Scientist Slams Politicians For Banning Geoengineering Experiments

For Science's Sake

A scientist is warning against regulatory attempts to ban geoengineering, which seeks to alter the climate as global warming threatens to make the planet less habitable for us humans.

In an editorial for the MIT Tech Review, Cornell's Daniele Visioni wrote that even as researchers and governments begin studying — and sometimes conducting early-stage tests — various geoengineering prospects, which often "seed" the clouds to spur on rain, dry out the stratosphere, or reflect sunlight away from the ground below, some critics are calling to shut these experiments down.

"The growing interest in studying the potential of these tools... has triggered corresponding calls to shut down the research field, or at least to restrict it more tightly," wrote Visioni, an expert in the field. "But such rules would halt or hinder scientific exploration of technologies that could save lives and ease suffering as global warming accelerates."

As Visioni notes, politicians have already begun banning geoengineering experiments. Last year, Mexico banned geoengineering, and more recently, Tennessee's governor signed into law a bill that bars it under the pretense of so-called "chemtrails."

At the United Nations, meanwhile, a bloc of African nations called for a moratorium on geoengineering, though those talks stalled out after the United States pushed back against them.

Sky Against Sky

The researcher acknowledged that his status as an advocate for geoengineering makes him the opposite of a passive observer in this battle. But all the same, he's concerned with the precedent these kinds of bills and proposals set.

"This doesn’t mean I support unilateral efforts today, or forging ahead in this space without broader societal engagement and consent," Visioni wrote. "But some of these proposed restrictions on solar geoengineering leave vague what would constitute an acceptable, 'small' test as opposed to an unacceptable 'intervention.'"

"Such vagueness is problematic," he added, "and its potential consequences would have far more reach than the well-intentioned proponents of regulation might wish for."

Consider, for instance, a scholarly submission to amend the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration's rules to require "any group proposing to conduct outdoor research on weather modification anywhere in the world" to notify the agency in advance.

In short, these sorts of proposals feel like an overreach — and regardless of how "well-intentioned" their proponents are, it could nevertheless have a chilling effect on researchers.

While there may be unforeseen risks to solar engineering, climate change is destroying our planet rapidly enough that many scientists are screaming at anyone who will listen to throw anything at the wall and see what sticks.

"If there are possible interventions that could limit that death and destruction," Visioni emphasized, "we have an obligation to evaluate them carefully, and to weigh any trade-offs with open and informed minds. "

More on geoengineering: Government Denies Dubai Flooding Was Due to Cloud-Seeding Experiments