Friday, 1 August 2014

Day 4

Day 4 contained the beginnings of the students towards developing (and presenting) their own research and ideas. The different 'controversies' now have groups of students thinking about them and developing ideas. These will be finessed over time into short, exciting research proposals. The participants of the school also had an opportunity to present research findings in parallel sessions at the end of the day. The talks were stimulating, well presented and produced some interesting early results. Most notable for me was a study on drought in China and the influence of pre-existing pollution on MCB efforts.

I think I have got to the bottom of the issue around detection that has been kicking around the school. The idea goes like this - the climate system is noisy and slow ramps would not, for at least a decade, show any response that is outside of natural variation. The counter argument (I assumed) was to consider paleoclimates, data assimilation etc to reduce the detection lag. It turns out that the real counter argument is that it doesn't matter than you can't attribute, especially given any response is within the noise. I think this is really interesting and points to issues I have with both stances. The first relies too much on models and overhypes risk, the second (I think) shows an absence of consideration of realpolitik. It may not matter scientifically that attribution is impossible, I suspect it matters politically. I need some more time to unpick this, but that's as good a summary as I can distil at the moment.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Day 3

Well, day 3, where do we start? Alan Robock and I were up to bat to talk about outdoor experiments - I am not sure our remit was better fleshed out than that. Controversy was desirable but never really likely given our relative positions - there are things we don't agree on for sure but at our core, for different reasons maybe, are similar values. Actually,  I suspect that is true of most of the school now I think about it.

Anyway, the general consensus was that Alan focused a bit too much on model uncertainty and I focused too much on governance. Others wanted to explore likely experiments (I did approach one) and think about governance once the experiments were detailed. I think that makes sense but it does fill me with unease just to present potential outdoor experiments without some discussion of both environmental and social impact.

One really interesting question posed to me was 'imagine if you had an identical world to manipulate, what experiments would you conduct?'. I was surprised, alarmed and, actually, subsequently relieved that I struggled to answer. The question itself is not hard, 'what do you want to know from experiments?' and I eventually answered, but the construct of the question threw me. Initially I think I felt a little ashamed for not being nimble enough mentally to circumvent the absurdity at the framing but, on reflection, I think it's a function of my change of mindset and one I am comfortable with. The truth is, you cannot decouple impacts on the planet and its people from climate perturbation and, I believe, nor should you. In the end I had to construct a slightly altered framework where the system could be reset without harm (some form of time travel I suppose) where no lasting impacts were felt. The answer I gave is, I think, correct - it is impacts on things you value (water, crops, biodiversity) that need to be at the centre of any investigative effort that would cause a climatological response.

Alan and then David Keith then presented on GeoMIP5 and the hypothetical experimental suite (solicited from a meeting in Harvard) respectively.

On the walk home I wondered about an extension to the trolley problem which I think was derived directly from my unease this morning. What if the current position of the points was somehow your fault (i.e. you had set, or had instructed to be set, the points incorrectly)? Would that make one more likely to intervene in the system, switch the points and reduce, but not eliminate the death toll? (the trolley experiment is described here if you've no idea what I am talking about).


Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Day 2

Back on track with my second post. Today (really today) was a new format. There were two sets of 'adversarial' discussions - David Keith and Ulrich Platt on SRM efficacy and Ted Parsons and Alexander Proelss on Governance. Both were illuminating, neither were particularly adversarial. Alexander did have to argue somewhat out of his comfort zone (a principle I am now familiar with) and I think did a very good jobBetter than me, anyway. In one comedy moment David and Uli tried to engender some difference by blindly answering the question 'what proportion of a 10M budget would you spend on investigating new particles?'...both said 10%.

I found the afternoon session an little useful and a lot less structured. I am not sure what the expected outcomes were, but it appeared a bit scattergun. I like light-touch moderation and Timo provided some excellent, stimulating ideas. Maybe the idea of preparing a research proposal is a bit ambitious given the age of the participants. Echoes of the sandpit process were obvious to me, probably not to anyone else. I suspect from that meeting any proposals would be in the Mentors' graven image, and not by their design either. The use of the word mentor troubles me now, as then, given the stated objectives. I am also not convinced labelling and separating (even by choice) the physical scientists and social scientists is a great idea either. It seems counter to the painful lessons learned over the course of SPICE.

Day 1

I feel quite privileged, and a little worried, about being asked to mentor at the 5th Geoengineering Summer School in Heidelberg. It's nice to see some old friends and some fresh new minds (I hope that geoengineering doesn't feel completely normal to the newbies and that I do not in any way normalise it). I am going to write a short post on each day (yes, I am already a day late, thanks for the prompt Anthony Jones), starting with Monday 28th July.

'Today' was a day of introductions, both in terms of people and basic knowledge. The first session was a round-the-room introduction where we were obliged to stand up and introduce ourselves when our photos appeared on screen. I thought it would be great to introduce some humour and settled on 'Hi, my name is Matt Watson and I am an alcoholic', intended as a statement that (a) I found the whole thing a little uncomfortable, (b) a wry nod that some 'geoengineers' keep themselves in the closet somewhat (or at least it is not a particularly fun thing to admit) and (c) an admission that I have found being the SPICE PI a stressful experience. Not completely convinced it was the right thing to do. It was great to see people from other than Europe and the US, with several representatives from Africa.

I found one talk, by David Morrow, particularly interesting. I cannot really quote him as we agreed Chatham House Rules but his talk was very engaging and provided a new philosophical viewpoint of people considering geoengineering, particularly around researchers opinions of the anthropocene and our relationship with nature. In general I am not sure that Chatham House Rules really help here, I agree it does allow for a certain anonymity but I suspect most folks would be happy being attributed, I know I would. It also engenders an air of secrecy which is neither appropriate nor really necessary. I worry it is becoming an habit at meetings like this.

In other news, Pat Mooney feels the heat from chemtrailers for being funded by the Ford Foundation and the CIA (not completely sure if this is true, but it will be interesting to see how ETC group respond) and calling chemtrails an urban myth. Good to see it coming back around...

Friday, 31 January 2014

A new framing

I am at a very interesting meeting (EuTRACE partner meeting - and we are discussing framing. I novel (I think) idea hit me. There are several framings, none of which are ideal. As a general discussion 'CE' is challenging because there are many different techniques that work on varying spatio-temporal scales, with variable costs, impacts and social responses. Is afforestation really appropriate to be lumped in with CE and do they have, for example, the same time moral issues. CDR/SRM is also challenging, for similar reasons (although better if you recategorize ocean fertilization separately) or, as per EuTRACE use three exemplars (I think we've decided on BECCS, SAI and OF). A 'per technique' framing is better, but as the number of techniques and technological imaginaries expands, this becomes a real challenge. My idea is to regroup the techniques by where they act - i.e. land-based, ocean-based and atmospheric. I think this makes for an interesting new framing which I hope to explore over the next few days. It would put roof-whitening with afforestation and biochar, which, instinctively, makes some sense (in terms of scale of impact, level of personal responsibility, justice and governance). I think I need to think about this a bit, but, as always, I am using the blog as brain dump/aide memoir.

Saturday, 25 January 2014


OK - two brief things (it's exam week).

1). Two counter points to Al Gore's 'you're all bonkers and should be ashamed of yourself' bullshit...

Mine (actually a response to earlier comments) -

Josh Hortons -

2) I got challenged (indirectly) into trying to get my feelings on stratospheric SRM into one tweet (hashtag, actually). It was in response to me appearing (accidentally) on the comedy blog 'the bugle' A student had tweeted the link with the hashtag #SayNoToReflectiveParticles (listen to the blog for details - number 256 about 16 mins in).
I wrote this. On reflection I think it's OK....

it's not trending...


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

"Geoengineering's" profile rising (rapidly)

I note with a mixture of admiration, alarm and jealousy that David Keith got to speak on The Colbert Report last night. Google it, if you don't believe me. I'm not sure how it went to be honest. David's a smart guy but I suspect that this was a calculated risk and I don't know if it paid off - I can't currently bear to watch it, I'll check it out at some point. Back in academia climate engineering appears to be heading for the mainstream with several talks at AGU2013 speaking directly to the issue. I think this is a good thing, but I'm not completely sure. It's odd that the breaking of taboo fills me with some form of dread - academics can, on occasion, be very inward looking. 

GC11C-1014. A Multi-Model Examination of Climate Extremes in an Idealized Geoengineering Experiment
Charles Curry; Jana Sillmann; David Bronaugh

GC11D-1025. Solar Geoengineering: Questioning the “Winners and Losers” Paradigm (Invited)
Kate Ricke

GC21F-05. New Results from the Geoengineering Model Intercomparison Project (GeoMIP)
Alan Robock; Ben Kravitz 

GC33A-1089. Impacts on Chinese Agriculture of Geoengineering and Smoke from Fires Ignited by Nuclear War
Lili Xia; Alan Robock

GC33C-1131. Microbially mediated carbon mineralization: Geoengineering a carbon-neutral mine 
Ian M. Power; Jenine McCutcheon; Anna L. Harrison; Siobhan A. Wilson; Gregory M. Dipple; Gordon Southam

In general I am not having that great a time at the moment; I've been overcome with melancholy. I suspect Christmas will do me good and provide me with a chance to relax and recover from what has been a pretty intense term.