ETC in Copenhagen, December 2009

By Enouranois

Introductory comments

There could be some objection from “conspiracy theorists” that [ETC Group’s] Diana Bronson’s response to the journalist from the Montreal Gazette shows she isn’t really against geoengineering, including the “artificial volcano” kind, but only against unregulated geoengineering. Under a system of global government run by the United Nations she would accept it. She is therefore a globalist, a proponent of world government and all the schemes of the Illuminati, the Rockefellers, Rothschilds, etc. etc. etc. Well.

What Diana Bronson says is that until such time as this global governance exists, the geoengineering should stop. She also says that civil society must be involved in the discussion as to whether we wish to have this kind of technology. The position that we maintain is that we are “civil society”. We therefore support her demand and involve ourselves.

Should our involvement be unconditional, or should we pose conditions?

We should pose conditions. It is evident that a certain kind of spraying from aircraft has been going on everywhere for a long time, in many places since at least the late nineties, in a few places even longer. It is also evident that this spraying corresponds to what one kind of geoengineering would look like if implemented. Acceptance of that reality by our interlocutor should be a condition for our consent to engage in dialogue. If not acceptance then public submission of an acceptable reason why there cannot be acceptance.  A reason which is not an insult to the intelligence.

What might such reasons be?

The ETC report makes the valid point that it is largely those who deny the reality of anthropogenic climate change that are most favourable towards geoengineering-type “solutions”. This has been evident since Edward Teller’s 1997 “Sunscreen” article. Bjorn Lomborg is another example of a prominent climate change “sceptic” who has by his own admission been converted to geoengineering. The Australian politician Steve Fielding, prominent and effective opponent in the Australian Senate of carbon emissions trading, recently met Lomborg in Copenhagen and seems to have been positively impressed by him,  in particular by what he had to say about carbon trading.

But there are also tacit advocates of geoengineering on the non-sceptic side of the climate change debate. A notable example is the celebrated and politically influential Australian palaeontologist Tim Flannery. His remarks on the future of civil aviation in his book “The Weather Makers” leave no doubt of his support for aerosol spraying schemes using aircraft.

Could abstention from acknowledging that key geoengineering programmes are already well and truly established have something to do with residual loyalties to a certain faction of scientists in past (and perhaps even present) struggles against climate change “contrarians”? After all, the spraying that we are seeing is clearly illegal, part of a growing practice of “innovation by stealth”, as pointed out by the unnamed audience member at ETC’s December 2009 Copenhagen press conference. This illegality leads to political vulnerability. Lawsuits could be launched, including politically motivated lawsuits, by “sceptics” and the lobbies that support them.

We should  accept dialogue with Diana Bronson and ETC, but not  on the basis of participation in a fiction that geoengineering, including in its most outrageous forms, is something merely theoretical. We will tolerate others maintaining this fiction if they give us, publicly, plausible reasons to explain why they do so.

~Enouranois, December 2009

Climate Chaos in a Geoengineering Age,  UN Climate Conference, Copenhagen,  14th December 2009. (See the press conference video)

(presentation by Diana Bronson)

Niclas: So, let’s begin  and I’d like to welcome you to this press conference, the first one today I suppose, which is covering two very relevant and important topics related to climate change, and also involves the launching of two publications. This is a press conference put together by the ETC group, Diana here and Silvia, Diana Bronson and Silvia Ribeiro, represent the ETC group, and my name is Niclas Hallstrom. I’m working with the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation and we have indeed, in fact, published the report that Diana will be presenting and briefing you on,  which is going to be the first presentation, and that is a report covering the issue of geoengineering.

We will begin with Diana, who will give you the essence of this very very challenging and thought- provoking and very relevant publication on an issue very few have been thinking about but which will be hitting us and has already started to hit us and that is the whole issue of new technologies and geoengineering and the risks involved in that.

So, Diana, please? The floor is yours.

Diana: Thank you very much, Niclas, and thank you very much to the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation for commissioning and publishing this report, which we intend to offer as a contribution to the emerging international debate around geoengineering, which is the intentional large-scale manipulation of the climate system. You may all wonder what that has to do with the negotiations going on in the Bella Centre  and, well, it is not a direct subject of the negotiations. It is very much implicit in the debates around technology. We have thought for some time at the ETC group that a technology agreement would be one of the major outcomes of this meeting and certainly at the beginning of the second week of negotiations it looks like exactly that is what is going to happen. It contains a number of dangers, the current text on technology, notably there is no mention of precaution and there is no means of assessing the technologies that will receive massive financial and institutional support  out of the structures that will be created in this meeting. The most dangerous climate-related technologies in our view are those technologies which fit into the category of geoengineering and this publication is a critical overview  of some of those technologies and it raises a series of questions  about how governments, negotiators and civil society should be looking and these technologies and what kinds of governance arrangements we need to begin to consider.

I’d like to speak a little bit to a couple of these technologies. You’ll see that  there’s quite a complete overview of them in the paper. Generally we’ve divided them into three different categories. The first category would be what’s known as “solar radiation management”.  The second category would be carbon dioxide removal and sequestration. And the third category is weather modification.  And we look at each of these three categories of technologies and some of the problems in this publication that we’re launching this morning. There are three short case studies in the publication.  Ocean fertilization would be one of the technologies which would fit into the carbon dioxide removal and sequestration,  the idea is simply that you dump iron particles into the ocean in order to stimulate the growth of phytoplankton, algae, which will absorb carbon dioxide, theoretically, and then sink to the bottom of the sea. This creates enormous dangers for the integrity of marine ecosystems, for the food chain in the ocean, for the livelihood of fisher folk around the world, and for many other aspects which you can read about in the report. Of course we do have here in the Bella Centre we have firms that are interested in ocean fertilization and obtaining carbon credits for fertilizing the ocean for an unproven technology to sequester carbon that could be devastating to marine ecosystems.

A second category is what we call in the report “artificial volcanoes” or shooting sulphate into the stratosphere and that may sound like complete science fiction but in fact it is receiving relatively serious consideration from very highly placed officials. Just to cite one example, Steve Koonin, who is the Undersecretary of State in the Department of Energy of the United States of America chaired a group of ten men who studied the “technical feasibility” of shooting sulphates into the stratosphere and published a report last summer on this topic by an institution called Novum in California, which pretends to offer scientific, neutral scientific, assessments. Of course, shooting sulphates into the stratosphere the idea is that these particles will reflect a portion of the sunlight back into outer space. Some of the side effects would be causing drought in equatorial regions, notably in Central Africa, just as happened after the 1991 natural volcano Pinatubo in the Philippines. It brought the temperatures down, and it caused drought, and there are very unequal regional effects of these technologies, and the possibility of them being used in a unilateral fashion we find absolutely unacceptable, if not to say terrifying. We also look at the technology of cloud whitening and I’ll let you refer to that in the report so as not to take too much time.

One of the things that is in the report that has not been looked at before is the whole question of intellectual property. And of course while many of the proponents of geoengineering say that “we are doing this as Emergency Plan B, that “we are just pursuing scientific research”, in fact what we have is a number of individuals and corporations that are placing patent claims on these technologies and are developing them purely in order to own those claims. And if you can contemplate for a moment the notion that we would have a geoengineering technology that would, could, in any way mitigate global warming, which is a doubtful notion, but the notion that that could be privately owned, by an individual, or a corporation, or a single state , or privately deployed, we find absolutely terrifying, and the list of patent claims that you will find in the Report just gives a small sample of some of the dangers that would be involved.

Finally I’d just like to draw your attention to the end of the Report, where we have recommendations. We are here to alert negotiators in this building that they may be agreeing to something that they don’t fully understand. The texts that are currently on the table on technology and the possibility of having a new technology institution with intense private-sector collaboration embedded into its very mandate, and a series of mechanisms to advance and accelerate the deployment of technology around the world with no assessment of the social and environmental implications of those technologies would be a very serious and potentially devastating outcome for the climate.

So, there is a series of recommendations which, as you know, the debate here is now evolving very rapidly and this report is written some months ago. But we still believe that there should be an exclusion for geoengineering technologies, for any of the enhancement measures that are now envisaged under this new technology body, and that there should be means of assessment and also of precaution. We are also advocating that in the absence of any proper international governance regime there be an immediate moratorium, and very strictly enforced, on real-world experimentation. We cannot have different corporations and different countries running around trying to modify the global system on an experimental basis. The consequences of doing so would be most serious. So, thank you very much for your attention and after we present the other report we’ll take some questions on that.  (…..snip……..)

We do have a few minutes for questions to the presenters. Yes, please, and there’s a microphone coming here.

Bill:  I’m Bill Marsden from the Montreal Gazette. I was just curious, Diana, what essentially is wrong with developing geoengineering technology given the fact that science says that we could be looking at some disastrous climate situations in the future.

Diana: Well, there’s many reasons, I think, that are wrong with it. If you look on page 34 on box six we’ve offered a summary so. You now, really,  just because we have the capacity to develop something in science, doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to do it. We believe that because that geoengineering technologies are by definition large-scale, that they pose inevitably, serious problems of control over who will develop those technologies, who will own the patents, who will have the hardware and the software to deploy them. It is giving the possibility to a very small group of people, or corporations, or countries, to intervene on the planetary climate system on behalf of the rest of the world. And the countries and peoples that are in the front line in the fight against climate change and who are already suffering the impacts will have very little to say about how those technologies will be developed and how they will be deployed. There are also questions around existing international law, and there’s a question of human error. I mean, who is going to – so-called – control the thermostat? Who is going to decide where exactly  those sulphates should be deployed. Who is going to decide whether or not a company has permission to dump iron in the ocean?  All of these international rules are not developed. And to move ahead with research and experimentation and investment, and to have this also be distorted by a speculative search for carbon credits we consider to be very dangerous.

Bill: If you have proper regulations in place, on an international basis, would you be satisfied to go ahead with geoengineering, at least theoretical development of it?  I’m not quite sure I clearly understand at what point you do not agree with all of this.

Diana: All right. Then let me be clear. We think geoengineering is a bad idea. We do not think that that is the way to resolve the climate crisis that we’re in. That as a general statement.

In terms of research, and modeling, whatever scientists want to do with their computers, they can go ahead and do. However, when it comes to experimentation on the real world, and in particular on the content of the ocean and the atmosphere, that should not be allowed to go ahead, without international rules in place. And what kind of international rules? We can no longer live with an ad hoc patchwork of international rules We need a global governance and global regulation of these technologies. We need a process, under the auspices of the United Nations, that will bring those questions forward. We need all countries involved. It needs to be transparent. It needs to involve civil society. It needs to involve the scientific community. And it needs to involve the people who are suffering at first hand the impacts of climate change.

Nick: I think we have time for at least one more question.

Participant: I guess I have a sort of political question. One thing that struck me, I guess in both presentations but particularly with Diana’s presentation, is the extent to which climate policy and policy that relates especially to some of these geoengineering technologies is effectively being developed around us and is being developed in a sense by stealth. In a sense it’s being developed in plain view. I mean doing you report you can go out and find out who is getting the patents, what the scientists are experimenting with and talking about and so forth. In a sense it is going on in plain view. Yet, as you point out, the degree to which even negotiators comprehend what is going on under their noses is very much in doubt. It strikes me that this is a pattern that we have seen before in the development of the UN climate policy. For the last twelve years we’ve seen the development of a massive carbon trading system as the mainstream approach to global climate policy. And in a sense this has been developed in plain view. All the documents are available, and so forth. In the discussion you can find the information about carbon trading, if you look for it. Yet, even negotiators here at the UN, I think very many of them, do not understand what has been going on in the last twelve years. Such that in effect a lot of climate policy is now passing into the hands of Wall Street. Because they are beginning to dominate this market, which started here at the UN, twelve years ago. And it strikes me that the same kind of political process is happening with geoengineering. It’s going on under our noses and yet if you go out and ask people on the street what’s going on with these technical attempts to fix the climate, they won’t know. Just as if you ask people on the street, what is mainstream climate policy, you know, what is carbon trading, most people don’t know. My question is, given this new kind of political reality of the development of policy in plain view, yet no-one knows about it, what are the political organizing necessities in order for the public to get a grip on what’s going on, and in order for the public to begin to take more of a role in deciding, you know, whether we really want, to have these private geoengineering technologies being developed for private use under our noses. I mean what kind of political organizing is possible given these new political realities?

Diana: We’re out of time. I’d just say as a concluding comment that what we might see is that the role that market mechanisms played in Kyoto we’ll see technology play in Copenhagen. And I’m afraid we’re out of time, but I’ll be happy to answer questions after too.

Nick: Thank you very much, everyone. And please do pick up the publications. Take a few. Spread them around. And you can also download them on the web, of course. Thanks very much for coming and listening, and engaging. Thanks.

Diana: The publications are on the table.


The Enouranois website presents and analyses matters of current concern to do with our atmospheric environment.


Ed. Enouranois contacted COTO Report in response to my piece on ETC Group: “Confronting the ‘futuristic’ branding of geoengineering.”

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