Hacking (or quacking) the planet with geoengineering

An automated ship that sprays clouds. Image: John MacNeill

Hack the planet? Geoengineering research, ethics, governance explored

by Hannah Hickey

Hacking the Earth’s climate to counteract global warming – a subject that elicits strong reactions from both sides – is the topic of a December special issue of the journal Climatic Change. A dozen research papers include the most detailed description yet of the proposed Oxford Principles to govern geoengineering research, as well as surveys on the technical hurdles, ethics and regulatory issues related to deliberately manipulating the planet’s climate.

University of Washington researchers led the three-year project to gather leading thinkers and publish a snapshot of a field that they say is rapidly gaining credibility in the scientific community.

“In the past five years or so, geoengineering has moved from the realm of quackery to being the subject of scientific research,” said co-editor Rob Wood, a UW associate professor of atmospheric sciences. “We wanted to contribute to a serious intellectual discourse.”

Creating clouds over the ocean that would reflect back sunlight is the subject of a chapter by Wood, whose research is on the interaction among air pollution, clouds and climate. He and co-author Tom Ackerman, a UW atmospheric sciences professor, look at what it would take to test the idea with a field experiment.

A conceptualized image of a wind-powered, remotely controlled ship that could seed clouds over the ocean to deflect sunlight.

“I don’t want to prove it right, I just want to know if it’s feasible,” Wood said. “If you look at the projections for how much the Earth’s air temperature is supposed to warm over the next century, it is frightening. We should at least know the options. Is geoengineering feasible if there were to be what people call a ‘climate emergency’?”

Also explored in the journal issue is the idea of injecting reflective particles into the stratosphere, subject of a 2006 paper in Climatic Change by Nobel Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen and central to Seattle entrepreneur Nathan Myhrvold’s proposed StratoShield. Yet another idea is iron fertilization of ocean microbes, though Wood said preliminary tests suggest this is not as successful at drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as its proponents had originally thought.

How to govern geoengineering is a topic of hot debate. In one paper, U.K. authors flesh out the so-called Oxford Principles, which suggest how geoengineering could be regulated as a global public good. The five principles described in the paper concern the research, publication, assessment and deployment of geoengineering techniques.

Many of the authors spoke at the UW during a 2011 seminar series, and more attended a 2012 workshop where they developed their paper ideas.

While discussions were civil, Wood said, the contributors didn’t all agree. A UW philosopher questions whether geoengineering can even be described in the Oxford Principles as a global public good.

“Just spraying sulfates into the stratosphere is not the kind of thing that necessarily benefits everyone, so in that sense it seems a mistake to call it a global public good,” said co-editor Stephen Gardiner, a UW philosophy professor who has written a book on ethics and climate change. There are decisions about how to conduct sulfate spraying, he writes, and potential tradeoffs between short-term benefits and long-term risks.

Gardiner also questions whether something should be done in people’s benefit but without their permission, and if accepting geoengineering as a necessary evil ignores other science or policy options.

He’s not the only social scientist to be looking at climate issues.

“A lot of people, from across the academy, are getting interested in the Anthropocene – the idea that we may have entered a new geological era where human influence is a dominant feature, and what that means for various issues,” Gardiner said.

The collection aims to prompt a serious academic discussion the editors say has so far been lacking.

“It’s an interdisciplinary discussion with an emphasis on the research angle – whether and how we should be researching geoengineering,” said co-editor Lauren Hartzell-Nichols, a UW lecturer in philosophy. “We hope it helps people think about this issue in a more interdisciplinary and integrated way.”

The seminars and workshop that led to the issue’s creation were supported by the UW College of the Environment.


For more information, contact Wood at 206-543-1203 or robwood@atmos.washington.edu and Gardiner at 206-221-6459 or smgard@uw.edu.


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“In the past five years or so, geoengineering has moved from the realm of quackery to being the subject of scientific research well-funded quackery…”

Gordon Ford

Bring money! We have an idea.


First of all we have to believe that
1. mankind is actually affecting the climate.
2. That mankind has the resources to change the climate.
3. Assuming mankind has the resources, that mankind has enough wisdom to actually change things to the advantage of the world’s population without causing unexpected and possibly fatal and catastrophic unintended side effects.
I say NO on all of the above points. Let nature take its course!


Have they considered the possibility that if they make the planet colder they could very well be lynched ?
….. or are they happy knowing that they lead useless lives where they will have no effect on a non-problem, but can tell their mommies that they’re saving the planet ?


I’d just trust this guy.

So, the solution to mankind affecting the climate is for mankind to affect the climate. Yeah, that is a real good idea there. (end sarcasm)

John West

“Creating clouds over the ocean that would reflect back sunlight”
But that’s what global warming does.


How will they know if their geo-engineering is having any affect or is nature causing any changes that happen as a result of their practices.
They don’t know what affect humans are having now so they cannot possibly know what they will cause!!

John West

I say the ideal climate is one that has tropics from pole to pole.
Who’s going to decide who get’s what climate?


Pilot-induced oscillations will kill billions.

Lady Life Grows

This is one of the things I have been afraid of. These people want to “”feel good” about themselves. Stopping Algore’s scary lies seems like a heroic thing to do.
But facts are stubborn things. No matter how much they’ve been screamed at about how the planet has a fever, the REALITY is that the biosphere is COLD and making it even colder will cause human deaths and plant and animal extinctions.
No matter how much yowling goes on about carbon dioxide, the reality is that it has little effect on temperature but a BIG effect on plant growth AND animal well-being–both positive. If we seriously reduce it, the result will be starvation–and that will lead to riots and wars.
The effects on the biosphere of a really serious war would be enormous.
We could cause a new Ice Age. Our species and biosphere have survived many of those.
We have already caused severe economic devastation by slamming energy and industry. I don’t like that nor do I approve, but we will survive.
Atomic weapons cause insidious unseen genetic damage that many creatures will NOT survive.
I am out to save the world. Only the truth can do that.

I’m thinking of Bruce Cockburn’s hit song again 😉


Mark, Gordon, Roger, Phil, above
Noted. Appreciated. And not dissenting, not one whit.
But – being a belt and braces seaman – and unhappy with a – say – 92.7% chance it’s not the Sun (and/or ocean currents) [and possibly cloud cover/albedo] And/or some things else . . . .etc. – may I suggest there is a small value – perhaps 10 million dollars for a naval architecture study – I’m looking at the practical – it’s at sea, so it m u s t be practical – of a potential design of a cloud-seeding vessel.
Or similar.
Ahh. I f it is going to be done – note, i f – please … let’s try to get the design pretty good from the start. [A problem many innovative ships have, I fear!


A conceptualized image of a wind-powered, remotely controlled ship that could seed clouds over the ocean to deflect sunlight.
Thankfully this would be wind powered rather than solar powered. A solar powered ship to do this would be self defeating!

Gene Selkov

The only useful hack we’ve seen so far is building a walled enclosure with a roof. It has recently been enhanced with glass windows and insulated walls.

Rather than a ship to seed clouds, couldn’t we just rely on the already proven technique of using warmer oceans to generate more cloud cover? (aka natural negative feedback)


Wouldn’t you have to apply the precautionary principle here? If there’s a chance that they’d do harm, so matter how small, you don’t let them do it.

DD More

“A lot of people, from across the academy, are getting interested in the Anthropocene – the idea that we may have entered a new geological era where human influence is a dominant feature, and what that means for various issues,” Gardiner said.
Please go out with your group and test this ‘idea’. Get in front of the next hurricane, blizzard or tornado and just use your dominant human influence and get it to stop. These guys have a bad case of god or Dr. Evil.
Could you at lease wait until one of your computer models get back within 95% before you start.


Arming Al Qaeda is hacking Syria.
Printing 85 bn USD a month is hacking the economy.
Hacking everybody’s phone and computer is… well hacking everybody’s phone and computer.
Obamacare is hacking healthcare.
BEST is hacking temperature data.
BTW, I saw on woodfortrees, when comparing RSS (global), HadCRUT (global) and BEST (Land only) that RSS and HadCRUT have nearly the same trend since 1980 and BEST has a far higher.
Fair enough one would tend to say as BEST is only land.
But this, if it were real, would indicate an ever rising temperature differential between land and sea.
This would imply that coastal winds and storms would have to become ever stronger.
There is no evidence of that.
I think BEST is BS.

Also explored in the journal issue is the idea of injecting reflective particles into the stratosphere,

Yeah, there’s a name for that. Let’s see, What was it again …?


What? A moral-panic-driven scold-rewarding tax-soaking boondoggle that will enrich bureaucrats and lawyers and achieve nothing else anyone wants in aid of solving a problem that has yet to be accurately identified?
Why, that has never happened before.


Can you imagine the LAWSUITS.

Rhoda R

Of all the nonsense the AGW crowd has come out with, the idea that they would – not knowing how the climate really works – actually try to moderate it just leave my blood running cold.


Rhoda R says:
December 17, 2013 at 3:19 pm
“Of all the nonsense the AGW crowd has come out with, the idea that they would – not knowing how the climate really works – actually try to moderate it just leave my blood running cold.”
Don’t worry. It’ll be organized by the administration. Meaning, the money will disappear and nothing effectual will happen. You’ll only be broker, and some friend of the Obamas will be far, far richer.


The arrogance and unbridled hubris of the so called geo-engineering promoters is breathtaking in it’s utter contempt for the what the rest of the world’s citizens might want in the way of the global climate.
Who the hell are they who get to decide what the global climate should look like or how it should behave?
Have any of these educated but ignorant, pompous, bumptious, self promoting ego inflaters ever bothered to ask what the other 7.2 billions of humans on this planet actually want in regards to the global climate?
Do they know exactly every dot and every iota of the drivers of the global climate so that any proposed action they can anticipate every single side effect that might arise from their meddling with the climate?
Of course not.
In their total ignorance they can’t even tell us why the climate is doing what it is doing despite a billion dollars a day, $350 billion a year already being spent on climate related research and attempted climate modification with wind and solar energy production, all of which is an abject failure in doing what it was claimed it was going to do,
The only results being highly inefficient renewable energy, rapidly rising energy costs and the destruction of colossal amounts of wealth and treasure and the increase in suffering amongst the poor who now have to choose between heat and eat.
These are the sole legacies of the already attempted climate modification.
There is no evidence at all that these attempted and immensely costly climate modification measures have had any perceptible or perceivable effects on the climate whatsoever.
And yet these arrogant ignorant scientific nitwits intend to continue with ever more radical ways of “modifying” the climate when they and we already know neither they nor any other scientific based research still haven’t hardly a clue at all as to why the climate does what it does, when it does or what it will do tomorrow.
All we do know is that there are still numerous and immense unknown forces and drivers at work on the global climate changing it in ways we cannot yet understand let alone predict.
But then I guess some so called climate scientists are so damn dumb and so full of their own self promoting BS that they are incapable of thinking through just what sort of unparalleled disaster they might be inflicting upon the whole planet if they get even a minor part of their climate modification even slightly wrong.
Respect for Anthony and a probable justifiable sin binning prevents me from using much stronger language to describe these feckless so called climate modification scientists and their grandiose selfishness, their ignorance and their total arrogance and hubris and ultimately, their complete lack of any sense of responsibility to the rest of humanity.

David Riser

It is still quackery…..

john robertson

Why wait, we can go straight to the age old expedient of burning witches, far more reliable, it worked when the last mini ice age struck.
Now as the new one starts repeat as necessary, expect a 300 year lag before results.
Yes sarcasm, but given the current drop off in solar output and the surplus of idiots in academia, I can see a winning solution.
Designate all climate castrologists as witches and fire them into the sun.
Wait 30 to 300 years then claim success.

Examples of man mucking about with nature:
Toads introduced in Australia to control sugar cane beetles multiplied and now number >200 megatoads. They have been known to spread disease and have caused large environmental detriment, but there is also no evidence that they have had any impact on the bugs they were meant to eradicate.
Rabbits were introduced into Australia for hunting purposes, but bred like rabbits and caused millions of dollars of crop damage. Myxomatosis and other horrible deseases have been deployed to kill the poor bunnehs.
Allan Savory engaged in the unsavoury practise of killing elephants in Africa to halt errosion, slaughtering ~40k before determining that they were not causing it.
So yeah, lets engineer the weather. What could go wrong?

Philip Mulholland

Geoengineering? Here is an example of how Mother Nature does it:-
The Chesapeake Bay impact crater

The environmental regulations are growing more and more environmentally harmful, ie CFLs, low water-use clothing detergents which burn the skin, and worthless windturbines. Sulfate spraying certainly fits the existing pattern.
Once the environmentally harmful environmental mandates are in place, will it not all be blamed on the free market, which has so far given us the most prosperous people and the cleanest water and air in the world?

Mike Ozanne

Well as part of an OU course years ago I looked at the energies required to replace natural function, hydroponics to grow food and the like. Generally speaking the energy input and material use was so huge it wasn’t practical. I don’t see man made clouds or man made algae blooms or plantations to capture CO2 as being any different. The natural process is on such a vast scale that man made changes pale to insignificance. Look at the “Hiroshima Equivalent” bollocks working out to 0.6 watts per square metre (see http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/11/25/the-4hiroshimas-app-propaganda-of-the-worst-kind/). It seems clear either, we’ve screwed the climate, in which case we need to adapt survive and overcome rather than piss about with belated prevention, or we haven’t in which case butchering the global economy on the alter of alarmism would be profoundly stupid…

Bill Illis

These people are the insane genius scientists that early James Bond movies were based on.
They are obsessed with geoengineering and will not stop until they get to carry out their mission.
There is actually a UN convention against it but I don’t think this will stop them. One day, they will destroy the Ozone layer or something. More effective measures will be required to stop the David Keith’s for example.

Bruce Cobb

Oh, the insanity.

Mark and two Cats says:
December 17, 2013 at 3:56 pm “Examples of man mucking about with nature:”
Then there was the time the government introduced the Kudzu vine, which is incredibly invasive, and then introduced an insect that eats it – and soybeans as well.
‘Kudzu bug’ threatens soybeans, too
By Allen G. Breed
Associated Press
October 17, 2011 at 7:19 p.m.
BLACKVILLE, S.C. — Kudzu — the “plant that ate the South” — has finally met a pest that’s just as voracious. Trouble is, the so-called “kudzu bug” also is fond of another East Asian transplant that we happen to like, and that is big money for American farmers.
“When this insect is feeding on kudzu, it’s beneficial,” Clemson University entomologist Jeremy Greene said as he stoold in a field swarming with the brown, pea-sized critters. “When it’s feeding on soybeans, it’s a pest.”
Like kudzu, which was introduced to the South from Japan in the late 19th century as a fodder and a way to stem erosion on the region’s worn-out farmlands, this insect is native to the Far East. And like the invasive vine, which “Deliverance” author James Dickey famously deemed “a vegetable form of cancer,” the kudzu bug is running rampant.”
(Courtesy of El Chiefio http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2012/09/04/edible-kudzu/ in comments)


Now, that really is worse than we thought!


They just want to find new ways to make money out of this Catastrophic scam. Why act on global temperature when there has been no global surface warming for 17 years and counting? What if future warming is not dangerous (see climate sensitivity turned down recently), then what. An utter waste of money. Don’t believe me? See the desal plants mothballed in Australia because they were getting ready for perpetual drought. It’s a con.


What if things go wrong? Below is what might happen to the carbonphobic climate geoengineers.

Bohringer – pp 335-351 – 1999
Climatic Change and Witch-Hunting: The Impact of the Little Ice Age on Mentalities
…During the late 14th and 15th centuries the traditional conception of witchcraft was transformed into the idea of a great conspiracy of witches, to explain “unnatural” climatic phenomena……Scapegoat reactions may be observed by the early 1560s…..extended witch-hunts took place at the various peaks of the Little Ice Age because a part of society held the witches directly responsibile for the high frequency of climatic anomalies and the impacts thereof……
Christian Pfister et. al. – 1999
Climatic Variability in Sixteenth-Century Europe and its Social Dimension: A Synthesis
…Peasant communities which were suffering large collective damage from the effects of climatic change pressed authorities for the organization of witch-hunts. Seemingly most witches were burnt as scapegoats of climatic change.
Christian Pfister – 2012
Climatic Extremes, Recurrent Crises and Witch Hunts
Strategies of European Societies in Coping with Exogenous Shocks in the Late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries
Finally, by confirming the thesis advanced by Wolfgang Behringer relating extensive witch hunts during that period to climatic change and recurrent subsistence crises, this article makes a plea for bridging the gap separating studies of climate from those of culture.
doi: 10.1177/097194580701000202


Climatic Variability in Sixteenth-Century Europe and Its Social Dimension
Pfister, Christian; Brázdil, Rudolf; Glaser, Rüdiger (Eds.)
Book – 1999, VI, 351 p.
…Moreover, the impact of climate change on grain prices and wine production is assessed. Finally, it is convincingly argued that witches at that time were burnt as scapegoats for climatic change.

Frank K.

I’ll be blunt – geoengineers are polluters…on a massive scale.


All past attempts at weather modification worked so well, it’s time to take it up a level.

Pedro Oliveira

Bring on WW III. I’m sure that a nuclear winter will take care of any global warming remaining.

Robert of Ottawa

So what do they do with the salt?

“A lot of people, from across the academy, are getting interested in the Anthropocene – the idea that we may have entered a new geological era where human influence is a dominant feature, and what that means for various issues,”
What do these people think “Carbon” reduction is, if the ‘Anthropocene’ is unconscious geoengineering!


With a mathematical understanding of orders of magnitude and a good feel for the vastness of the oceans and atmosphere, I’m not too worried about any catastrophic anthropogenic manipulation of the global climate. (But then again, there’s that flap of a butterfly’s wing…) What I’m more worried about is the drain on the taxpayers money building all these useless geoengineering gadgets.

Pamela Gray

Dear God in Heaven.

George Steiner

And all clouds are going to do is reflect sunshine eh? You moron.

Now they’ve done it. They made Pamela Gray say words. (;


“Toads introduced in Australia to control sugar cane beetles …………but there is also no evidence that they have had any impact on the bugs they were meant to eradicate.”
Funny thing about that little “Geo-engineering” project. The toads are quite heavy and stay at ground level, and the beetles like to eat the fresh tender sugar cane at the top (8 feet up or so).
Doooh, who could have possibly known that………
Perhaps they needed the “extra long tongued toad” with the 3 meter long tongue, simply a slight specification error, that’s all. Next version of the project we will fix that little detail.
These “Geo-Engineering” people are NUTZ………
Cheers, Kevin

William McClenney

Can they outrun a typhoon/hurricane???

William McClenney

Alternatively, could these feed a typhoon/hurricane???

James at 48

Expedite the end of the interglacial … yeahhhhhh … thaaaaat’s the ticket! Of course, even without overt efforts, Ma Nature will likely give us a good Age of Migrations. Ah … I get so warm and cuddly thinking about warring tribes with thermonuclear weapons.