Next month researchers in the United Kingdom will start some of the first large-scale geoegineering field studies. Geoengineering is the proposed (and scientifically questionable) large scale manipulation of Earth’s biosphere to engineer sunlight and/or carbon levels at a global scale to address climate change. The Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE) experiment will test an artificial volcano system composed of a long tube suspended at an altitude of 20 kilometers by a stadium-size hydrogen balloon, designed to spew sulfate particles into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight. The Universities of Bristol, Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh - with the support of the UK Government, UK's Royal Society for Science, and defense industry contractors - are showing great hubris in breaking a UN ban on such field trials until important international oversight and consensus are reached. Establishing trials to build the infrastructure for geoengineering sends the signal that the UK and other industrial nations are bent upon high risk technologies rather than emissions reductions to address climate change.
UK's government and prestigious scientific establishment claim that their testing of the equipment for atmospheric manipulations is only for research, but we know from the history of science that virtually all major new technologies, once developed and regardless of risk, almost certainly will be implemented. Modifying Earth at a planetary scale is so complex, that dire unintended consequences are certain. Releasing stratospheric aerosol is one of the most controversial geoengineering technologies under discussion, and for good reason. The impacts of sulfate based geoengineering upon ecosystems are largely unknown, as complex systems react chaotically and non-linearly. Yet it is predicted ecological patterns and processes such as rainfall and seasonality almost certainly will be disrupted at some distance. Further, potential impacts include more ozone layer damage, worsening ocean acidification, and disruption of the food supplies for billions of people. Those most likely to be affected are the poor with the least to lose, and failure could destroy Earth and thus humanity.
The project violates the last year's Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) decision (which Ecological Internet contributed to getting established) prohibiting even small trials which are not in controlled settings. It shows tremendously poor judgment to begin such research without an international consensus on geoengineering. It is not, nor will it ever be, possible to engineer global ecology. Geoengineering is a dangerous distraction from the social, economic and political changes required to sufficiently and equitably confront climate change. Geoengineering offers a technological “fix” to the same governments and industries that created the climate crisis; and requires no social change or personal transformation away from inequitable over-consumption based upon liquidating natural ecosystems. The only way to address abrupt climate is to end fossil fuel use and ecosystem loss; while fairly and ethically reducing emissions, inequitable consumption and over-population.
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Trying to geoengineer a biosphere is risky, egotistical and almost certainly impossible - and trying may well have unintended consequences that further destroy our one biosphere
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