Geoengineering: SPICE died. What Won’t?

Posted on | juli 24, 2012 | No Comments

The subject of geoengineering is complex, but this should not be the case for information-sharing about it. Geoengineering will remain confused and complicated, and even more, for most people if there are no information sources or encyclopedia-like sources for the subject.

“What of several news-homes on geoengineering or institution reports on the subject” you may want to ask, these will not do for geoengineering, a subject that new people are quick to familiarize themselves more about its disadvantages than advantages, and some confuse experiments with deployment.

Most organizations involved with geoengineering, have what may be called academic reports, some of which have prompted news reports. These reports for those interested in the subject are easily consumed, and news report reaches a wider mass, to tell of another step in the subject.

Reactions follow the reports and misgivings are expressed by many, openly or in private. Extents of the work may be exaggerated or played down, depending sometimes on how the reporter understands it or decides to interpret it. Press releases contribute to shaping reports, but so far, is not enough for complicated geoengineering.

Errors have been accrued to reports in the past, and it continues to affect geoengineering in many ways at this research stage. One example is then-proposed but now-cancelled Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE), by UK Scientists.

The experiment was a feasibility test on solar geoengineering, to check the effectiveness of balloon as a delivery medium and to evaluate candidate particles that could be sprayed to the upper atmosphere. Like sulphate particle types, usually spilled from certain volcanoes into the atmosphere, and cools the planet.

The trial was to use a balloon to carry up-high, a kilometer long pipe that will release 150 liters of water. It was not going to have effects on the environment, neither was it ‘a geoengineering deployment’, but was confused in many reports as aerosol-geoengineering, or a step before deployment.

It got activists to react, stating reasons from the December climate meeting in Durban to adverse effects on the climate, the trial was suspended. It stayed from news reports until May and was announced, cancelled, due to patent issues. It was a big blow for geoengineering especially with government support.

The trial was not testing at that stage, effects on ozone chemistry or the position to spill and get good dispersal of solar radiation by the particles, or to check how the particles fall back to the earth and their effects. It was to spray water. This, scientifically, was not going to be many steps forward.

But puny as it was scientifically, non-geoengineers did not want to know, geoengineering they know is geoengineering, with water or whatever. They moved and got the test suspended initially. Suspending the test was the issue that allowed the lull to hollow out the patent issue.

Geoengineering got knocked down. Scientists behind the trial sought public opinion on their move, before the announcement and after, but that did not save the trial from going beyond a plan. Where did they get it wrong? These are pundits who have come far in the career but were caught in the net of concern, of many.

Communication. This would have saved the trial, or would have at least prevented it from making those on the subject appear unprepared for ‘attacks’ that may come from others, about projects. SPICE has a website, but was probably too scientific for the public to be patient with, leaving their major defense powerless.

No person at least so far, is interested in geoengineering because of the sake of it, but because of the lack of will by political powers to act fast in an agreement for emission mitigation, as we approach dangerous levels of climate change. This is a major point for getting involved with geoengineering that should provide a good background anywhere on any climate engineering project.

A more interactive website, a section on FAQ, cartoon / graphic display, reports in simple terms, explanation, shortcuts to points, search within the website, response to concerns from comments after news reports on the trial, announcement of a clean clear process, view on live video, invitation for public participation and more would have saved SPICE or prevented a postponement and cancellation the way it came.

SPICE would have been a major outdoor experiment on solar geoengineering, but its failure will have us expect another step, from somewhere else and not the UK, in the near term. Another test for solar geoengineering will face the same criticism challenge and those planning it should extensively prepare.

Everyone knows that it is every person’s earth; educated or not, advanced or crass; so if scientists are concerned and preparing an alternative, the terms should be clear, too simple to be confused, and interactive. The suggestions above that would have helped the SPICE research, will be necessary to have the next solar geoengineering outdoor experiment successful, with government funding and governance.

Solar geoengineering will be a tough sell, and will be clearer with friendlier information as scientists move from lab tests and reports, to outdoor trials. A project website, with full details, and some measures that’ll register exemplary ethics would benefit the objective. Just like SPICE died, other solar geoengineering experiments will, if scientists only think science, sustaining poor public communication.

AUTHOR: David Stephen
E-MAIL: Stephen [at]


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