Pivot Points in the Environment

Nov 2, 2011   //   by Administrator   //   Current Initiatives

The Climate Response Fund

The Climate Response Fund (CRF), in its infancy (January 2009), was a reaction to the global call for climate intervention research. The call to action came from the scientific community who warned that we must study climate intervention in order to understand the “in case of emergency” options that could be relied upon if we hit a “catastrophic climate tipping point.” Guttman Initiatives worked with Dr. Margaret Leinen along with advisors to set up the Climate Response fund. It was clear that large organizations were not yet prepared to take the lead on developing rules and guidelines.

What is a climate emergency? One such possibility could be a dramatic release of methane from the arctic permafrost into our atmosphere. The result would be dramatic, effectively changing weather patterns, food growth patterns and even where to build a home.

Climate intervention is not a desired option. Many impacts of climate intervention may be unsettling. The unintended consequences are, of course, not foreseeable. The scientific community absolutely acknowledges these dangers; however, the scientific community also argues that we must be prepared for potential tipping points and that the only way to know whether any of these techniques could offset such tipping points is to study them.

Climate intervention was likened by one participant at the Asilomar Conference to chemotherapy. Although undesirable, it may save the patient from a worse situation. The research will shine light on the field and help us to understand the issues.

The Climate Response Fund was created to ensure that this research is done safely and responsibly.

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Continued Calls For Geoengineering

In March 2009, Foreign Affairs published the article, “The Geoengineering Option, A Last Resort Against Global Warming?” by David G. Victor, M. Granger Morgan, Jay Apt, John Steinbruner, and Katharine Ricke. The article highlighted several major points including: 1) odds of reaching a real climate tipping point are increasing; 2) serious research on climate intervention (or geoengineering) is still in its infancy, and has not received the attention it deserves from politicians; and 3) the time has come to take climate intervention seriously.

Furthermore, the article reflected precisely the philosophy and intent for the Asilomar International Conference On Climate Intervention Technologies, “Although the international scientific community should take the lead in developing a research agenda, social scientists, international lawyers, and foreign policy experts will also have to play a role. Eventually, there will have to be international laws to ensure that globally credible and legitimate rules govern the deployment of geoengineering systems. But effective legal norms cannot be imperiously declared. They must be carefully developed by informed consensus in order to avoid encouraging the rogue forms of geoengineering they are intended to prevent”.

The call for this conference came from other sources as well. In April 2009 President Obama’s Science Advisor, Dr. John Holdren remarked, “It’s (climate intervention) got to be looked at. We don’t have the luxury of taking any approach off the table.” In June 2009, the US National Academy of Sciences held a Geoengineering Workshop. This was a part of the Academy’s two-year study of ‘America’s Climate Choices’ for response to climate change. The workshop was tremendously successful and resulted in a clear consensus in support of climate intervention technology (geoengineering) research.

About The Conference

The International Conference on Climate Intervention Technologies was developed to bring together leading world-wide scientists and specialists in risk assessment and governance, and nonprofit organizations to propose rules and guidelines for climate intervention studies. The conference took place at the Asilomar Conference Center, Monterey California, March 22-26, 2010 and was developed by Guttman Initiatives along with a new nonprofit, The Climate Response Fund.

The goal of the conference was not to debate either the use of climate intervention or ethical issues. It explicitly focused on facilitating international standards to reduce risk associated with research. Guttman Initiatives secured the leadership of Dr. Paul Berg (Nobel Prize 1980), who successfully implemented the historic Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA Technologies that proposed the rules and guidelines currently in place for RDNA science. Like the first Asilomar Conference, the guidelines developed from this environmental conference will continue to be assessed regularly with international participation to incorporate new information resulting from ongoing research.

Leading Nonprofits Participating to Set Rules and Guidelines for this Science

To ensure the broadest consideration of environmental protection and precautions, leading nonprofits participated both in the scientific organization of the conference and in efforts to propose guidelines for climate intervention technology research. For example, Dr. Stephen Hamburg (Chief Scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)) and Mr. Steven Seidel (Vice President for Policy Analysis of the Pew Center for Global Climate Change) participated as active members of the conference’s Scientific Organizing Committee.

Conference Developer and Chair of Scientific Organizing Committee are Internationally Known Climate Scientists

Guttman Initiatives worked closely with Dr. Margaret Leinen, CEO of the Climate Response Fund (former Chair of the US Global Change Research Program, Vice-Chair of the Climate Change Science Program and Assistant Director for Geosciences of the National Science Foundation). Additionally, Guttman Initiatives worked closely with the conference’s chair of the Scientific Organizing Committee, Dr. Michael MacCracken (Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs of The Climate Institute and former President of International Association of Meteorology). The Scientific Organizing Committee developed the agenda for the conference.

Organizing Committee

To achieve the conference’s goals, the Scientific Organizing Committee was comprised of leaders representative of scientific excellence in the fields related to climate intervention and with expertise in developing consensus around difficult climate-related issues. These leading scientists represented a diversity of geographic background and scientific expertise. Their summaries highlight their experience in consensus building as well as their scientific experience and recognition.

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Framing the Issue of Climate Intervention (Media, Public Education)

Led by the Environmental Defense Fund and Pew Center for Global Climate Change, Guttman Initiatives and CRF helped frame the issue of climate intervention in ways that allowed productive public discussions of climate intervention. We launched work with nonprofit partners on a summary of climate intervention technologies intended for non-scientific audiences. We also focused on a variety of media sources (ie, Science and Nature, The Economist). At the policy level for scientific media, we discussed strategy with Alan Leshner (American Association for the Advancement of Science) and Floyd Bloom (former editor of Science). Furthermore, we also had discussions with experts in public opinion related to climate change, such as Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz (Yale University), so as to develop information that will assist in framing the issue for a variety of audiences.

International Interest

Although many countries and states are still considering their position on the use of climate intervention technologies, the conference garnered support because of the urgent need to set global guiding principles for research. As a result, the State Of Victoria, Australia became a partner/sponsor for the conference.

World governments and international research foundations were largely immobilized (not funding experiments) because of concerns of research risks. Unless these public and private organizations can point to an international scientific consensus on guiding principles for risk management, it is unlikely that funding will materialize; leaving a dangerous vacuum in the knowledge of climate tools. Even more frightening was the fact that until this conference ensued, these guidelines were nonexistent for researchers and scientists proceeding to study these techniques. This left us gravely open to potential unintended consequences from experimentation without appropriate global consideration of safety standards.

The Conference

The first evening of the conference was magical. The tone had changed. The Scientific Organizing Committee performed an absolutely tremendous job in setting the expectations and character of the conference. The speakers pointed to historical parallels in which global collaborative considerations were successful. When participants approached the microphone to speak, each acknowledged their commitment to the goal of setting guidelines and their willingness to collaborate. There was professional respect and… a willingness to learn.

Read more for listings of committee members and participants »

The subsequent days were long, intense and at times, grueling. There were real, and sometimes heated debates. Different perspectives were clear, but the collaborative and respectful tone rose above the differences.

Throughout the conference, the various fields of climate intervention science were reviewed. During these discussions, the scientists heard different perspectives from economists, environmentalists, social scientists, etc. There was great sensitivity to our shared future in the evolution of these discussions.

In Conclusion

Ultimately, there was one word that resonated from the environmentalists, economists, historians, policy makers and others who attended the conference. The word was humility… and that perspective changed the path of the conference. The conference’s summary statement captured this sentiment.

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It is believed that the most important element that resulted from the conference was the collaboration of the different disciplines. The groups had historically been very confrontational – and they had demonstrated this leading up to the conference. During the conference, there was a transformation. Collectively the group demonstrated a willingness to “hear the other side” and more importantly, listen. I think it was an awakening for all attendees.

We continue to have commitment from the participants to work together. We must cherish and utilize this asset wisely. Currently, a report on Geoengineering Governance from the Bipartisan Policy Commission is being released in October 2011 using the Asilomar Principles as the starting point for their governance talks. The conference is prominently featured in the report. In addition, the Asilomar Conference was featured in the work of an international group of scientists who led a workshop to develop ideas on how to study the ecosystem effects of geoengineering. Again, the Asilomar Principles were deemed the appropriate framework to conduct this research appropriately.

Guttman Initiatives and CRF are honored to be able to make a difference by encouraging our community, our nation and our world to keep their focus on geoengineering developments.