Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Another mention of SPICE in the media...

An interesting take on things, although I think the 'hush-hush' thing is nonsense. Interesting that, in the same paragraph, it was linked to a popular website? How can that be hush-hush?

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Ecotopia - a new moral hazard?

Although I fully accept that the moral hazards is alive and well, and it is vital we worry about (and prevent) any action undermining efforts to reduce carbon use, the argument used against geoengineering that relies on casting the Earth as some sort of precious, pristine system to be ruined by 'mad scientists' is a fallacy. Precious it is, pristine it ain't.

More than that however, is that this idea leads us towards the moral hazard. If the Earth in 2011 is so in danger of being ruined by geoengineering, why change the status quo?  Where's the need for environmental change if Ecotopia is where we are now?

I do genuinely sympathise with the deep greens, it must be odd drifting towards being allies with the climate sceptics.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Newsnight (16/06/2011)

As with the Guardian article, I felt that the report (from Susan Watts) was pretty even handed and accurate. Both Ken Caldiera (on IPCC steering group, advocate into research (at least)) and Doug Parr (Chief Scientist, Greenpeace, sceptic) came across very well and rationally, despite having very different views. 

Stagegate review

I'll most likely do this in several stages, as it was a long, exhaustive and exhausting process. The short answer is that the stagegate was passed, pending some further effort to (1) broaden and map out our stakeholder engagement, (2) adapt and improve our plans to communicate the efforts of the project, particularly to facilitate a transition from a dispersive to interactive (two way) process and (3) further (and more completely) investigate the broader contexts of our research.

Overall, my feelings, shared by others were that...

i. I was happy that the extraordinary amount of effort from the stagegate team was acknowledged and commended 

ii. It was felt that the process was very fair. I felt, personally, that the panel were very even handed and, although it was a very rigorous examination, it was done politely and kindly.

iii. We've got more to do and we are going to need help, maybe we should have asked for it earlier...?

The first rule of geonegineering...

is do not talk about geoengineering

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

How to encourage lock-in...

Upon reflection, this seems to be a worthwhile exercise in balance...

1. Stealth advocacy, both conscious and unconscious
2. The involvement of unscrupulous business interests
3. Poor/weak governmental leadership/oversight
4. Unilateralism
5. A lack of governance architecture

Monday, 13 June 2011

Ramifications of the stagegate decision

This is something of a crossroads. I've no doubt that, for better or worse, research into geoengineering will continue and slowly become more mainstream, but, for now, we stand at the absolute edge, a precipice even.

Say 'yes' and the deep greens will shout of mission creep, and geoengineering by stealth (not at all justified given our efforts to become as transparent as possible). Say 'no' and a limited assessment of public opinion and political nervousness will have overcome our will to undertake vital science. I suspect there might be more of a fuss over the latter, certainly it is not the easy option.

Personally, I'm convinced the testbed is safe. My limited efforts with EIA will have to be improved upon, by my initial Leopold matrix is very, very threadbare, ergo from an environmental, health and safety, ethical and legal/insurance perspective, the testbed is on solid ground. IAGP have highlighted the need to:

1. Be transparent and open, 2. engage with the local publics, and 3. consider the broader impacts.

I couldn't agree more...

Stagegate approaches...

SPICE are putting the final touches to our stagegate presentations in front of the review panel and RCUK  that happens this week. It has been a long journey for everyone involved, but especially I suspect for me and Kirsty as we've had to leave our respective comfort zones by quite some distance. Wednesday is going to be an interesting experience and, although we will be well prepared, something of a step into the unknown (for all concerned). Particularly challenging will be the presentation by IAGP, which, whilst in some contexts supporting (a dangerous word) through conducting the efforts into investigating the public's feelings about the testbed, clearly need to distance themselves from any particular geoengineering methodology in order to remain objective (and to appear to remain objective).

Sunday, 5 June 2011

5 reasons why lock in is unlikely in SRM geoengineering

(1) the early recognition of the risks of lock in 

(2) the realisation that there is very unlikely to be a single geoengineering solution, rather a suite of co-ordinated efforts (silver buckshot as opposed to a silver bullet)

(3) the desire, at governmental level, to have a balanced portfolio of research that includes a strong carbon dioxide reduction (CDR) component

(4) favouritism of the public towards CDR

(5) the trans-boundary ethical, political and governance challenges that a  ‘solely global’ solution presents.

Advocacy promotes lock in.

OK, now I say it out loud that's a pretty obvious statement, but to me it was something of a revelation. Clearly, if you reduce the choice, you're more likely to pass the point of no return.

Friday, 3 June 2011

The Scientist

 Is it lazy to wish to be a 'pure scientist'? To be neutral, aethical, transcending the human element in pursuit of some theoretical perfection?

The answer to the above question comes in two parts. The first is a warning: here I cite William James, who described a man addicted to laughing gas. Just before passing out, the man was overwhelmed by an epiphany which remained tantalisingly illusive. One night the man managed to write down what he believed to be the secret of the universe, and upon waking up was distressed to read 'the smell of petroleum prevails throughout'. This huge anticlimax was used by Betrand Russell as a powerful admonishment to science (and scientists) that it is also too easy to become somewhat self-obsessed (or at least obsessed with the idea of knowledge).

The second is the observation I became a scientist and an academic because it afforded me great intellectual freedom. The rules of science to me are easy - have an idea, develop a hypothesis, detach yourself from the outcome, prove or disprove the hypothesis (or anywhere in between), repeat [publish]. I think objectivity, and working towards a testable hypothesis are the fundamentals underpinning good science. In this context, whilst heeding (or trying to) the above warning, we believe we can make a difference. We do not seek to play God.

The problem here of course, is that very little science is that pure. Research into geoengineering cannot be decoupled from ethics, policy or governance and, within that framework, given the sheer scale (which regularly overwhelms me) consideration of the problem by a single actor cannot be anything other than a oblique approach.

'I was just guessing at numbers and figures, pulling the puzzles apart
Questions of science, science and progress, do not speak as loud as my heart'

Separation of science and policy?

I am currently working on the premise that there are actually two problems here. 1. what are my feelings about how science should be conducted in areas of challenging, controversial and globally significant science and 2. given we get 1. right, how is that science then communicated to policy makers.

I think I can get at the first question easily, so, for now, I'll focus on the second. I've been reading various things - the literature, 'The honest broker', CSA guidelines on the use of scientific and engineering advice in policy making, and other bits and bobs from luminaries such as Jonathan Porritt and Crispin Tickell.

I confess, the first time I read 'The honest broker' I struggled to perceive any difference between the three modes of interaction that were non-advocative (i.e. pure scientist, science arbiter and honest broker). To me, they felt like the same thing. I've now realised they are a spectrum, and the defining scale of that spectrum is consideration of the policy maker (from providing information that the scientist thinks is relevant, to providing information that the policy maker asks for, through to providing information that expands the choices of the policy maker). Of course, in complete contrast, the advocate seeks to narrow that choice.

The question I have to ask myself within this framework is 'what should I be'? Clearly, this is spectacularly simplified as one's position varies as a function of time and circumstance AND end-members do not make good exemplars (in that I am unlikely to be 100% of any of them). To what extent in this context to the Oxford Principles help??? Here they are as a reminder...

Principle 1: Geoengineering to be regulated as a public good
While the involvement of the private sector in the delivery of a geoengineering technique should not be prohibited, and may indeed be encouraged to ensure that deployment of a suitable technique can be effected in a timely and efficient manner, regulation of such techniques should be undertaken in the public interest by the appropriate bodies at the state and/or international levels.

Principle 2: Public participation in geoengineering decision-making
Wherever possible, those conducting geoengineering research should be required to notify, consult, and ideally obtain the prior informed consent of, those affected by the research activities. The identity of affected parties will be dependent on the specific technique which is being researched - for example, a technique which captures carbon dioxide from the air and geologically sequesters it within the territory of a single state will likely require consultation and agreement only at the national or local level, while a technique which involves changing the albedo of the planet by injecting aerosols into the stratosphere will likely require global agreement.

Principle 3: Disclosure of geoengineering research and open publication of results
There should be complete disclosure of research plans and open publication of results in order to facilitate better understanding of the risks and to reassure the public as to the integrity of the process. It is essential that the results of all research, including negative results, be made publicly available.

Principle 4: Independent assessment of impacts
An assessment of the impacts of geoengineering research should be conducted by a body independent of those undertaking the research; where techniques are likely to have transboundary impact, such assessment should be carried out through the appropriate regional and/or international bodies.  Assessments should address both the environmental and socio-economic impacts of research, including mitigating the risks of lock-in to particular technologies or vested interests.

Principle 5: Governance before deployment
Any decisions with respect to deployment should only be taken with robust governance structures already in place, using existing rules and institutions wherever possible.

I suppose that, to a certain extent, they confirm some of my feelings about the science - the importance of impartiality, public engagement though transparency, the critical role of governance, but do less for me in terms of deciding how I will act as a policy advisor. At the moment, I've realised, I trust my sense of right and wrong. As an example, at the recent LWEC meeting we were challenged to determine where immediate funding might be pointed. The point was raised that EPSRC had an assessment/framework project and an SRM project and, to balance the portfolio, CDR should be targeted.Clearly, from a purely selfish point of view (and the argument about scientists being driven by research funding really irritates me) I'd have been better of advocating more SRM. However, clearly the right thing to do was to press for CDR, which I did. I am not expecting a medal for this, I simply make the observation that many scientists are much less selfish and not at all driven by financial gain, despite this criticism being levelled at us on a regular basis.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

More thoughts as they occur to me...

I've been thinking a bit more about the green movement. I know the vast majority of greens will object to geoengineering and, as someone who's personal beliefs resonate with the green movement, this is causing me significant unease (despite me not advocating geoengineering). That said, one argument presented by objectors to geoengineering seems exceptionally weak to me - 'hands of mother Earth'.  The problem to me is that the Earth is not pristine, we've been altering climate for hundreds of years. Comparison of geoengineered scenarios surely has to be against the best predictions of climate change, not pre-industrial settings. Would we be making things better than they are likely to be without geoengineering, not some hypothetical utopia that no longer exists?

I think I can rationalise this with my beliefs. I would like the world's climate to return to pre-industrial balance, but this is impossible, there is neither the political or societal will or desire from the vast majority to do this - we enjoy the trappings of progress to much. Given this, and our inability to wean ourselves of carbon, geoengineering has to be considered as part of a broader adaption strategy.