Memo to DARPA, Pentagon: Stay out of geoengineering — aka climate manipulation!

The Pentagon has apparently found a new enemy — Americans! And a new purpose — a geo-engineering arms race

From the annals of really, really bad ideas, Eli Kintisch at Science magazine’s blog reports:

An official advisory group to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is convening an unclassified meeting next week to discuss geoengineering, ScienceInsider has learned. DARPA is the latest in a number of official science funding agencies or top scientific societies that are exploring the controversial idea. But one leading advocate of the work opposes the military developing geoengineering techniques.

That advocate, Carnegie’s Ken Caldeira, says

The last thing we need is to have DARPA developing climate intervention technology.

Seriously. You could write an entire field manual on why this is a dreadful idea.

First, DARPA does the cutting edge research for the military. DARPA’s mission is develop weapons! Most of the major geoengineering strategies can be used to alter the weather and climate for the worse. For that reason alone you really, really don’t want the military anywhere near geoengineering research.

Second, geoengineering is a morally dubious strategy for dealing with climate even if it were promising as a primary strategy, which it is not (see “So much for geoengineering, Part 1: Avoiding the Frankenplanet” and “Geo-engineering remains a bad idea“). So, it is doubly dubious for the single biggest CO2-emitting entity in the world — the U.S. military — to be focusing a major effort on geoengineering.

Third, this is just an absurdly bad message for our nation’s tarnished international image. After a decade of not merely doing nothing to reduce our own primary contribution to global warming but actually actively working to obstruct international and domestic action, the United States of America needs to focus on emissions reduction and mitigation. The military should not be be pursuing some deus ex machina that is exceedingly unlikely to work in order to allow the rest of the country to keep destroying a livable climate.

Finally, DARPA has no inherent advantage or expertise in this area that justifies pursuing it. This work should be supported by those with decades of expertise and experience in environmental and energy and atmospheric research, like EPA, DOE, and NOAA.

Just to be clear, here is DARPA’s mission from their own website (emphasis in original):

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is the central research and development office for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). DARPA’s mission is to maintain the technological superiority of the U.S. military and prevent technological surprise from harming our national security. We also create technological surprise for our adversaries….

When a DARPA research program is completed, the technology is available to the military services and defense contractors for use in military systems.

The primary climate-related technological surprise that is harming our national security is the fact that carbon-emitting technology has turned out to bethe principal threat to the health and well-being of the next 50 generations of Americans (and hasn’t actually been a surprise for decades now). Of course, America itself has developed and deployed much of that carbon imaging technology — and Americans are are responsible for far more cumulative emissions of CO2 than anyone else.

Pogo was talking about a different type of pollution when cartoonist Walt Kelly had him utter his famous phrase, but it remains as true today as in 1970:

We have met the enemy and he is us

More seriously — if the goal is not something usable in military systems, DARPA simply has no business being involved.

So what is DARPA doing?

The 1-day meeting, to be held Wednesday at Stanford University, will be led by University of Illinois Urbana-Champlaign engineering professor Bill King under the auspices of the Defense Sciences Research Council, which advises DARPA. An agenda for the unpublicized event viewed by ScienceInsider listed top researchers who have studied geoengineering as speakers, including geochemist Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science and astrophysicist Gregory Benford of University of California-Irvine….

But other scientists worry that military support for the work could create the public impression that the work was meant to harm. “The last thing we need is to have DARPA developing climate intervention technology,” says Caldeira. He says he agreed to go to the meeting “to try to get DARPA not to develop geoengineering techniques. Geoengineering is already so fraught with social, geopolitical, economic and ethical issues — why would we want to add military dimensions?” He adds, however, that he would support DARPA studying the topic in case an adversary were to use it.

I don’t support DARPA studying geoengineering “in case an adversary were to use it” because that is just absurd. There is no evidence that any “adversary” is pursuing geoengineering for military purposes. Why would they? The United States has been the principal contributor to geo-engineering the current climate catastrophe, which is going to do more harm to us than any adversary ever could.

This is just the old Self-justifying, self-fulfilling, and self-defeating rhetoric of the Cold War. After all, our “adversary” — whoever the heck that is these days — can justify pursuing geo-engineering for the exact same reason: in case their “adversary” (i.e. us) were to use it. And then what — we end up with the geo-engineering arms race?

If the United States wants to pursue geo-engineering, then let the National Academy of Sciences assemble experts and make recommendations for civilian research — which they are doing.

Fortunately, the man who is about to become science adviser, John Holdren, is of the country’s leading experts on global warming (see “Obama’s strongest message on climate yet: John Holdren to be named Science Adviser“) — and he understands the severe limitations of geo-engineering as a primary strategy for averting the thousand year holocaust of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions, having written 3 years ago:

The ‘geo-engineering’ approaches considered so far appear to be afflicted with some combination of high costs, low leverage, and a high likelihood of serious side effects.

To his long list of things to do once he is confirmed, he can add killing this really, really bad idea.

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15 Responses to Memo to DARPA, Pentagon: Stay out of geoengineering — aka climate manipulation!

  1. Russ says:

    I’ve written in the past that geoengineering, if it ever went anywhere beyond the paper stage, would be intended as another corporatist boondoggle like the vaunted “nuclear renaissance”, another vehicle for disaster capitalist plunder, this time leeching off the biggest self-created disaster of them all, the climate crisis.

    Now I have a couple of new thoughts. Given the way things are going nowadays, where clearly the only conceivable way to temporarily prop up the corpse of the exponential debt economy is to reflate an old bubble or find a new one to inflate, whenever I look at any large-scale idea the first question I can’t help asking is, Can they turn this into a bubble?

    There’s already the well-established fear that that’s what cap&trade would be used for. I wonder if there’s any way to use the geoengineering concept for the same purpose.

    For example, I haven’t heard the suggestion yet that geoengineering expenditure, even at the think tank level, should qualify as an “offset”, but I have no doubt that’s coming. Once the people are convinced enough of the severity of the climate peril that we do get an intensive policy, where there will be all this trading in permits, offsets, IPOs from tech companies planning every imaginable climate fix from free energy to the craziest geoengineering schemes, and in derivatives from all these things, and a new kind of CDS: climate disaster swaps….

    Well, the picture is still hazy, but I can see the outlines of the carbon bubble. (Policy advocates say all this can easily be prevented. I hope so, but we see how well regulation worked in the past…)

  2. hapa says:

    “preliminary results indicate that cattle are 290,000x cheaper than stealth bombers but have a negative deterrent coefficient, especially among children”

  3. Harrier says:

    As much as I agree with you in principle, Joe, I can’t help but feel that we’ve reached the point where any research into scaling back climate change could produce worthwhile results. It’s time for all hands on deck. Whether or not DARPA ever implements any of the ideas they come up with is another matter entirely, but I consider their joining the research side of this effort to be good news.

  4. Bob Wright says:

    Maybe the military should very, very quietly develop some capacity under the leadership of the appropriate civilian agencies. They have the hardware and a global presence, and many officers were science and engineering majors or minors at the academies. What schemes come to mind? Artificial aerosols? Dusting the oceans with iron or CaCO3? Pumping air into dead zones? More reflective clouds? (Protecting fish preseves while cutting out the loud sonar would also be very helpful.)

    Very quietly, because the last thing the deniers and delayers need is a possible crutch to hedge their bets.

  5. David B. Benson says:

    Poo. Put all the solders to work planting trees.

    Lots of trees.

  6. Maybe somebody in the Pentagon is scared enough of climate change that they think they might someday need to go to war over geoengineering. (Imagine one country trying to block another from altering the Earth’s climate because of differential outcomes for the two countries, in a climate changed and geoengineered world.)

    Haven’t they called it the worst threat to national security ever?

    If their mandate is funding things that protect the homeland, and climate change threatens it…

    (But by that logic they’d also be in the business of food security, water management and population control.)

  7. Bob Wright says:

    David Benson: Best idea for the military yet.

  8. Dicynodont says:

    Once again, Joe goes into hysterionics and the merest mention of the word “geoengineering”, and once again, I wish I could agree with him.

    But I cannot agree with Joe, because we now understand that the threat of climate change unchecked is by far the greatest threat to national security, and indeed global security. It is too late to just argue for emission reductions, because climate has passed the ‘tipping point’ of accelerating natural CO2 emissions (e.g. Arctic permafrost methane). Ergo, geoengineering is necessary. Period.

    Frankly, it’s only a matter of time until the “Climate Change Wars” begin, as the global environment deteriorates and people start fighting over scarce resources. So what’s the problem with the military getting involved in research that might reduce the potential for world war?

  9. Harrier says:

    Also, the United States military is arguably one of the biggest engines for global change in the world today. If they were to get on an anti-climate change mission, it would make a world of difference, especially because so much of the populace would follow them. It’s a way of taking advantage of how martial a nation we’ve become.

  10. David B. Benson says:

    Harrier — Good plan. E-mail SecDoD.

  11. Harrier says:

    Ha, I’ve actually considered recently trying to become a climate change lobbyist. I’m almost done with college (or I hope I’m almost done), and I’ve been thinking about what kind of career I could possibly hold with the specter of climate change looming over my future. Perhaps joining the lobbying arm of an organization like the Sierra Club would be a way of feeling less powerless in the face of the coming tumult.

  12. the United States military is arguably one of the biggest engines for global change in the world today.

    Yes we need more weapons, weapons of mass destruction, dead people, horribly maimed people, homeless and orphaned people and destruction, and certainly an intractable amount of debt has done us wonders.

    Heckava job, Harrier, heckava job

  13. pane says:

    Atmospheric geoingineering = CHEMTRAILS all around the world

  14. JazzRoc says:

    D. Benson: “Put all the solders to work planting trees. Lots of trees.”

    Especially against and beneath the upwind tree lines. Hydrological geo-engineering until you can get the beavers in. Stock with eco-suitable fish. Small dams at fall areas with local hyro-electrical extraction and irrigation (via groudwater) services. Extend, largen and widen alluvial valleys and increase river meander.


    pane: (surely misspelled?) “Atmospheric geoingineering = CHEMTRAILS all around the world”

    You are seeing ICE CRYSTALS and spewing mindless drivel.

    A Boeing 747 can release 80,000 tons of it (ice) in a six-hour flight if the conditions in the stratosphere are SUPERSATURATED, and guess what, the aviation industry puts a million tons of ice up there daily.

    So occasionally, JUST occasionally, persistent shuttle flights may WHITE OUT the sky in your area.

    Get a life.

    That’s another thing. Separate rainwater from sewage for local purification to washing and drinking water. Learn to use dry toilets and thermophilic composting. Stop pooing in your drinking water.

  15. Wilma says:

    Apparently JazzRoc (7:01am) hasn’t had his morning coffee to relieve his crack hangover. He sees ice crystals; yeah, a million tons of ice put there in the sky on a daily basis by the aviation industry. What a sweet dream.
    Go back to bed Jazz cause your so full of poo.