By Kelly images

As an apprentice scientist, and an apprentice science communicator I have learned a lot over the last few days about error in reporting, science miscommunication and some of the problems posed by the instantaneous global reach that social media networks now permit. And so I should like to correct some inaccuracies that I unwittingly propagated in the original post I wrote on the SPICE project in relation to geoenginneering the climate.

The original article in Nature Climate Change reports that the testbed, or scaled down, project was cancelled in 2012 due to problems with the patent application for the delivery technology. What I should like to clarify is that the testbed project was only one element of the broader SPICE project, which is still going strong. The test bed was always contingent on a number of criteria that needed to be met within a three-year time frame. When this could not be met funds were then allocated to other parts of the project. After thanking Dr Hugh Hunt for clarifying the status of the project, I asked him if he had anything he would like to add, and he wrote:

“I feel strongly that we need to pursue geoengineering research for various reasons:
1.  it will probably be the cheap option (cf cutting fossil fuel use) so governments will choose to do it whether or not the research has been done. Far better to find out now what the drawbacks and cautions are.
2.  we are sleep-walking into it.  The general public has no idea about geoengineering and that is a bad situation”

While geoengineering makes me very nervous, when couched in these terms I find myself agreeing. As a global community we are not making the committment to reduce CO2 emissions to halt the current accelerating global temperatures. We talk of tipping points in the climate system, but what of tipping points in government action? We have already seen rogue geoengineering in Canadian waters, will there come a time when geoengineering is considered the only solution? And if so, then we would most certainly not want to walk into it blindly. Nor repor ton it blindly Kelly.

I’m still left intrigued by why criteria couldn’t be met, and I hope to be able to buy Dr Hunt a cup of coffee when he is next in town so that he can expand on the issue. According to their Wikipedia page “involved scientists had submitted patents for similar technology, presenting a potentially significant conflict of interest. In addition to that, concerns about the lack of government regulation of such geoengineering projects were raised”. So where do we go from here?

Stay tuned, we have much more to say on the scientific, political and ethical issues of geoengineering.

To learn more about the research that the SPICE team are conducting you can see their Wikipedia page, or make your own judgement on the matter by first listening to Dr Hunt on ABC’s Big Ideas, or at a Cambridge University Public Policy Seminar.