Saturday, 10 November 2012

Apologies for the hiatus....

It's been quite a hectic few months and I've stopped blogging due to a combination of a family holiday (OK, not all hectic), a mountain of marking in September and teaching starting in October. I'm also feeling a little weary from the efforts of managing SPICE, and being involved in several other large projects focused on geoengineering (EuTRACE) , volcanic ash clouds (VANAHEIM, CREDIBLE) and increasing resilience for those vulnerable during volcanic crises (STREVA). They are all interesting in different ways and very time consuming.

I'd like to write a little on two recent events that have happened that are of interest to me. One is obviously related to climate engineering, one less so but a salutary lesson nonetheless. The lesson comes from the recent verdict from the L'Aquila trial of seven eminent seismologists who were challenged to assess the likelihood of an earthquake happening in the near future near L'Aquila in Italy.  They 'failed' to predict the earthquake and have been jailed for manslaughter. This is a lengthy overview. I am most interested in the points raised here by Prof. David Speigelhalter (whom I know from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) that both of us were on during the volcanic ash crisis of 2010).  The question, of course, is this: if scientists are accountable for not predicting natural disasters (wholly unfairly in my opinion) that what becomes of those who sanction climate engineering. If we undertake large-scale engineering, particularly those that have trans-boundary effects (including SRM and iron fertilization), who will carry the can? More importantly, how will we disentangle 'our' signature from that of 'nature' (a quite ridiculous construct at ca. 400 ppm carbon dioxide) - how can we ever know what would have happened?

Secondly, the recent iron fertilization 'experiment' also leaves a pretty bad taste in my mouth. I agree wholeheartedly that it undermines legitimate research and I believe, as I think my actions have demonstrated, that profit, or even the perception of profiteering, have no place in research in climate engineering. I happily accept that the commercial sector is not the innermost parts of the seven circles of hell it is often compared to, but, in terms of trust I believe that those who refuse to even consider personal gain as a motive for improved understanding are those best placed to act for the greater good.

I'd also like to report briefly on two events that I have enjoyed significantly more than reading about the above. The first was a public meeting at the University of East Anglia to assist with the work of a PhD student garnering opinion about climate engineering - I undertook this with Jon Talyor, head of climate at WWF. On paper this might look like a adversarial set up, but far from it. It was a fascinating experience that restored some of my faith in human nature. The second was a stakeholder meeting for SPICE, with Hugh, Kirsty and Chris (from CUED) with representatives of civil societies. It was under Chatam House rules (a report is imminent from the facilitator) but suffice to say it was a challenging, difficult, fascinating, illuminating and exceptionally worthwhile effort. I'd like to praise all concerned for the spirit in which the meeting was held and for the frankness of the discussions. I hope we will continue with this process.

My current bugbear, which I was allowed to air during the meeting is the point scoring that more extreme NGO's seem to feel the need to entertain. Despite what anyone tells you, the SPICE testbed was postponed solely by the stategate panel (a group of five thinkers with backgrounds in social science, atmospheric science, engineering and environmentalism) before NGO objection and called off by SPICE. Anyone who claims to have got it 'cancelled' or 'shut down' is either deluded, or, more likely, knowingly claiming to have influence where they had none. Privately, I bet they'd be willing to admit this; publically, they feel the need to 'fight their corner'. This posturing does a huge disservice to both the stagegate panel and to me and Hugh who agonised about these decisions.