The Regulation of Geoengineering - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by John Gorman (GEO 04)

  1.  Obviously geoenginering must be regulated at a global level by the one global organisation that exists for something this important, the United Nations.

  2.  It might seem obvious that geoenginering should be included in the remit of the body already set up by the UN to coordinate the world's response to climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel For Climate Change, the IPCC.

  3.  It is very important that the climate academic community is not given control of geoengineering. It is very important that this does not happen for the following reasons.

  4.  Unfortunately the IPCC has shown itself to be remarkably inaccurate or complacent in predicting the seriousness of climate change. The 2007 prediction for sea level rise was 40 centimetres by 2100. It is now universally accepted that the figure will be one to two metres. This was fairly obvious to anyone with scientific commonsense at the time as demonstrated by the coverage in the new scientist in March 2007.

    "How and why did explicit warnings disappear from the latest IPCC report?

    The final edit also removed references to growing fears that global warming is accelerating the discharge of ice from major ice sheets such as the Greenland sheet."(Leader and article 10 march 2007)

  5.  At the same time the IPCC has been naive in their demands and estimates for immediate emissions reductions. "Delusional" is the word used in a recent publication from the UK energy industry. It seems likely that the challenging but realistic agreement that will come from the climate talks in Copenhagen this week will confirm a doubling of worldwide emissions by 2020.

  6.  This leaves a massive and obvious gap between what is needed and what can be done. However the only action that can possibly fill that gap, geoenginering, was dismissed in the IPCC 2007 report with 18 words in some 20,000 pages.

  7.  Even if one were to take seriously the rate of emissions reduction proposed by the IPCC, this still assumes that the world can live with ("adaptation" is the word used) a global temperature rise of 2 degrees C. I don't think the world at large would agree if it were given the facts. The current global average temperature rise is about 0.7° C. Because of the 9:1 ratio from equator to pole the present rise is about five times greater in the Arctic and Antarctic at 3 to 4° C.(British Antarctic Survey Position Statement)

  8.  With the well-publicised effect that this is having in Greenland, the Arctic and the Antarctic Peninsula it is very difficult to see how anyone can look upon three times this rise (10 to 12° C.) as something that the world can adapt to.

  9.  At present the world climate academic community (which is what the IPCC is) has shown a lack of practicality and a very strong anti-geoenginering prejudice.

  10.  Oliver Morton, who is now the environment editor of the Economist, was previously a general science editor for Nature—not specifically on climate. In 2006-07 he studied geoenginering to write a six-page feature and quickly understood the politics of the situation and wrote "Much of the climate community still views the idea (of geoengineering) with deep suspicion or outright hostility".

  11.  This hostility extends to suppression of geoenginering ideas. Even the Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen had difficulty in getting his seminal paper on stratospheric aerosols published in 2006 and only did so eventually with the help of Ralph Cicerone, the president of the American Academy of Sciences who wrote "many in the climate academic community have opposed the publication of Crutzen's paper for reasons that are not wholly scientific".

  12.  Oliver Morton also wrote "In the past year, climate scientists have shown new willingness to study (geoengineering) although many will do so—simply to show—that all such paths are dead-end streets".

  13.  At the most local level there is evidence of this happening. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has recently allocated £3 million to research into geoenginering. This is possibly as a result of the hearings last year by this committee and the comments by the chairman on the government's negative attitude:

    The select committee's chair, the liberal democrat MP Phil Willis, said he was disappointed with the government's position of adopting only a "watching brief" over the emerging field. "That seems to me a very very negative way of actually facing up to the challenge of the future," he said. "It's a very pessimistic view of emerging science and Britain's place within that emerging science community." He said government should support many different avenues to tackling climate change. "There have to be plethora of solutions. Some of which we do not know whether they will work, but that is the whole purpose of science." (quote from Guardian report)

  14.  To allocate this money there was a "workshop" in November in London. Among the attendees were three people with simple practical research proposals. (There may have been others.) After the workshop none of the three believed that they were likely to succeed. Their comments were:

    (1) It was dominated by geophysicysts wanting to study the problem more than solving the problem.

    (2) The workshop was of little importance, The problem, I fear is not realised.

    (2) The main problem is that no official wants to be associated with anything that can sink, catch fire, explode or just not work. Careers are much safer with paper as the only deliverable.

  15.  In raising these concerns about the scientific objectivity of the IPCC, the recent controversy about the content of e-mail communications from the University of East Anglia is obviously relevant. The situation cannot be expressed better than the leader in this week's "The Week" by Jeremy O'Grady.

    Just as the appalling behaviour of the Catholic Archbishops in Ireland has no direct bearing on the truth of Catholic doctrine, so the skulduggery of scientists of climate change in East Anglia does not constitute refutation of the theory of man made global warming. What it does do, however, is to shake the laity's faith in the integrity of their scientific high priests. And should that lead to those priests to question their immaculate view themselves, it will probably be no bad thing.

    The view of themselves as prelapsarian truth seekers unaffected by the psychological frailties which afflict the rest of us finds its clearest expression, you will recall, in Karl Popper's classic, "The Logic of Scientific Discovery". To Popper, the method of framing testable theories and then discarding them if the facts fail to fit was the distinctive way scientists not only should, but do, proceed. But in real life argued Thomas Kuhn in "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", scientists engage in "group think". You have been taught in a certain "school" of theory; the imminent scientists who oversee your career have built reputations in the school: why let mere facts get you in psychological and career difficulties? If Kuhn is right, this suggests that the scientists' boast that their work has been peer-reviewed often means little more than that it has been exposed to group think. "If the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?" asked Keynes with studied naivet

    . The answer, at least where the East Anglian scientists are concerned, is that you massage the facts.

  16.  In conclusion: the The climate academic community/IPCC "group think" has three parts:

    (A) Failure to recognise the seriousness of the situation—maybe because scientists require "proof". ("But we don't know that those things are going to happen" Met office head of climate change in group discussion after geoenginering hearing at this committee.)

    (B) Grossly unrealistic "ivory tower" mentality on how quickly an idea (eg for clean energy generation) can be developed into a mature fully implemented technology.

    (C) Grossly unrealistic "ivory tower" mentality on how the world can adapt to change such as one to two metres of sea level rise.

  17.  It is vital that the decisions on how the world reacts to the major worldwide problem of climate change are made by those in government who can apply common sense and not get lost in the detail. As EF Schumacher said 40 years ago in "Small Is Beautiful."

    "Maybe it was useful to employ a computer for obtaining results which any intelligent person can reach with the help of a few calculations on the back of an envelope because the modern world believes in computers and masses of facts and it abhors simplicity" and "the endless multiplication of mechanical aids in fields that require judgement more than anything else is one of the chief dynamic forces behind Parkinson's Law".

December 2009

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