Steve Connor | The Independent | February 16, 2015
Officials are worried foreign countries may develop geoengineering – the deliberate manipulation of the global climate
The CIA is worried that a foreign power may develop the ability to manipulate the global climate in way that cannot be detected, a leading climatologist has claimed.
Consultants working for the Central Intelligence Agency have asked Professor Alan Robock of Rutgers University in New Jersey whether it would be possible for another nation to meddle with the climate without being discovered, he said.
“I got a phone call from two men who said we work as consultants for the CIA and we’d like to know if some other country was controlling our climate would we know about it,” Professor Robock said.
“I told them after thinking a little bit we probably would because if you put enough material in the atmosphere to reflect sunlight we would be able to detect it and see the equipment that was putting it up there,” he said.
“At the same time I thought they were probably also interested in if we could control somebody else’s climate could they detect it,” he added.
Professor Robock is an expert in geoengineering – the deliberate manipulation of the global climate – and specialises in how large volcanic eruptions cause global cooling by reflecting sunlight back into space, increasing the Earth’s reflectivity, or albedo.
Geoengineering has been the focus of two major studies, one by the Royal Society in Britain and one by the US National Academy of Sciences, which was part-funded by the American intelligence agencies. Both reports concluded that albedo modification poses considerable risks but that geoengineering warrants more research.
“I work on the area of stratospheric aerosols to emulate a volcanic eruption and I’ve identified five potential benefits of that and 26 potential risks,” Professor Robock told the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San José. “We know the answer to global warming is adaptation and mitigation. We’d rather not have to work on this.”
Nevertheless, Professor Robock and other scientists support research into geoengineering, such as a plan to monitor the aerosol clouds produced by the next large volcanic eruption, using aircraft, high-altitude balloons and satellites.
“We should be ready for the next volcanic eruption so that we can take observations and learn how particles grow and what their effects are, and we really aren’t ready today with current instruments to do that,” Professor Robock said.
Stephen Gardiner, a philosopher at the University of Washington in Seattle, warned that modifying the climate through geoengineering risks making the situation worse, especially for future generations. “It’s easy to see why a nation may be tempted by a cheap, short-to-medium term fix that makes things better and holds off the worse for 50, 70 or 100 years, but at a cost of making things much worse in the future,” Professor Gardiner said.
“This kind of incentive is called the tyranny of the contemporary, and that’s why it’s a considerable intergenerational problem.”