My latest Science Progress column contemplates this question, in the wake of a spot of news that doesn’t seem to have caused any uproar (yet)–namely, that DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is apparently holding an event to discuss the prospect of geoengineering the climate.
As I write in the column:
This is newsworthy for at least two reasons: The U.S. government has, thus far, kept the subject of geoengineering at a relative arm’s-length; and one reason for that shyness is the extremely checkered past history of U.S. military ventures in weather modification, including the notorious attempt to use “weather warfare” to our advantage in Vietnam.
I’m not personally scandalized to learn of DARPA holding a conference or having a discussion. One thing about geoengineering, after all, is that not only may we want to do it, but we might also have reason to be concerned about someone else doing it–so the more dialogue, the better.
Indeed, I suspect that at some point soon this topic, currently off the radar of most Americans, is going to come up in a very big way, whether through politico-media scandal or, very preferably, otherwise.
Why? Put simply, because at least in some versions, geoengineering is likely to be cheap, and likely to work. These two attributes are already proving intellectually irresistible to many climate scientists, who at minimum call for geoengineering to be “studied,” and who are already doing so themselves in climate models. At some point, as we continue to struggle to get a handle on the global warming problem, they may also prove practically irresistible to politicians and governments.
I then call for a much broader public discussion of the pros and cons of geoengineering now, at the highest levels of policymaking and the media. We need to decide, as a society, what we think about direct and intentional climate modification before somebody goes ahead and actually tries it. You can read the full column here.