The laws of global warming

Jan 02, 2013

With policymakers and political leaders increasingly unable to combat global climate change, more scientists are considering the use of manual manipulation of the environment to slow warming's damage to the planet.

But a University of Iowa law professor believes the legal ramifications of this kind of geo-engineering need to be thought through in advance and a global governance structure put in place soon to oversee these efforts.

"Geo-engineering is a global concern that will have climate and in all countries, and it is virtually inevitable that some group of people will be harmed in the process," says Jon Carlson, professor of law at the UI College of Law. "The international community must act now to take charge of this activity to ensure that it is studied and deployed with full attention to the rights and interests of everyone on the planet."

Carlson is an expert in environmental law and international law who believes geo-engineering is inevitable and will likely happen sooner than later. He considers the issue in a new paper, "Reining in Phaethon's Chariot: Principles for the Governance of ," published in the current issue of the journal Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems. His co-author, Adam D.K. Abelkop, is a UI law graduate now in the doctoral program at the Indiana University School of Public Health and Environmental Affairs.

Carlson says the concept of geo-engineering goes back to at least the 19th century, when scientists proposed to increase rainfall. Today, scientists have a long list of geo-engineering ideas that could be used to slow the impact of global warming while other methods are developed to actually mitigate the damage. Some ideas are simple and locally focused, such as planting new forests to absorb carbon dioxide, or painting roofs and paved areas white to reduce absorption.

Others are more complex and controversial—manually cooling oceans so carbon dioxide-laden water sinks to the bottom more quickly; building space-based shields and mirrors to deflect solar heat from the planet; or injecting chemicals like hydrogen sulfide or sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere, creating an aerosol shield that reduces the amount of solar heat reaching the earth's surface.

But Carlson says geo-engineering comes with obvious international legal implications because no one country can implement its own geo-engineering plan without causing weather or climate changes in other countries. There's also the of unintended consequences, because while many geo-engineering concepts have proved hopeful in the lab, nobody knows what will happen when actually put into practice. For instance, Carlson says that while manually cooling the ocean may be seen as a generally good idea, what impact will that have on farmers in India whose crops depend on rain from heat-induced tropical monsoons?

To address these issues, Carlson urges the creation of an international governing body separate from any existing organization that approves or rejects geo-engineering plans, taking into consideration the best interests of people and countries around the world. He says any legal regimen involving geo-engineering activities should require they be publicly announced in the planning stage, and all countries are notified so they have a voice in deliberations.

As a model for his oversight body, Carlson suggests the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Like the IMF, his proposed organization would give all countries a place during discussions, but decisions would be made by a relatively small group of directors, each of which has a weighted vote that's based on their country's greenhouse gas production. That is, countries that produce more greenhouse gases will spend more money to combat , and so will have more votes.

Carlson's proposed body would oversee a compensation fund to help people and countries that are harmed by other country's approved geo-engineering activities, or by unseen effects of those activities.

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User comments : 11

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LariAnn
3.5 / 5 (14) Jan 02, 2013
IMHO, warming won't damage the planet (change is not equivalent to damage), but these geoengineering schemes involving injecting chemicals into the atmosphere, tampering with the oceans or reflecting heat away from the Earth will surely damage the planet and lead to global lawsuits and maybe a premature ice age - plenty of money for lawyers but nothing but more problems for world citizens.
Grallen
2.8 / 5 (9) Jan 02, 2013
Not damage the planet? Desertification of the American Grain Belt will change your tune.
LariAnn
3.2 / 5 (9) Jan 02, 2013
Not damage the planet? Desertification of the American Grain Belt will change your tune.


My tune is fine - something like that started during the Dust Bowl years, and that was before any global warming talk. So change happens, with or without human activity. But doing this speculative tinkering called "geoengineering" is, to me, like throwing gasoline on a fire. So maybe the Grain Belt won't become a desert, but it will be covered in ice most of the year - good luck growing wheat and corn in that!
la7dfa
1.9 / 5 (8) Jan 02, 2013
Geoengineering should be done sometime in the future to hinder a snowball earth or too high temperatures.

Right now we should try to cut CO2 emissions while gaining knowledge. It must be possible to get a good understanding of the climate model, and assess all the sources and behaviour of feedback (e.g. methane). Tampering with the climate could else have a snowball effect.
RealScience
3 / 5 (6) Jan 02, 2013
We are already tampering with the climate by pumping gigatons of CO2 into the air each year. The only reason that that is not called 'geoengineering' is because we are doing it as a byproduct of energy production rather than doing it deliberately.

Geoengineering that does not remove CO2 (or stop more from being emitted) is foolhardy. With sunscreens, for example, we are just masking one symptom of the problem; the oceans would continue to acidify, and if we stop renewing the sunscreen the CO2 will have built up and the climate heats up fast.

The ice age fertilized the oceans with dust, and ocean productivity was far higher that it is presently (based on whale mitochondria studies). We do not know enough today to do this safely, but as a solution that could help feed the world at the same time as sequestering the excess CO2 we emit, we should be learning how to do it safely. We certainly don't want to trigger an ice age OR let the ice-caps melt.
rubberman
2.6 / 5 (5) Jan 03, 2013
Geoengineering that does not remove CO2 (or stop more from being emitted) is foolhardy. With sunscreens, for example, we are just masking one symptom of the problem; the oceans would continue to acidify, and if we stop renewing the sunscreen the CO2 will have built up and the climate heats up fast.


Correct. Any geoengineering plan I have heard about equates to environmental pain meds, they mask the problem instead of dealing with it. Continued rise of GHG's cannot be mitigated effectively AND in a lasting way by any other means than reducing the emissions. Science is bending to economical pressure by even considering geoengineering as an option, I would have thought it would be abundantly evident by now that the environment always loses in this scenario.
gregor1
1 / 5 (5) Jan 03, 2013
If this paper is correct then perhaps nothing needs to be done.
http://wattsupwit...forcing/
The Alchemist
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 04, 2013
It used to be a laughable lie that CO2 introduced by man into the environment was causing change: The Earth's biosphere had, HAD! the capacity to suck up more than we could produce. Yet apparently something has changed-http://en.wikiped...ecology)
I don't know if I buy the reason, or the effect, but I do believe CO2 has been impacted.
The most intelligent thing the article has to say is "the law of unintended consequences..." No way should we geoengineer when we should just stop what we are doing and do things different. A wind generator on every home for example requires 1920's technology and is cheap enough to pay itself off rapidly.
For a predictive model on GW see: facebook.com/#!/groups/454689344557455/
Essentially it says we don't have much to "worry about" until the ice caps are gone.
rfw
3 / 5 (3) Jan 05, 2013
Concerning laws and the environment: We recently WON the world's first lawsuit in Ecuador using the portion of Ecuador's 2008 Constitution protecting the Rights of Nature. However, winning a lawsuit against the government does not mean that they will take action to remediate the damage their road-building crew did to a river that borders our property. For more, please read the newsletters on our website: www.gardenofparadise dot net.
The Alchemist
1 / 5 (2) Jan 07, 2013
Hey, is there anyone who knows where I can find a reliable source for trends in the Sun's frequency/Energy out put? This used to be a trivial Google. Now I get claptrap. It looks like it is declining from the best of the claptrap... any help?
The Alchemist
1 / 5 (2) Jan 16, 2013
Hey, is there anyone who knows where I can find a reliable source for trends in the Sun's frequency/Energy out put? This used to be a trivial Google. Now I get claptrap. It looks like it is declining from the best of the claptrap... any help?


Wow! Even Alchy-haters must admit this was almost prophetic!