Thursday, September 18, 2014

Safety First! Framing and Governing Climate Geoengineering Experimentation (Excerpt)

This is a new and interesting paper on the GGR website:

"Experiments for technology proposals to deliberately intervene in the Earth’s climate system to moderate anthropogenic climate change, collecitively known as geoengineering, have begun."


"Different conceptualisations of ‘participation’ were also present amongst the corpus publications, despite a general agreement that a ‘let’s engage people’ attitude was favourable. With reference to Arnstein’s (1969) influential ‘ladder of participation’, the objective to ‘consult and inform’ people on geoengineering experimentation suggests conceptualisations of participation in decision making that constitute at best ‘degrees of tokenism’ through ‘informing’, ‘consulting’ or ‘placating’, and at worst ‘nonparticipation’ through ‘manipulation’ or ‘therapy’. Whilst most perspectives on participation amongst the corpus publications would favour so–called degrees of tokenism, ‘manipulation’ can also be sought through explicit (e.g. HOME) or implicit (e.g. Mercer et al., 2011) framings that may inadvertently, tacitly or deliberately obscure commitments to securing particular outcomes, be they oppositional or supportive. Whilst the upper echelons of Arnstein’s ladder that call for ‘degrees of citizen power’ reveal a commitment to egalitarian conceptions of democracy in itself, the rationales for deliberation extend beyond the normative to substantive and instrumental ones too (Fiorino, 1990)."


Safety First! Framing and Governing Climate Geoengineering Experimentation
Rob Bellamy
Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, University of Oxford

Experiments for technology proposals to deliberately intervene in the Earth’s climate system to moderate anthropogenic climate change, collec tively known as geoengineering, have begun. Recent controversies have demonstrated that they are more than simply a technical concern: they are political, social and ethical ones too. With more experiments planned, it is imperative that the ways in which such ambitions are understood and used by different participants in discourses on geoengineering are scruti nised by social science. For the first time, this article examines framings of geoengineering experimentation using a corpus approach to thematic discourse analysis. The analysis identifies eleven distinct framings with twenty–four distinct sub–frames under four thematic constructs:

knowledge, precaution, control and society. These framings are discussed in the light of research into divergent epistemic and institutional cultures.
The article concludes by offering a ‘clumsy’ solution space for geoengineering governance and climate response governance at large.

experiment /ɪk′spɛrɪm(ə)nt/ n 1 a scientific procedure undertaken to make a discovery, test a hypothesis, or demonstrate a known fact. 1.1 a course of action tentatively adopted without being sure of the outcome. V 1 perform a scientific procedure, especially in a laboratory, to determine something. 1.1 try out new ideas or methods (Oxford English Dictionary).

In July 2012 one hundred tonnes of iron sulphate was released into the North Pacific Ocean off the western seaboard of Canada (Tollefson, 2012).

Those behind the release, the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, had done so in an attempt to stimulate the growth of phytoplankton. The reasons for this were twofold: first, to increase the declining local salmon population in support of fishing efforts from the Haida Gwaii archipelago;
and second, to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide in order to sell carbon credits to companies seeking to offset their greenhouse gas emissions. This experiment in ‘ocean iron fertilisation’ was the latest in a string of such experiments testing the ‘iron hypothesis’ of carbon drawdown (Martin, 1990). Yet, it sparked controversy later that year when British newspaper The Guardian reported the ‘rogue’ incident as being in violation of two United Nations conventions (Lukacs, 2012). The furore was in large part due to the experiment’s conceptual intention: testing climate ‘geoengineering’.

Notwithstanding the long and chequered history of its antecedents (Fleming, 2010), the idea of deliberate, large–scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system has recently gained prominence as a possible response to anthropogenic climate change (Royal Society, 2009). Insufficient efforts to mitigate climate change through reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and the risk of a climate ‘emergency’ are two dominant problem definitions driving interest in ‘geoengineering’ technology (Bella my et al., 2012). Such concerns are used to justify geoengineering re search, and increasingly, experimentation (Royal Society, 2009; Novim, 5 2009). Geoengineering is not only limited to ocean iron fertilisation but subsumes a disparate array of technology proposals. These proposals can be broadly divided amongst those that seek to capture and sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (‘carbon geoengineering’); and those that seek to reflect a proportion of sunlight away from the Earth (‘solar geoengineering’).

Most geoengineering proposals have so far undergone no experimentation beyond that in laboratories or through computational model ling. The most notable exception to this has been the inadvertent field experiments in ocean iron fertilisation carbon geoengineering that took place prior to the Haida Gwaii incident (Strong et al., 2009); of which there have been fourteen, including SOIREE (Boyd & Abraham, 2001) and LOHAFEX (Thiele et al., 2012). Yet, solar geoengineering experiments in enhancing the reflectivity of clouds at sea (‘marine cloud brightening’) and in injecting reflective sulphuric acid aerosol into the stratosphere (‘stratospheric aerosol injection’) have also begun. Much as with prior experiments in ocean iron fertilisation, those in marine cloud brightening have so far been inadvertent; that is to say, they were conducted to ex plore basic questions in our scientific understanding of Earth systems. For instance, whilst the Eastern Pacific Emitted Aerosol Cloud Experiment (E-PEACE), sought to address gaps in our knowledge of cloud perturbation processes (Russell et al., 2013), it has also shed light on the capacity for marine cloud brightening to produce cooling effects (Russell, 2012).

Experiments in stratospheric aerosol injection have been more purposeful. This is in no small part due to its increasingly hegemonic place in the field of geoengineering (Bellamy et al., 2012). Despite assessment findings to the contrary (Bellamy et al., 2013; Bellamy et al., in press), the proposal is peddled for its alleged effectiveness (Lenton & Vaughan, 2009), feasibility (Fox & Chapman, 2011), and low costs (Barrett, 2008).

To test this technology, scientists and engineers have turned to observe the behaviour of aerosols released by volcanoes in ‘natural’ experiments (Robock et al., 2013) and by releasing aerosols from helicopters (Izrael et al., 2009). A somewhat more ill–fated experiment attracted controversy after seeking to test delivery hardware as part of the Stratospheric Partircle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE) project (Cressey, 2012).

Had it not been indefinitely postponed due to an absence of governance and a conflict of interest in technology patenting, the test–bed would have seen the injection of water to a tropospheric height of 1km via a pipe and tethered balloon.

The level of intervention in the environment demanded by experimentation differs significantly between geoengineering proposals. Of course, experimentation with some less invasive proposals, such as direct air capture and storage of carbon dioxide, ‘can and should be encouraged without delay’ (Royal Society, 2009: 52). Other proposals, however, such as those discussed above with international, transboundary or commons implications, demand a much higher level of technical intervention. Yet, through controversy, experimentation with these proposals has already demonstrated that it is more than simply a technical concern: it is a political, social and ethical one too. With more experiments planned (Latham et al., 2012; Parson & Keith, 2013; Keith, 2013) it is vital that the ways in which such ambitions are understood and used by different participants in discourses on geoengineering are scrutinised by social science. Such re search will play an important role in developing principles for geoengineering governance (Rayner et al., 2013) and in supporting responsible research and innovation (Owen et al., 2013).

A number of scholars have already begun to examine understand ings and uses of ‘geoengineering’ more broadly both in the media and in academic and grey literature. Through discourse analyses of the ways in which social actors have chosen to organise and communicate, or ‘frame’ (Entman, 1993), geoengineering, social scientific research has revealed a variety of framings. In the media it was initially framed supportively, through ‘spectacle’ for its possible role as a solution to climate change (Buck, 2012), or as a remedy for climate change ‘catastrophe’ through three master metaphors: ‘the planet is a body’, ‘the planet is a machine’, and ‘the planet is a patient or addict’ (Nerlich & Jaspal, 2013). Media framings have since diversified, utilising frames on risk, governance and accountability, economics, morality, security and justice (Porter & Hulme, 2013); and war, controllability and health, in both support and opposition of geoengineering (Luokkanen et al., 2013). Further diversification since is argued to have opened up the societal debate on geoengineering through framings of ambivalence, avoiding catastrophe, pragmatism, norms and values, benefits for society, controversy, a techno–fix and of governance (Scholte et al., 2013).

Discourse analyses of academic and grey literature on geoengineering inherently contend with more substantive and detailed data sets than those of media publications. Yet, framings in the geoengineering assessment literature have been revealed to be less diverse, ‘closing down’ on particular problem definitions, knowledges and pathways (Bellamy et al., 2012). Discursive strategies in ‘philosophical exceptionalism’ and ‘market and the economy’ amongst scientific and political advocates of geoengineering have shown similar scope for closure (Sikka, 2012). The broader academic literature on geoengineering has been shown to hold somewhat more varied framings with emphases on ‘risk–benefit’, ‘governance’ and ‘natural balance’ (Huttunen & Hildén, 2013). High–profile academic and grey literature reports have shown yet further variation in framings of the geoengineering imaginary, and in particular revealing tensions between them: ‘science before policy, or vice versa’; ‘geoengineering is new, or old’; ‘balancing the Earth system, or societal reform’; and ‘geoengineering research (or deployment) now, or geoengineering is a distraction from mitigation’ (Markusson, 2013).

Building on this earlier research into geoengineering discourses more generally, for the first time this article seeks to explore the more specific understandings and uses of geoengineering experimentation and related concepts by different participants in the discourse. It begins by detailing the research methodology before reporting and then discussing its analytical findings. The article concludes by summarising its contribu tion to the literature and drawing recommendations for future research and policy.

For the full paper visit:

Safety First! Framing and Governing Climate Geoengineering Experimentation
Rob Bellamy
Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, University of Oxford

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