Archive for October 18th, 2010


Dana Milbank Weighs in on Geoengineering

October 18, 2010

Dana Milbank’s column from yesterday:

It’s time for policymakers to get serious about these and other “geoengineering” proposals to cool the Earth and remove excess carbon.

Yes, well, we’re talking about it right now.


Christopher Avery and David Keith

October 18, 2010

UPDATE 3:24: David Keith is on the scene. He says this is a new talk for him. I don’t believe him, but whatev. This is how the hotshots roll. He doesn’t provide an abstract, so you can rely on yours truly for notes. He’s telling a story now. You’re not missing anything.

Starting with a few comments. He’s an expert who thinks that he’s narrowly an expert, but it’s not clear to him that he has a lot to say that will contribute to this conversation. He’s just quoted Tom Watson and basically called him an idiot for ever suggesting that the world only needed five computers. Now he’s telling a story about a plane crash, and about how a pilot broke the tail off a plane by overreacting. The moral of the tale is that controls of airplanes should be sticky to keep everyone from freaking out.

We now have a political cartoon depicting coneheads and time machines. Hard to explain.

Speed: How quickly can SRM act? No good answer. It’d be great if it could act quickly… but it’s not clear if it can.

He’s looking at five knobs on our SRM climate engineering machine:

  1. Speed: there are dangers to having it act too fast (like a sticky tail rudder on an airplane).
  2. Localization: it would be nice if you could have local control of the climate. (I’m chilly, so I’m putting on my sweater.)
  3. Temporal Risk Profile: worst type of risk profile is like thalidomide
  4. Requirement for collective action
  5. Certainty of outcome
  6. Feasibility of counteraction (we’ve moved beyond five knobs somehow)
  7. Detectability and verifiability
  8. Techie knobs: spectral, zonal, direct/diffuse

Keith’s main concern is that once this comes into play, it’ll be used for whatever ends we want it to be used.

UPDATE 3:15: Christopher Avery is arguing that there already is a form of governance: intellectual property. Pretty interesting proposal. His argument proceeds by looking at a variety of cases in which there already have been several geoengineering patents. So he’s now asking how we can govern IP differently. Now he’s considering a different analog: atomic energy. Suggestions:

  1. Stop issuing broad patents. These stifle innovation.
  2. Create an interagency geoengineering tast force
  3. Add geoengineering to existing sensitive application warning system within PTO
  4. Offer non-patent based innovation incentives (like the X-prize)

The time to act is now. Geoengineering is at a crucial moment in its development. The time in which we can act, he says, is quickly passing. If geoengineering is a ship, IP is the rudder. Cute metaphor.


Stefan Shaefer and Mike Anderson

October 18, 2010

Update 2:27: Mike Anderson now. Wants us to see that governance is as big an issue as the science. Also have the full paper here.

Update 2:10: Stefan Schaefer is up now. Since his whole paper is up, you should read it instead of reading my crappy notes. Basically, he’s looking at input legitimacy, throughput legitimacy, and output legitimacy.


Christopher Preston and Holly Buck

October 18, 2010

UPDATE 1:41: Q&A now. Clark Miller has a question about the assignment of value to different sets of outcomes. Holly responds that a universally environmental ethics may be impossible, but it’s at least desirable. I asked a question and obviously couldn’t type at the same time. Basically I expressed my gripe that some forms of geoengineering are different than others, and some are more restorative than others. Most, however, move the world to a different state. Now Nicole Hassoun is asking a question, but i’m typing and have no idea how to document what she’s just said. David Keith is speaking now. He’s raising this concern about there are some landscapes that haven’t been manipulated in many ways. Once you get to carbon concentrations of (arbitrarily) 2 or 3 times the natural levels, then basically, he says, you’re dealing with an artifact.

UPDATE 1:25: Holly Buck says she has a soft voice, apologetically, but it’s not really true. She asks What Climate Engineering Can Do for Us. Wrote this paper while in Azerbaijan, or however you spell it. Apparently they have pictures of the benzene molecule on their monetary notes. Introduces seven premises about media:

  1. media is an environment
  2. this environment is interactive, but that doesn’t make it equally authored.
  3. there is no ‘public’ — only publics
  4. both media texts and audience have an active part in making meaning
  5. communication serves a ritual function
  6. media doesn’t just relate events, it also performs them
  7. language can create conceptual changes.

I stopped taking notes on her slides. They’re way too long. But she’s kindly provided her full paper, link above, so you can read that if you want to read  her slides, which, basically, are clippings from her paper.

UPDATE 1:10: Lunch was dee-lunchious. Institutional food doesn’t get much better. Now Christopher Preston (Montana homeboy) is telling us what’s up. Here’s his abstract.

Oops. He’s made a mistake about a quote by a scientist and a guy from the American Enterprise Institute. Like dogs to an ice cream cone, the scientists have corrected him, irrelevant though the actual speaker of the quote is. Christopher has also just cited Holmes Rolston III, though he’s put a quote up on a non-white background. Picture of sky. Pretty, but you can’t read what Rolston has to say.

What Preston says is basically that there’s a presumptive environmental ethics argument against geoengineering. And he’s concerned, in particular, that you’ll turn the earth into some sort of artifact. Now he’s quoting Keekok Lee, though this time he used a white background. Bill McKibben’s now the guy in question, who raises, obviously, this point in End of Nature. Preston’s attributing McKibben’s stance to an “unintentional” manipulation of the earth, and I suppose that’s right, though I hadn’t quite thought of that before.

There are many knotty — ‘knotty’ is a good word — ethical issues associated with geoengineering, he says. Procedural/participatory questions, risk management, distributional, public/private, legal, security, goals/intentions, and so on.

Now he’s moving on to other questions. Wants to talk about the lesser of two evils argument. Wants to look at putative arguments in favor of using geoengineering. Channeling Steve Gardiner (obviously; duh; he’s the lesser of two evils guy).

Moved on to another kind of waiving of presumption case: the “Necessary action to save human life.” Suggests perhaps that the deep ecologists might object to the general saving of a human life, but these are relatively rare positions in the environmental community. If it’s about saving life, then all bets are more or less off for the environmental community.

A third way in which we might waive the assumption is to suggest that “Large Scale Manipulation is What We Do.” He says he’s not persuaded by this. The case might be made that basically this is can be undercut by suggesting also that sometimes humans overstep the mark.

Fourth, sometimes there’s a sense in which geoengineering is a sort of environmental restoration.

Fifth, someone might waive the presumption because it could be the case that we couldn’t possible blight ourselves further.


Kyle Powys Whyte and Petra Tschakert

October 18, 2010

Lunch Break.

UPDATE 11:30: Nicole Hassoun is asking a question about displacement.  Petra responds that there are strong requests to separate aid money from climate change money, because it often distracts the obligation that the north has. David Keith just mentioned his work with Bill Gates, and referred to Bill as though they hang around at jungle gyms together. That’s kinda cool. He mentioned that he’s working to try to get participants from the developing world engaged. Alan Robock is talking about how this question was addressed at Asilomar a bit, and suggested that some earlier policies failed because of opportunism on the part of developing nations.

UPDATE 11:13: Petra (Penn State) is talking about the fact that if you google “Hand Holding Globe” you find that there are no racially (skin-tone-wise) interesting hands holding globes. What does this tell us? (Not much), but Petra says it does tell us something, presumably that white people are all powerful and self absorbed. Here’s her abstract. She says basically that the white hands maintain a belief in their own omnipotence and ability to control the universe. Yep. I inferred correctly.

She’s wandering over into moral hazard territory. Just suggested that there is a moral hazard that geoengineering will “distract” us from other solutions. Of course, this isn’t a moral hazard in any respect, as I’ll explain on my talk on Wednesday, but why worry about that? The ‘moral hazard’ is technical and fantastic and scary and wrong.

Now she’s talking about spatial heterogeneity, whatever that is. Apparently, there’s an unknown yet not necessarily unintentional consequences. Confusing.

She’s talking about carbon capture and artificial trees now, but sorta explaining the science. She says that she works a lot in west Africa, and she knows what people would think about these trees.

She’s moved on to governance issues. Who will be a part of the voluntary code of practice?

UPDATE 11:00: Kyle (Michigan State) will be talking about indigenous communities and environmental justice. Abstract here. The whole panel is on justice. He made a joke about trust. “Will indigenous peoples be disproportionately affected by X technology?” And yes, this is a question that lots of people seem to ask. (I’ll just call them IPs because I can’t seem to spell indigenous peoples without making multiple typographical errors.)

At any rate, Kyle is suggesting that the proposed policy changes are typically not actionable at the local level. So Kyle was talking earlier about research on environmental exposures. Seems to have concerns that the environmental toxicologists generally recommend restraining behavior, where this doesn’t address the concerns of local tribal peoples in the right sort of way; since it would appear that many IPs are not in a position to constrain their behavior more than they’ve already constrained it. And, in fact, there appear to be political pressures on elected tribal leaders.

Here are some questions. First, here’s a fact: there is no committee of tribal leaders who will respond to concerns about SRMs. If you’re a tribal leader, what information will you have to go by as to whether you should endorse SRM. Is SRM any different than all of the other emerging technologies? We got all the same kinds of arguments from all the same sorts of actors, he says. And, IPs discovered in almost all of the cases, that they have been screwed by those who have these technologies.

Put yourselves in the shoes of the tribal leaders, and you’re going to have to reason analogically. So it appears pretty damn bad for the IPs and tribes. Is there any reason not to reason analogically?

Question 2: Suppose that there are some reasons why it’s different. Suppose that some tribal leaders should look forward to the consequences of SRM. If this is true, you haven’t secured a reasonable endorsement from Indian Country because there’s still a question about the policy culture that can be relied on? We have to rely on how things work today; and his opinion is that, even though we have modern tribal governments, the culture is still highly problematic; environmental policies under discussion right now.

Kyle is now criticizing Waxman Markey for not having a tribal plan built into it. Tribes were excluded, as he says. It took a year for the tribes to be included. Initial impulse was that tribes were excludable. Also working on some issues associated with the RFID tagging of cattle, which produces some strange pressures to subscribe to the use of state veterinarians for cattle rearing. Continues to see all sorts of issues where tribes are excluded.


Next Up: Wendy Parker and Bjornar Egede-Nissen

October 18, 2010

UPDATE 10:34: Q&A. Christopher Preston just asked a question about Rumsfeld. Alan Robock is now picking up the unknown unknowns thread, suggesting that Wendy doesn’t know what unknown unknowns are; but she disagrees. She thinks we can be in a position to judge the likelihood of unknown unknowns coming into play. Robock is charging forward again, and now he’s on her case about the models. He says that if you’re worried about climate change, you’re trusting in models, because those are the things that freak us out with regard to climate change. Parker just steps right up to the plate and smacks Robock backward. Now David Keith is saying something about the left-right divide, specifically with regard to Wendy’s very interesting comments about unintended consequences. She defers due to time. Clark Miller is now asking about breast cancer and geoengineering, or something like that. (Not really. He’s asking about the panels of people from a range of disciplinary backgrounds who evaluate the variety of considerations associated with things like breast cancer. But it’s much crazier to think about breast cancer and geoengineering without that conceptual bridge. Holly Buck made  a point about trust being down across the board.

I’m finding it very hard to liveblog and formulate a question, so I feel like I’m not participating as much as I should be. Multitasking is my nemesis.

UPDATE 10:17: Bjornar is talking about scientists and the role of science in the public debate. Here’s his abstract. Scientists, essentially, are supposed to be the neutral umpires of truth. According to many, they’re not supposed to be advocates of change. When issues get complex and uncertainty grows, there are a lot of legitimate perspectives on what can be done. There’s not just one truth out there, he says. Scientists share the public space with many other people, he says. There are four fault lines, he says, quoting here:

1) complexity and the limits of science

2) scientists as gatekeepers; (Oh no he di’int.) He just accused scientists of being foxes who guard the henhouse.

3) pushing boundaries; science is leading society on this issue.

4) paraochialism and conflicts of interests.

UPDATE 10:02: Wendy Parker is up. Here’s her abstract. She’s quoting Dale Jamieson right now. Wants to focus on the natural scientists, and specifically on the reliability of prediction, thinks we should instead talk about the trustworthiness of consequences. The responsibilities are:

1) to attempt to foresee and predict both the positive and negative consequences

2) to carefully evaluate the extent to which trustworth predictions of the consequences of specific SRM interventions can be made.

3) to communicate to the public the results

Wants to focus on 1 and 2.

Prediction, she says, is the “best available” pitfall. She just quoted Donald Rumsfeld. Why do so many philosophers do this?

What are the unintended consquences of SRM inquiry? Seems unpopular with some groups, even those who are otherwise concerned about climate change… this may reinforce concerns about the legitimacy of scientists and the climate science. Very interesting idea. So I guess the thought is that people who otherwise might support action on climate change are those who might also be turned off by SRM, and so therefore we could end up totally undercutting the climate case simply by going forward with research.

Is public involvement an answer? Having some public involvement may help to provide some sort of answer.


I am surrounded by empty cream cheese packets.


First Up: Nancy and Clark

October 18, 2010

UPDATE 9:43: David Keith is asking about how to link science and decision making. Focus on process alone doesn’t do it for him. He’s worried that once people start geoengineering, they’ll continue to do it. Phil Rasch adds that progress can only be made by a small number of people. Jane Long says that part of the deliberative process includes the discussion of the goals. Clark says that the system is designed to undercut the deliberative process, so one answer is that we need to have this conversation connecting geoengineering to climate change to other major issues that we’re worried about, but he also has a great deal of sympathy for the idea that a clear conversation up front about geoengineering on its own terms might actually get us to the point at which we have some pretty clear guidelines.

Andrew Light (GMU and the Center for American Progress) mentions that post climategate that at least 60-65 percent of the population believes that climate change is real. People still, to a large degree, confuse climate change and ozone hole stuff, but still defer largely to the scientific community.  We’ve made a lot of progress at and since Copenhagen, and we’re moving forward in Cancun, the question is, practically, what will prevent the architecture of the UNFCCC from sucking in the space on geoengineering. It’s the obvious place where we’d have this discussion. How could we have the discussion there given that there are so many institutional pressures that may seek to capture and steer that discussion.

UPDATE 9:30: Wants to discuss principles of incrementalism, inclusivity, complexity, interdisciplinarity, transparency, and rationality. Now we’re going to take some questions. Alan Robock says, “hey, the real world is messier. Whatchyoo talkin’ ’bout Miller?” Clark says that he’s not arguing that we haven’t had global negotiations about what to do. Of course, we have, he says. The Montreal Protocol is a good example. (Actually, this was Robock’s example, but no matter.) Clark Miller just used the term “bromides,” which I appreciate.

On the second point, he agrees that the world is a messy place. He thinks the problem with global climate change is that we haven’t tried to do this. He thinks that given the degree to which climate change depends on deeply entrenched interest, it is only through widespread public deliberation that we’re going to change the political calculus of our leadership.

Nancy adds that there’s a gap between understanding and action.

Lauren Hartzell is surprised that there was so little normative discussion in the coverage of institutional design. Clark responds that there aren’t a lot of shoulds because we’re not really in a place to answer these should questions. Some of these will have to be determined locally.

UPDATE 9:16: Now Clark Miller (Arizona State) is on the stage. Here’s his abstract. Talking about “Institutionalizing Public Trust and Credibility.” He’s asking whether we want to do this “right.” Whether we want to pursue geoengineering solutions through processes of global democratic deliberation. There are some reasons to treat this as primarily as a managerial problem. That’s a plausible approach… but he’s at least asking whether this is the sort of thing that we want to do through a robust process of democratic deliberation. Making four key points (some of which I pull directly from his slides; I don’t claim the language as my own):

1) the central problem is one of legitimacy; where this is understood as a property of democratic societies in which they set bounds on the legitimate exercise of power.

2) neither science nor philosophy can settle the question of the legitimacy of SRM; this is a problem for democratic publics to judge through deliberation.

3) deliberation can be better or worse; results will impact the legitimacy of the actions ultimately taken

4) as a practical matter, the quality of deliberation is a matter of robustness to which public dialogue and reasoning

UPDATE 9:15: We have a trust deficit, she says. To pay off the deficit, presumably to avoid debt, we need to engage the public more. Huzzah!

UPDATE 9:10: Something tells me that liveblogging philosophers is nowhere near as interesting as liveblogging Sarah Palin.

First speaking at the geoengineering conference is Nancy Tuana, professor at Penn State University, who says, hey, this is a controversial issue. A little momentary clashing over some jargon, but basically, Tuana is arguing that if we’re planning to be engaged in testing of geoengineering, we need to subscribe to ELSI standards. No idea wht this is.

She’s now conducting some sort of ethical-epistemic analysis, suggesting that methodological choices and assumptions can bias results. Here’s her abstract.


Geoengineering Ethics

October 18, 2010

Been a bit off the wagon again, but for the next several days I’ll be liveblogging the Geoengineering Ethics conference in Missoula, Montana. We have a slate of pretty interesting folks here. First up, in about an hour, Nancy Tuana and Clark Miller. Check the schedule for the whole schedule.