The Asilomar Conference

We at Guttman Initiatives are passionate about environmental conservation and proactive climate preservation. When we were confronted with the alarmingly unregulated reality of climate intervention experimentation occurring in the late 2000’s, we knew that we had to take action. To protect both the environment and the future potential of the research, Guttman Initiatives teamed up with The Climate Response Fund to address these concerns. This collaboration resulted in the Asilomar International Conference on Climate Intervention Technologies in which GI & CRF hosted over 175 leading economists, environmentalists, engineers, scientists, policymakers, and specialists in risk assessment & governance to discuss and collaboratively propose international regulatory guidelines to safeguard against potentially harmful manipulations of the climate.

A Call to Action

Geoengineering is the deliberate and large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climatic system, and is mainly driven by environmental, economic and/or geopolitical motivations. The scope and scale of these goals can vary widely, from increasing rainfall to improve agriculture locally to massive carbon dioxide capture campaigns meant to slow and even potentially reverse global warming. To this day, many are unaware that humanity has even developed this ability. However, by the late 2000’s, public and private interest and investment grew, and large-scale geoengineering experiments were being conducted that would sometimes result in unexpected negative consequences. In 2010, there were no global scientific regulations regarding geoengineering.

Without established guidelines to guide and regulate geoengineering, the world was at risk of both privately and government initiated manipulations of the climate. Scientists were warning that climate intervention must be studied in order to understand options that could be relied on if we hit a “catastrophic tipping point.”

An International Solution

Guttman Initiatives collaborated with 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); and, Dr. Michael MacCracken (Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs of The Climate Institute and former President of International Association of Meteorology). In addition, Guttman Initiatives secured the leadership of Dr. Paul Berg (Nobel Prize 1980), who successfully implemented the conference model: the historic Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA Technologies discussed above.

Together with the Climate Response Fund, we based the conference format on the famous Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA Technologies (1977), an internationally revered model precedent responsible for the production of the rDNA scientific rules and guidelines that remain to this day. GI helped raise the funding for the conference, assisted in the recruitment of the majority of the Board and Co-Sponsors, and participated in the enlistment of the scientific representatives of 14 of the 15 participating countries.

The Mission

The objective of the conference was not to reach decisions regarding either the use of climate intervention or related ethical issues. However, the potential benefits and drawbacks of each technology, as well as the ethical implications and contextual appropriateness of their implementation were deeply considered and served to provide further guidance.

Instead, the conference explicitly focused on facilitating international standards to reduce any risks associated with research and/or implementation. The Scientific Organizing Committee developed the agenda for the conference.

The Conference

The Asilomar International Conference on Climate Intervention Technologies was held in Pacific Grove, CA between March 22-26th, 2010. During the conference, perspectives were offered from the diverse group of economists, environmentalists, social scientists and other conference participants in attendance were presented, discussed, and debated. With so many experts from so many disciplines representing multiple countries, some disagreement was inevitable.The groups had historically been very confrontational – and they had demonstrated this leading up to the conference. During the conference, there was a transformation.

However, attendees soon discovered that they shared a bond of common purpose, genuine intent, and reverence for the importance of their collective mission. Collectively the group demonstrated a willingness to “hear the other side” and more importantly, listen. This connection fostered a collaborative atmosphere which served to inspire and motivate the participants to accomplish the overall objective of the conference: creating governance guidelines the international community would be willing to consider and adopt.

 The goals of the conference were to:

  1. Identify the potential risks associated with climate intervention experiments;
  2. Propose a system to assess experiment design for potential categorical risks and suggest rules to responsibly reduce and limit potential negative consequences; and,
  3. Propose voluntary standards for climate intervention research for the international scientific community.

Our Objective

To safeguard against the adverse consequences of unregulated geoengineering by bringing together a multidisciplinary group of world-class experts to collaboratively establish governance guidelines for the use of climate intervention technologies

Honorary Advisor
  • Paul Berg (Nobel Prize, 1980)
Strategic Partner
  • State of Victoria, Australia
Organizational Partners
  • Climate Institute
  • Environmental Defense Fund
  • Royal Society
Donors
  • Altman Family Foundation
  • William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation
  • Franklin P. and Catherine Johnson Family Foundation
  • Swig Foundation
  • Qualcomm Matching Gift Program
  • Mr. and Mrs. Jill and John Freidenrich
  • Mr. and Mrs. Carin and Alan Trounson
  • Ueberroth Family Foundation

Scientific Organizing Committee

  • Chair: Dr. Michael MacCracken, Chief Scientist, Climate Institute
    Dr. Michael MacCracken is a climate modeler who spent much of his career at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories; former Executive Director of the US Global Change Research Program; past President, International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences and lead author of the US agency response to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment Report published in 2001.
  • Honorary Chair: Dr. Paul Berg, Stanford University Emeritus Professor
    Dr. Berg was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1980 for his work on recombinant DNA techniques and was the chair of the organizing committee of the groundbreaking 1975 Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA Technologies.
  • Corresponding Committee Member: Dr. Paul Crutzen, Max Planck Institute, Germany and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California
    Dr. Crutzen, a stratospheric chemist, was awarded the first ever Nobel Prize in 1995 (together with Dr. Sherwood Rowland and Dr. Mario Molino) for environmental research for his work in identifying the role of chlorofluorocarbons in stratospheric ozone chemistry and in generation of the ‘ozone hole.’ He also won the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement

Members of the Committee:

  • Dr. Scott Barrett
    Dr. Barrett (social scientist and economist known for his research into game theoretical analysis of climate change treaties) is the Lenfest-Earth Institute Professor of Natural Resource Economics at Columbia University. Author of “Environment and Statecraft: The Strategy of Environmental Treaty Making”, 2003 and participant in the Kyoto Treaty and Montreal Protocol discussions. Prior Director of the International Policy Program and Professor of Environmental Economics & International Political Economy at Johns Hopkins University. Previously taught at the London Business School and affiliated with the University College London.
  • Dr. Roger Barry
    Dr. Barry is the Director of the World Data Center for Glaciology and Distinguished Professor of Geography at the University of Colorado. Awarded the Goldthwait Polar Medal, the first Francois Emile Matthes Award, and the Founder’s Medal – one of two gold medals awarded annually – by the Royal Geographical Society, London in recognition of his excellence in geographical research, fieldwork, teaching, and public engagement. Author and reviewer of UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate assessments and as an IPCC author.
  • Dr. Steven Hamburg
    Dr. Hamburg is the Chief Scientist of the Environmental Defense Fund. Awarded an Environmental Merit award by the US Environmental Protection Agency for his climate change-related activities. Served as the Ittleson Associate Professor and Chair of Environmental Studies at Brown University and subsequently participated at the Environmental Defense Fund.
  • Dr. Richard Lampitt
    Dr. Lampitt is a Senior Scientist with the National Oceanography Center of the UK and an associated professor of the University of Southampton. A biogeochemist who specializes in the role of the oceans in the global carbon cycle, he currently heads the European Commission-funded EuroSITES program of ocean observation networks around the world.
  • Dr. Diana Liverman
    Dr. Liverman is the Co-Director of Institute for Environment and Society and Professor of Geography and Regional Development at the University of Arizona, Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Oxford and Senior Fellow in the Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University. A member of the US NAS Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change and the Inter American Institute (IAI) for Global Change Research, she is currently a member of the new National Academy of Sciences Committee on America’s Climate Choices, chair of the scientific advisory committee international Global Environmental Change and Food Systems (GECAFS) program and committee member for the international Earth Systems Science Partnership.
  • Dr. Thomas Lovejoy
    Dr. Lovejoy is the Heinz Center Biodiversity Chair at the Heinz Center for Science and The Environment, World Bank’s Chief Biodiversity Advisor and Lead Specialist for Environment for Latin America and the Caribbean and Senior Advisor to the President of the United Nations Foundation. Dr. Lovejoy has been Assistant Secretary and Counselor to the Secretary at the Smithsonian Institution, Science Advisor to the Secretary of the Interior, and Executive Vice President of the World Wildlife Fund–U.S. Awarded the prestigious Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement in 2001.

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  • Dr. Gordon McBean
    Dr. McBean is a Professor at the University of Western Ontario, and Chair for Policy in the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction. Previously, Assistant Deputy Minister, Meteorological Service of Canada (MSC); Professor and Head, Department of Oceanography, University of British Columbia; Professor and Chairman, Atmospheric Science Programme, University of British Columbia, and; Senior Scientist, Canadian Climate Centre, MSC, located at the Institute of Ocean Sciences. Chaired the Joint Scientific Committee of the World Climate Research Program, served on the International Group of Funding Agencies for Global Change Research and current Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society and the American Meteorological Society.
  • Dr. John Shepherd
    Dr. Shepherd is a Professorial Research Fellow in Earth System Science, School of Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton, UK, Deputy Director (External Science Coordination) of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, Fellow of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications and Fellow of the Royal Society. Chairs the Royal Society study of Geoengineering and has had to lead that process to achieve consensus on the different points of view regarding geoengineering.
  • Mr. Stephen Siedel
    Counsel at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. An economist and lawyer with extensive experience in environmental programs and regulations, he directs the domestic analysis program for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and oversees the Pew Center’s science and environmental impacts portfolio. Previously, Mr. Seidel managed EPA’s Stratospheric Protection program including the development and implementation of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and the regulatory and voluntary partnership programs developed under Title VI of the Clean Air Act. Served as a Senior Analyst at Council on Environmental Quality and the White House Climate Change Task Force and co-chaired a multinational working group on market-based measures to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Dr. Richard Somerville
    Dr. Somerville Richard is Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Research Professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. Coordinating Lead Author in Working Group I for the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and organizer of the 2007 Bali Climate Declaration by Scientists.
  • Dr. Tom Wigley
    Dr. Wigley is a Professor at University of Adelaide, Australia and specialist in large-scale climate and carbon-cycle modeling and climate data analysis. A Senior Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the US and past director of the Climatic Research Unit in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, United Kingdom. Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“The Asilomar Conference was one of the most carefully prepared, sensitively organized, and successful international conferences that I’ve participated in during a diplomatic, and post-diplomatic, career spanning nearly 50 years.”

Richard E. Benedick,
Ambassador, ret.,
President of the National Council for Science and the Environment

“I came [to the Asilomar Conference] expecting to find a bunch of engineers proposing to engineer the planet a la Edward Teller. Instead, I found a conversation in which the word ‘humility’ appeared on their viewgraphs. I am leaving here with a much different impression of what geoengineers want to do.”

Paul Craig,
Sierra Club

“I feel that [the Asilomar Conference] was a historic, important and necessary first step towards a broader global dialogue on geoengineering research. Simply gathering together such a collection of experts was no small feat, and the conference statement, which emphasized the need for transparency and humility and was agreed by the majority of participants, was an achievement beyond what many participants thought possible.”

Andy Parker,
Senior Policy Adviser, Royal Society

“Through [the collaboration of Guttman Initiatives], a highly important scientific conference could be held to deal with a critical environmental problem, what to do if humankind cannot soon control the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. So far humankind has not been able to do so. In that case, remedial measures must be introduced. This creates in turn major international problems, which have to be addressed by natural and social scientists, the general public and the political world.”

Dr. Paul Crutzen,
Nobel Prize Winner Max Planck Institute,
Germany, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, CA.