Geoengineering and Conflicts of Interest?

Is it unethical for scientists studying techniques to geoengineer the earth’s climate to advocate for additional government funding to expand the study of the science and geopolitics of the topic?  That’s the conclusion of a recent Guardian article that criticizes Harvard’s David Keith and the Carnegie Institute’s Ken Caldeira for a) receiving outside money to study geoengineering; b)  having stakes in companies that are developing technology that could be used for geoengineering and c) advocating for additional government research into geoengineering.  But their position — that we should seriously study techniques to slow global warming as a last resort in the event that global efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions are insufficient — is hardly a Machiavellian one.  Groups as independent and mainstream as the  National Academy of Sciences have taken the same position.   Moreover, is it really so unusual for scientists who are professionally invested in a topic to believe that the government should fund additional research?

It isn’t as though Caldeira and Keith are advocates for large scale geoengineering as a first order solution to global warming.  To the contrary, both are scientists who have focused significant research attention on conventional solutions to cutting greenhouse gases and believe that we must cut emissions dramatically or risk significant and even catastrophic climate change (here’s a sampling of physicist Keith’s non-geoengineering research; Caldeira is an oceanographer who has led the scientific community in assessing the risks of ocean acidification as a result of carbon emissions.  Both men have both served as authors of the International Panel on Climate Change assessments).    I keep wondering if the topic of the research and funding the scientists had received was something aimed at mitigation carbon emissions — carbon capture and storage, large scale solar deployment, etc. — whether we’d view their government funding advocacy as benign?

What am I missing here?

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Reader Comments

4 Replies to “Geoengineering and Conflicts of Interest?”

  1. I quite agree with this posting. I’ve spent quite a bit of time with the geoengineering community in recent years, and while there are a few of them that seem a bit “Strangelovian,” the vast majority are like Keith and Caldeira, dedicated climatologists who (cautiously) embrace climate geoengineering more out of a sense of desperation than full-throated enthusiasm. From where I sit, if we forgo a research agenda driven by responsible scientists of this ilk, we may wake up one day in 2020 or 2030 and find ourselves deploying such technologies with very little research to back them, because we are about to pass catastrophic climatic thresholds and feel we have no other choice.

  2. I quite agree with this posting. I’ve spent quite a bit of time with the geoengineering community in recent years, and while there are a few of them that seem a bit “Strangelovian,” the vast majority are like Keith and Caldeira, dedicated climatologists who (cautiously) embrace climate geoengineering more out of a sense of desperation than full-throated enthusiasm. From where I sit, if we forgo a research agenda driven by responsible scientists of this ilk, we may wake up one day in 2020 or 2030 and find ourselves deploying such technologies with very little research to back them, because we are about to pass catastrophic climatic thresholds and feel we have no other choice.

  3. Ive spent over a year studying Geoengineering and Ill tell you they are already doing what they say they plan to do . As a person who spends most of his hours outside in Florida what we used to call the Sunshine state is no longer that , Day after day month after month since Jan 2011 full scale geoengineering has taken place above Florida ,

  4. Ive spent over a year studying Geoengineering and Ill tell you they are already doing what they say they plan to do . As a person who spends most of his hours outside in Florida what we used to call the Sunshine state is no longer that , Day after day month after month since Jan 2011 full scale geoengineering has taken place above Florida ,

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About Ann

Ann Carlson

Ann Carlson is the Shirley Shapiro Professor of Environmental Law and the co-Faculty Director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA School…

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