Geoengineering Scientists and Congress

(From Left to Right)
Dr. David Keith
Dr. Philip Rasch
Dr. Klaus Lackner
Dr. Robert Jackson

Geoengineering is a wonderful example of taboo science. Most people would fall within 2 camps. Camp 1 considers geoengineering with disdain as it mucks with the natural environment. Camp 2 probably wouldn’t want their government involved in planetary climate control. With those entrenched camps where do scientists fit in?

Scientists were called as witnesses before The House Subcommittee on Energy & Environment last week in regards to geoengineering. The witnesses invited were…

  • Klaus Lackner (Geophysics,
    Earth and Environmental Engineering): Covering CO2 sequestration
  • Robert Jackson (Biology): Covering Biological and Land Strategies to lower CO2
  • Philip Rasch(Atmospheric Science but a chemist by training): Calling for a Manhattan project type approach to researching geoengineering
  • David Keith (Chemical and Petroleum Engineering): Mainly advocating that some sort of global policy towards geoengineering needs to be developed. The most sane and coherent witness; scientists don’t usually fair well before politicians.

So why care about taboo science? The simple matter is that it would cost 1-2 billion a year to return the planet to pre-industrial levels of temperature, assuming they use cheap sulphates to do the job. This means any number of nations, frankly any wealthy cohort of industrialists, can take climate control into their own hands.

Since geoengineering is a delicate subject to broach to the public, transparency is crucial and wasn’t loss on the chairman Brian Baird (D-WA). Congressman Baird mentions how some citizens believe their government is placing psychotropic drugs in jet fuels, the so called chemtrails and remarked “…legitimate scientific research [in geoengineering] must not get tied up in these kind of things.”

However, all the scientists were taken aback by Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), my favorite exchange was the following.

Randy Neugebauer (R-TX)

Randy Neugebauer, “What percent of the atmosphere is CO2?”
Scientist, “390 parts per million”.
Randy Neugebauer, “Less than one tenth of one percent…This tiny minuscule amount…[can’t] be more important factor in our climate than solar activity”.

I’m not even sure where to begin to broach such a deep misunderstanding of climate change. I would have mentioned to Mr. Neugebauer that he would be dead if that minuscule amount of CO2 was removed from the atmosphere, as all plants would die followed by animals in short order. The concept of small amounts having huge impacts in large dynamic systems is an important lesson to teach, even more so to do it dexterously. These types of exchanges went on for some time. I’m left wondering why Randy Neugebauer is even on the Subcommittee on Energy & Environment in the first place.

The ranking Republican, Bob Inglis (R-SC), had this to say in his last remarks, “I believe in a basic role of government is to do basic research, its an important function that we do.” It is nice to know that basic science research is appreciated by both sides, even though there is always a rogue member in every committee.

Press Release: Subcommittee Examines Geoengineering Strategies and Hazards



  1. some citizens believe their government is placing psychotropic drugs in jet fuels, the so called chemtrails

    Finally! They acknowledge it!!! (j/k)

  2. @chemjobber: ahahaha. and this lady!

  3. @Azmanam: Wow, I hope she is mentally okay.

  4. I’m going to try to convince myself that was some sort of super-ironic meta-joke and actually someone who forgot their ROYGBIV.

  5. er, s/b NOT someone who forget, etc…

  6. @Chemjobber: I doubt it.

  7. Good point about individual nations taking geoengineering into their own hands. It would be very worrisome for a nation to give it a go without having a sound understanding of their action’s impact. For that reason, studying geoengineering at a theoretical level seems like a prudent thing to do.

    The Technology Review had a nice article covering some more basics about the debate:

    The Geoengineering Gambit –

    Good post.

  8. Here’s an anti-geoengineering (I thought) perspective in The Atlantic from a few months back.

    I’d think it would be neat to bring back zeppelins, though.

  9. Great post! I agree a 100 %.

    I have written a post about geoengineering myself, and even though you seem to have some knowledge about geoengineering already, I think you will find it interesting:

  10. At the chapter of bad ideas, solar radiation management by injecting sulphur in the atmoshpere is probably one of the worst. The reasoning is simple:
    gases in the atmosphere -> less light -> less photosynthesis -> less vegetation growth -> less water retention -> more drought and floods -> less biomass -> the earth becomes a cold desert
    …this is on top of not solving the CO2 issue, of course. Plus the unforeseen effects on health. It is a wizard-apprentice decision no one has the right to take.

    there are other wealth-producing (hence overall cheaper) way to deal with climate change. I would advise you have a look at TED talks from Willie Smits and Paul Stamets

    You should also have a look at the work of Geoff Lawton on greening the desert or how China transformed a desolate arid valley the size of Belgium into a lush fertile food producing place

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