Will SPICE Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering project restart testing ?
Following volcanic eruptions, particles of sulphate are ejected into the atmosphere with ash and cool the earth by reflecting sunlight back into space.
An important initial test for a Bristol-led project has been postponed to facilitate engagement with stakeholders, particularly environmental groups.
The SPICE (Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering) project had originally scheduled its preliminary test for October, but this has now been pushed back by several months and awaits the approval of the Research Council. The SPICE project, led by Dr Matt Watson of the Department of Earth Sciences, is an investigation into geo-engineering â€“ an umbrella term for strategies to manipulate the Earth’s climate in an attempt to reduce the current effects of climate change. SPICE will look specifically at the effects of releasing small particles into the upper atmosphere, mimicking the way volcanoes affect global temperatures.
A campaign called â€˜Hands Off Mother Earth!’ was launched by the environmentalist Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC) Group. Their concern is that the project represents an intent to implement geo-engineering techniques, rather than research assessing their feasibility. They also believe that geo-engineering distracts from the real and pressing need for drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
Both are valid concerns. There is an understandable fear about adding things to the atmosphere to counteract climate change, particularly since the inspiration is volcanic eruptions. Geo-engineering is seen as an attractive alternative by governments and businesses reluctant to enact cuts in emissions; there is a danger that the focus may shift away from sustainability and a reduction in emissions, which are the only guaranteed ways to prevent, minimise and reduce climate change. The call to cancel this test is based on the notion that potentially dangerous geo-engineering techniques can never be implemented if they are never developed.
It seems naÃ¯ve, however, to limit our options at this point. With greenhouse gas emissions continuing to rise â€“ themselves an example of geo-engineering, albeit unmeasured and uncontrolled â€“ we need to explore all available options. Geo-engineering may well be impossible to perform safely; if this is the case, SPICE may yield the crucial research that demonstrates this. If it turns out to be safe and effective, SPICE could play a valuable role in mitigating the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and preserving agricultural land, wildlife and biodiversity.
In May 2012 this first field test was cancelled altogether in agreement of all project partners. Dr. Matthew Watson, the projectÂ´s lead scientist, named two reasons for the cancellation: First, 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.
Although the field testing was cancelled, the project panel decided to continue the lab-based elements of the project.
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