(Additional) reflections on geoengineering.

The recent NASEM report on geoengineering prompted some discussion yesterday on our daily AMS Policy Program call. One of my office mates made a couple of observations:

  1. Re “geo-engineering-has-always-been-with-us:” Bill, if that’s true, then in addition to looking at solar radiation engineering, we ought to focus on doing a better job of the geoengineering we’re already doing, rather than simply embarking on something new.

Well said! Start with energy.Worldwide, economies have invested trillions of dollars worldwide in fossil-fuel infrastructure, in the process modifying not just Earth’s atmosphere but also landscapes and ecosystems globally. We need to unwind that geo-engineering as we geo-engineer a renewable-energy planet to replace it. Then there’s food. As much as one-third of global agricultural output is wasted. In the developed world, this occurs at the consumer end; we prepare and serve too generously, and throw away a large amounts at meal’s end. In the developing world, fragile infrastructure too often fails to capture food production; as much as a third rots in farmer’s fields. Then there’s water; only a small fraction is consumed to meet direct human needs. Virtually all the water used worldwide supports agriculture, energy production, and the economy more broadly. We urbanize land that would have been ideal for agriculture – and compensate for that loss by irrigating desert. The list goes on…

Ideas for improvement abound; action is the bottleneck. Governments, institutions, and peoples would do well to be pursuing suc.h re-engineering with greater vigor.

Re “augment-funding-for-geo-engineering-research-without-reducing-the-funds-available-for-related-environmental-R&D:” Bill, we don’t have a good track record here. The incremental funding for new starts almost always comes at the expense of closely related work.

Again, spot-on. We can decry the reasons for this, starting here in the United States with the fragmented appropriations process in federal budgeting. Oversight/jurisdiction for budgets is parceled out; each focus are has its own set of priorities, and little enthusiasm or incentive to shift any of its resources to another portfolio, thereby signaling “we really didn’t need the money.” The only real hope in this case stems from the possibility of a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure bill, potentially “the tide that will raise all boats.” The infrastructure legislation faces an uncertain future at best. Chances for truly new funding, even for amounts of $100-200M, are fragile.

A final reflection, this coming from another direction. The American Meteorological Society has a long-established process for community-development of informational and position statements on salient scientific, technological, and policy issues. Its statement on geoengineering was well-received and actually adopted by other scientific societies when first developed; as these things go, it’s also stood the test of time rather well, being readopted in 2013. But the world and geoengineering have moved on. Look for a new AMS statement on this subject a few months down the road.

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