. Scientists and policy experts are meeting next month in California to discuss field trials. The conference, scheduled for March 22 to 26, was organized by the Climate Response Fund and Guttman Initiatives.
The Etc Group "... is dedicated to the conservation and sustainable advancement of cultural and ecological diversity and human rights. To this end, TC Group supports socially responsible developments of technologies useful to the poor and marginalized and it addresses international governance issues and corporate power."
More about Planb, Geoengineering, Climate change, David keith, Engineering
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