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:
To his long list of things to do once he is confirmed, he can add killing this really, really bad idea.
- How desperate are climate scientists? Desperate enough to contemplate geo-engineering.
- So much for geoengineering, 2: Ocean dead zones to expand, “remain for thousands of years”