The Legal Problems Of Climate Therapy
The Max Planck Institute has an interesting article (in German) here When Man Engineers Climate concerning the international legal aspects of employing technical means to engineer climate change. Personally, I think there isn’t much man could do, unless all resources were focussed in doing so. But others think it’s possible and even feasible.
Scientists are developing processes to counteract the alleged negative impacts of climate change. But employing these untested processes could very well lead to unexpected results instead. Do these technical processes – should they function at all – comply with international norms?
There are several techniques that may be used to influence climate on earth, or what some call climate engineering, or geo-engineering or climate therapy. But the impacts of climate engineering would be completely unpredictable, and could cause more harm than good for a region. Who would be liable for damages? Think of the technical legal complications in proving in an international court that a negative impact was caused, or could be caused.
There are basically two general technical methods to counter global warming:
1. Reducing solar radiation by using reflective aerosols.
2. Removing CO2 from the atmosphere.
No. 2 for example, uses iron fertilisation to promote the growth of algae. The algae then absorbs CO2, which would disappear at the seabed when the algae dies off. The Alfred Wegener Institute even conducted a controversial experiment to see how well that would work: The Lohafex Experiment. The scientists dumped iron sulphate over 300 sq km in the South Pacific. But things did not go as hoped. The fertiliser did indeed promote the growth of algae, but swarms of small crabs descended and torpedoed the project with their large appetites. No extra CO2 was absorbed in the end.
No.1 can be achieved by cloud-making, which reflects sunlight back into space. This can be done through salt crystals or using sulfuric acid. Mt Pinatubo showed that this works as it spewed 10 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, which scientists say caused global temps to drop 0.5°C.
Engineering climate (doing climate-therapy) would likely lead to unpredictable consequences. According to legal researcher David Reichwein:
Nobody knows what consequences such experiments could have on the global climate and how these consequences would impact different regions in different ways.
A large-scale attempt to remove CO2 using iron sulphate to promote algae growth could have considerable negative impacts on ecological balance.
Climate therapy by using reflective aerosols could also lead to nasty side effects. For example a study based on a model conducted by Patricia Heckendorn of the Atmospheric and Climate Sciences Institute of the ETH Zurich showed that using sulfur aerosols in the stratosphere would likely lead to a considerable degradation of the ozone layer.
In Pinatubo’s aftermath, shifts in precipitation were observed. So a large-scale application by man could lead to devastating results, and thus would certainly be challenged legally.
The problem is that the impacts of climate therapy processes cannot be contained to a specific area. The threat of uncontrolled adverse impacts entail international law and human rights issues. Says Reichwein:
Geo Engineering up to now has yet to find a foothold in human rights treaties.
Employing geo-engineering processes will lead to the opening up of a whole new can of worms legally, let alone questions of technical feasibility.
In the meantime, hoards of companies, all with promises of delivering successful climate therapy, are lining up at the feeding troughs, which are filled by crooked politicians.