Geoengineer: My New Word for the Day

The first time I heard the word I assumed geoengineering referred to carbon sequestration – a pie in the sky technology at least a decade in the future – which aims to reduce carbon emissions by trapping and storing industrially-produced CO2. This past week I learned that the large scale experimentation that is being planned is far more imminent and potentially dangerous.

The official definition of geoengineering is the implementation of large scale technologies to intentionally manipulate planetary systems. In March 2010, billionaires Bill Gates and Richard Branson and 173 other self-selected experts met in Asilomar California to discuss how to carry out controlled climate engineering experiments – not in computer simulation, but in the real world. While it was billed as an international conference, only 14 countries were represented, along with geoengineering companies such as Climosinc, an ocean fertilization firm that hopes to profit from dumping iron into the sea. It turns out that Gates and Branson, along with powerful companies, like Shell and Boeing, are investing billions of dollars in technologies that are being developed in relative secret, owing to the pitiful absence of coverage in the US media.

An Issue Invisible in the Corporate Media

Fortunately the issue is receiving good media coverage in Europe and the global South. Outside the US, there is enormous concern that an elite group of scientists, corporations and think tanks – backed by some of the governments with the largest carbon debt – have opted out of the global effort to find a fair and sustainable path to reducing carbon emissions. Instead, hungry for new sources of profit, they are secretly pursuing an undemocratic and potentially lethal Plan B.

“Ocean fertilization” is one form of geoengineering being considered. This technology seeds the ocean with an infusion of iron compounds in order to stimulate massive algae blooms. The theory is that the algae, like all plants, will absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and act as a carbon sink on falling to the ocean floor. Unfortunately there are major flaws in the theory. Ocean ecologists report there are already serious problems with large algae blooms created by fertilizer run off from industrial farming operations. Instead of sinking to the bottom of the sea, as the geoengineers claim, these blooms tend to sit on the surface and create “dead zones” – which are totally devoid of any marine life – by sucking all the oxygen from the water.

Another really dangerous technology being proposed involves shooting large amounts of sulphate into the upper atmosphere to deflect sunlight and cool the earth. The main problem with this approach is the real possibility it will disrupt Asian and African monsoons – threatening water and food sources for two billion people.

The Corrupting Influence of Money and Power

Why am I not surprised Bill Gates and his friends see nothing ethically wrong with turning six billion people into lab rats for a massive Dr Strangelove type experiment? Or that the oil lobby is quietly promoting geoengineering as a solution to climate change – while simultaneously spending millions of dollars on a PR campaign to persuade us global warming is merely an elaborate hoax?  Or that some geoengineers, including those promoting ocean fertilization, have already tried to profit from carbon trading schemes by lobbying to make their unproven technologies eligible for carbon offsets?

The official website for the global campaign to stop dangerous geoengineering experiments is www.handsoffmotherearth.org

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