The Technology Economy panel at the ISEE 2012 Conference – Ecological Economics and Rio+20 discussed the urgent need of a governing body for technology assessment specifically focused on geoengineering. The panel discussed the potential for the UN to adopt an international institute to assess and monitor the safety of new and existing technology using the precautionary principle. Panelist Pat Mooney, Right Livelihood Award winner (Alternative Nobel Prize), and ETC Group founder, said that the global governance of geoengineering technologies is the key to improving knowledge exchange on technological adoptions.
According to the 2012 New Oxford English dictionary, geoegineering is defined as “the deliberate large-scale manipulation of an environmental process that affects the earth’s climate, in an attempt to counteract the effects of global warming.” Basically, it has a technological approach that does not include the change in consumption patterns or the promotion of low-tech organic agriculture. These technologies are controversial, ethically questionable and currently do not assess their risks over the long term.
One example of geoengineering as a way to cool the climate is solar radiation management. This technology reflects the sun back into space using spaceshuttle reflectors.
Another example of geoengineering is putting iron into ocean water to promote phytoplankton blooms, which cools surface water temperatures and captures CO2 from the atmosphere. This method has a severe effect on the oceanographic ecosystem and marine life, which is already heavily impacted by anthropological activities. During the Days of Dialouge the UN did not reach an agreement on the issue of ocean fertilization known as “Oceans 11” hopefully in the last few days of delegating they will reach an agreement stating the need to monitor the technologies used to remove CO2.
The most controversial of geoengineering strategies is the implementation of weather modification, which really gets to the punch of developing technology to change our planet. This science is still pending on patents, including hurricane suppression or redirection.
This is serious stuff with great technological advancements, but why fumble with science we still don’t understand? In the absence of political will to implement reduced carbon targets and behavioral changes, geoengineering provides a viable solution. However, it provides a series of risks as mentioned above. I support Mr. Mooney on his advocacy for global governance of geoengineering, as well as the evaluation of other new and emerging technologies, like genetic engineering, that may pose grave threats to the environment and hundreds of millions of people who depend on healthy livelihoods.
If being exposed to modified food which make us ill we have now reverted back to organic, locally produced food. Imagine, modifying the earth’s ecosystem? If there is a problem, reverting it won’t be easy. It doesn’t seem to be a rational way to kick start a healthy environment.