Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Guardian reports on the Nature article


Slightly unfairly framed (of course!), but I am grateful that I (unlike the Nature article) was accurately represented. Thanks also for Camila Ruz (the author), for getting the figure caption changed from this

'The project will inject particles into the atmosphere to reflect some of the sun's energy.'

to this

Geoengineering : a rainbow wrapped around the sun
The project will test the feasibility of injecting particles into the atmosphere to reflect some of the sun's energy.

Here's the bit I am quoted in - I've added corrections to clarify (as if I'd had some editorial control)...

The principal investigator on the project, Matthew Watson, denied that the decision to postpone it was a direct result of the outcry from green groups: "I'm glad the environmental movement have a strong voice," he said, "but the decision was made before any of the really deep green movement got involved the letter from the deep green ENGOs was received" A review of the project two months earlier had concluded that without more public engagement it could not go ahead. The stagegate review, in mid-June, concluded that preparations for the balloon experiment could continue whilst further work was undertaken to engage with a broader range of stakeholders. The final decision to postpone was designed to give the SPICE researchers further time to complete that effort and to reflect on the outcome(s).

Now the first test of the technology will be put on hold until a second review meeting approves the stakeholder engagement the researchers have done in the intervening time. "We've developed a plan and begun initial discussions with these NGOs so we can get round a table and talk," said Watson.

The controversy surrounding the project is unlikely to fade away. "I think it's a lightning rod for people who don't think it's a good idea and naturally even believe in researching climate engineering options and, who, unfairly, think the scientists involved want to see this through to deployment and - that really isn't the case at all," said Watson. He is not an enthusiast for climate geoengineering as a policy option and firmly believes that cutting greenhouse gas emissions should be the top priority.

{My position is a little more nuanced than that, of course - see 'Sceptical Realist' on this blog for my current personal framing on SRM vs CRD - but I am happy with that description on a fundamental level. Of course, in the absence of evidence-based research the only sensible, objective (i.e. professional as opposed to personal) position is agnosticism}.

"If the politicians came back from [international climate talks in] Durban with a legally binding agreement on CO2 emission reduction of some meaning … that would make research projects like Spice much less important relevant," said Watson. "But each time they don't, when they think of political rather than geological climatological {I am fairly sure I said 'climatological'} timescales and they think about being re-elected or putting the economy first at any cost then that just makes research into climate geoengineering even more necessary."

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Good governance for geoengineering

Phil Macnaghten and Richard Owen have published a review of the stagegate process in Nature this week...

Nature, 479, 293, 17 November 2011, doi:10.1038/479293a

Whilst reporting it in full here doubtless breaks numerous copyright laws I think I can discuss (and quote) specifics...

The most interesting paragraph (from the perspective of someone who went through the process) is the section on 'Lessons learned'

'Aspects of SPICE's governance could have been improved. The framework should have been in place before the project's conception; the test date should not have been announced until the stage-gate criteria had been met; and the structures and resources to support the social research should have been in place earlier. Even now, the decision on whether to proceed will not be easy. There are few right or wrong answers to the many questions about climate engineering. But it is vital that we make space to listen to and discuss these questions, and that the debate transparently influences the decisions that are taken.'

I think, overall, I agree with this. SPICE, of course, had no control over the pre-workshop decisions on governance and social research and I have strongly endorsed the position that social scientists should have been part of the workshop process. Such is the nature of that process. The test date is a harder one - for the record SPICE were determined to be as open as possible about the outdoor experiment and have been accused, utterly unfairly, of being secretive. We needed clearer signals that the stagegate was likely to be imposed - I worry that it could be misconstrued that we ignored the signs from the panel and ploughed on with the press briefing anyway.

Phil and I are on Material World (BBC radio 4) this afternoon at 4.30 pm to discuss this live. I am sure, as always, it will be a positive and useful interaction.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Kirsty's article

Of course, being a member of SPICE, I know Kirsty pretty well. Her views closely mirror my own and I think this article strikes the perfect tone...


Existentialist angst

I think part of the reason I am so comfortable with the stage-gate process is that I believe in collective restraint. The metaphorical 'cliff' looms large, and governance (even opposition to the idea of geoengineering) is like a safety barrier - it prevents me from using intellectual freedom negatively. It is good that this [global scale SRM] cannot be done easily, and that no one has the freedom to undertake research without responsibility. It frustrates me greatly that those who are mindful of this are under great scrutiny, regularly inaccurately and irresponsibly reported, when others have already conducted field trials (e.g. Yuri Izrael) without any governance whatsoever. 

News pre-Durban gets more depressing by the day...


Tuesday, 25 October 2011

'Public support for geoengineering research'

An interesting article out today, published by David Keith, suggests strong support for geoengineering research.


This is a continuing theme, following from IAPGs efforts, that suggest most people are comfortable with, even support of,  research but alarmed about deployment.


I count myself amongst that group.


One interesting result is that (from the BBC)...'The majority of respondents, the researchers added, were also inclined to say that the use of SRM technologies was an "easy way out" of continuing to burn fossil fuels and did not offer a long-term solution.'

I'm not sure I agree with that - SRM, to me, does not look at all like an easy option. Maybe the respondents think 'easy to implement' whereas I am thinking about it being easy to make safe.

In the interests of being even handed, David himself is not at all convinced by the tethered balloon technology or the trial.

http://www.redicecreations.com/article.php?id=16791 (and subsequent article, also by Michael, in the New Scientist).

Monday, 3 October 2011

DECC 2050 tool...

 is very thought provoking.

My first stab is here. It needs work, although it does make the reductions target.


Green credentials

This is mostly a cathartic exercise and may seem defensive, but I thought I'd give it a go. I've been thinking a little about this since seeing Susan Soloman speak at U. Pitt, where she [humbly] presented her [significant] carbon footprint.

Good: I grow a lot of my own fruit and vegetables. This year I grew 5 species of herb (in two big pots), four species of lettuce, rocket, tomatoes (two varieties), chillies (three varieties), cucumbers (that turned out to be courgettes - last time I trust anyone at a car boot sale!), onions, spring onions, chinese leaf, spinach, runner beans, broccoli, potatoes, parsnips (went badly this year, no idea why), french beans, carrots (two varieties), rhubarb, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries. I do not have a massive garden, or a team of 'staff' before you ask, the plot makes up about a third of my garden and is about 8 m x 8 m (including a small greenhouse). We obsessively recycle and compost (two composters and a heap) and have a pretty effective water butt. I think I've bought 5 new items of clothing, excluding smalls/socks, in the last five years mostly from gift cards I've received. I try to work from home as much as I can, and I've given up driving into town (it's an 8 minute walk). We buy as much local produce as we can. Our house's resting pulse is about 80 W (it's thanks to British Gas's gadget I know that). Whilst we have a tumble drier it is very rarely on. I've cut down on international travel and will try to get to European conferences (i.e. EGU) by train from now on. I probably now do 2 transatlantics a year on average, 1 being Guatemala every year for a field trip.

Bad: My commute is 45 mins each way and I probably travel to work 4-5 times a week (I am seeking to cut this down). The local trains are awful and expensive but I should revisit them I'm sure. I still fly too much (1 x transatlantic flight uses as much energy as 100 km a day for a year in the car I heard David Mackay say the other day). We're not bad at turning stuff off, but could do better. The loft is relatively well insulated, but the walls probably aren't and our windows are not double glazed. Our energy bills are below average but could be further trimmed I'm sure.

So, what's the point of this? Well, I think the first step towards a more sustainable lifestyle is to look, closely, at what you currently do and think were you could make [even small] changes that would benefit the environment. Since starting to think more about climate I've started to make these changes (I've had the veggie patch a while) and they've been easy and, not wanting to sound patronising, even fun. Why not do the same?

Friday, 30 September 2011

Testbed delay

It was announced yesterday that the testbed has been delayed.


This decision was prompted by the stagegate panel, who recommended the delay which was supported, I would like to clarify, by the SPICE scientists and engineers. This is in order to undetaker an upstream stakeholder engagement exercise. Several people (mostly science journalists) have contacted me and expected me to be upset, dismayed or 'gutted', as one put it. I feel none of that - I've long realised that engagement is important and I am genuinely looking forward to having sensible, grown up conversations with people with strong opinions, most of whom resonate with my own personal framing.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

News on CO2 emissions


Please read this carefully...

Friday, 9 September 2011

really amazing...

I'm not sure where the data come from (or how reliable they are), but this is incredibly thought provoking...


Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Sceptical realist

I think I've formalised my position on geoengineering...
I am skeptical realist: I know, unequivocally, that reducing carbon emissions is the right thing to do. I believe that CDR has the best long term outcome if we can’t do that, as it deals with the problem at source, but it’s not a free ride. There are some serious technical and ethical challenges there too. However, if we suddenly find ourselves in a period of rapid-onset climate instability the only way out is SRM. It’s the only thing we could do in a short timeframe to mitigate the effects of such an event. Given that, it has be on the table as an option to be investigated. That is all we are doing.
I am skeptical that geoengineering is the right option (I am pretty green at heart, really) but realistic enough to know that it may be required. 
I want to make it clear that I have no vested interest in making  SPICE work. I do not stand to profit from it and I will report any scientific findings honestly, transparently and without bias.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Interesting ideas from the blogosphere....

I am in the midst of developing a 'sticky questions' brief for EPRSC. For that, I've been trawling the web for ideas/prompts and I'm heartened by the fact that there are some very good ideas, well-articulated, floating in the ether. Roger Pielke's is still my favourite I think - he appears to manage to have deep insights into a spectacularly broad range of subjects...


With focus a bit more on the job in hand, as it were, are two orthogonal perspectives from 'futarists' of different flavours - Mark Lynas's (we're going to have to talk at some point about the 'hush-hush' barb in his blog - I guess soon that won't be a criticism soon)


and George Dvosrky's (although the title annoys me :) )


Given that they are almost polar opposites in terms of their crystal ball reading, I suppose that instinctively I side with Dvosrky. Odd that, given what I am doing you could argue. I digress (meaninglessly) as I've not crystalised this feeling yet. If/when I do, I'll let you know...

The brief itself is in preparation for any media interest in SPICE over the next few weeks. It is not, I hasten to add, designed to subvert or spin, simply to prepare for the challenge and to fully develop a personal framing. I guess, given what I decided to call the blog, my internal conflict is apparent - although it is resolving itself through the strong assertion that you can see the importance of research into geoengineering without being an advocate of deployment...

Thursday, 28 July 2011

I thought I'd try this for the blog, courtesy of wordle - not sure what to make of it really.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A period of reflection

I've been doing a lot of thinking about geoengineering, not all of it completely coherent, over the last month. Some of this was prompted by an interesting article published in GRL, looking at the impacts of tropical volcanism on climate...

Vernier, J.-P., et al. (2011), Major influence of tropical volcanic eruptions on the stratospheric aerosol layer during the last decade, Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L12807, doi:10.1029/2011GL047563.

This is exceptionally relevant for SPICE, particularly the modellers, as it is an observation of the aerosols being transported by Brewer-Dobson circulation. The bottom line of the article is that the recent increase in stratospheric aerosol loadings, otherwise postulated to be sourced from industry in SE Asia, is in at least part in due to the eruptions of Soufriere Hills, Manan and Reventador.

Global events too play on my mind. Events in Norway strongly underscore the fact that extremism, in any form, is abhorrent.

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.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Some things I've been thinking about, and have reached tentative conclusions....

This is not a very long list! Much of my thinking about geoengineering, and I think about it quite a lot, is still in a formative stage. The following however, I think I can say I am unlikely to change my mind about.

1. Geoenineering research is vital, and should be undertaken honestly and, as far as is possible, without advocacy (or, at least where there is advocacy it should be transparent). This is as true for those advocating a moratorium on geoengineering as it is for those in favour of deployment.

2. Advocacy of geoengineering research does not mean advocacy of geoengineering deployment.

3.  Geoengineering research must not, under any circumstances, be used to undermine 'the right thing to do' which is to reduce our dependence on carbon.

I am working on an analogy (as I haven't found one yet that strikes a chord with me - lifeboats, airbags etc). I think my current best effort (although upon browsing the web I see has been mooted in many places online already) is methadone. There are several interesting blogs on this (with the caveat that I do not endorse their opinions, especially those from the comments section beneath) - a good starter is this one...


I think the reason I like the methadone analogy is that it conveys the bleakness of our current situation and does not paint geoengineering as a silver bullet, some sort of panecea that will solve all our problems with one simple flick of a switch.

Friday, 27 May 2011

an honest broker?

One of my current challenges is to define my personal position on geoengineering. This, as I hope you will see, is not as easy as it sounds. Here is my default position, which is being modulated as I read more about the interface between science and politics...
I am a strong advocate of geoengineering research, of that I am sure. Pandora's box is open (and has been for a while) and, unless the problem is carefully, robustly and honestly studied I fear stealth advocacy. Interestingly (and I've not finished the book) I suspect there are two types of stealth advocacy, conscious and unconcious. More on that later...

My position on geoengineering (i.e. deployment) is much less clear. I should say from the outset that advocacy of research does not, in any way, mean advocacy of deployment. In the short term I am going to attempt to refine my position from defaults, which are...

I want to be neutral and honest.
I think that reducing our dependence on CO2 (no subscripts, sorry) is the right thing to do
I have some green credentials, but could do better.
Ideas/themses/narratives that resonate with me are: 'A bad idea whose time has come', 'Mongoose and mitigation', 'plan B', although they all have issues...

Is it OK to say I don't know yet?

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

First entry

This is my first entry.

OK, I admit it. The title is a little inflamatory as I am not a geoengineer, and therefore have nothing to be reluctant about. I am the project lead for a research effort into looking at geoengineering, specifically solar radiation management using volcanoes as natural analogues. This is going to require me to do a lot of thinking about both the science of the effort, but also the political/social/ethical and governance issues that pervade the problem.

I am writing a blog to document my journey as suggested by several people.