Archive for April, 2018

Governance and Geoengineering

I had the good fortune of participating in a workshop on geoengineering last week (April 5th), organized by Elisa Graffey and ASU’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society.  For those that aren’t familiar with the topic, here are a couple great overviews of the discussion that the workshop organizers shared:

Here is a quick overview of the technologies in picture form (Courtesy of the Climate Viewer website):


You’ll see that the technologies fit into two broad categories. Carbon dioxide removal (CDR), which included all of the carbon capture technologies that you hear about in the coal industry discussions, is about removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The second type of technology is solar radiation management (SRM), which is about blocking some of the solar radiation from the earth’s atmosphere.

I’m not an expert on this subject, and I was attending to help understand the governance challenges.  Clearly, there are many issues to consider ranging from technical know-how to scalability, from moral and ethical implications to difficulties with experimentation and irreversibility.  The two interrelated challenges that I’d like to raise are:

  1. The capacity to act unilaterally and affect climatic conditions globally, and
  2. Who gets to “control” the global thermostat.

Some of these technologies – iron fertilization, spraying sulfates in the atmosphere, cloud seeding, and others – are inexpensive enough that they could be undertaken by a single country or even by wealthy individuals.  However, the ramifications would go beyond the borders of any individual country, affecting global temperatures, precipitation patterns, biodiversity levels, and many other knock-on effects.  In this situation, how are global decisions to be reached?  How are rogue nations (or other groups) to be contained? What are the collective responses to unilateral action?

These questions all relate to this second point.  If we reach a technological and scientific stage where we can effectively control the global temperature, how do we choose where to set it?  Do we rely on historical patterns?  If so, at what point in history?  Pre-industrial? The 1950s?  What if Russia wants to have a longer growing season?  What if island nations want more ice in Greenland to prevent sea level rise?  Of course, this oversimplifies, as temperature is not the only thing that changes.  What if the US or China acts to increase rainfall locally at the expense of other places?  What if changing temperatures affect the seasonality of monsoons or the runoff of glaciers and snowfields?

Clearly, the lists of questions can go on endlessly.  And clearly, there are no easy answers.  These are the challenges that we confront.  My hope is that raising some of these questions in this format would be enlightening to others that haven’t given it much thought yet.

I’d like to end with one final concern that underpins all of this – the moral hazard of such interventions.  At the end of the day, we still need to think about how we want to change our global emissions of carbon.  The technologies listed above do not target changing emissions and all have ramifications.  The ultimate question is what type of world do we want to live in.


Spending time in Prison

This past Monday I spent the day in the Florence Prison complex with the Heber Wild Horse Collaborative where we learned all about how inmates gentle and train wild horses and prepare them for adoption under the BLM.  The facility has two parts – one for housing horses and burros and keeping them healthy for adoption and another for training the animals. The photo here is of my doctoral student, Julie Murphree, and the BLM coordinator for this facility, John Hall.  They are standing above the chutes where the horses and burros are processed upon arrival.


The program is fascinating with high levels of care for the animals, successful adoption rates of animals leaving the program, and skill development for inmates.  The actual work looked very enjoyable to me and worthwhile.

The challenge it seems is one of scalability.  The training process creates a bottleneck, given the number of horses and burros in the wild, the capacity of the trainers, and the number of potential adopters.  As a collaborative, it’s interesting to align this option within a suite of strategies that could be used in cases where horse or burro populations exceed the capacity of the landscape.

And in case you’re interested in adoption, here is a photo of some of the adorable burros: