Climate engineering research gets green light

Hacking the planet to rein in humanity’s effect on the climate has been given a scientific stamp of approval.

The umbrella body for meteorological scientists in the US is about to endorse research into geoengineering as part of a three-pronged approach to coping with climate change, alongside national policies to reduce emissions.

New Scientist has seen the final draft of the American Meteorological Society‘s carefully worded position paper on geoengineering. The AMS is the first major scientific body to officially endorse research into geoengineering.

The document states that “deliberately manipulating physical, chemical, or biological aspects of the Earth system” should be explored alongside the more conventional approaches to climate change. Conventional approaches means reducing emissions – “mitigation” in policy-speak – and adjusting to the unavoidable effect of climate change – known as “adaptation”.

The paper states that “even aggressive mitigation of future emissions cannot avoid dangerous climate changes resulting from past emissions. Furthermore, it is unlikely that all of the expected climate-change impacts can be managed through adaptation. Thus, it is prudent to consider geoengineering’s potential benefits, to understand its limitations, and to avoid ill-considered deployment”.

Trials likely

Opponents of geoengineering may be reassured to find that the statement calls for studies into the social, ethical and legal implications of geoengineering solutions, and for methods to be developed in a transparent fashion.

A New Scientist special report on geoengineering earlier this year highlighted the need for such studies. Research, including some private studies, into geoengineering solutions is gathering pace and it’s likely that small and eventually large-scale trials will soon be carried out.

Yet there are few, if any, international frameworks in place that can regulate attempts to engineer the climate, despite the fact that the impacts of large-scale geoengineering will be felt on a regional and possibly global scale.

“I think this is an important step towards developing an ‘official’ research programme on intentional climate intervention established in the United States,” says Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Stanford, California, and a proponent of research into geoengineering.

“I think it is increasingly likely that we will see government funded research programs into ways to decrease the amount of climate change caused by increased greenhouse gas concentrations,” he says.

The 20-million Gene Toolkit: Designing Future Energy & Lifeforms

6a00d8341bf7f753ef0115720f2caf970b-500wi“We have 20 million genes which I call the design components of the future. We are limited here only by our imagination.”

Craig Venter, Geneticist

Craig Venter’s company, Synthetic Genomics, announced yesterday that it has struck a deal with ExxonMobil to develop biofuels from algae that cars and planes can use without having a modified engine. Exxon officials said they decided to invest in algal biofuel over other forms of biofuels because its production does not require arable land or fresh water and algae consumes large quantities of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Synthetic Genomics has been using genetic engineering in an effort to produce strains of algae that would automatically secrete a “hydrocarbon-like” liquid.


Venter has been making headlines that led to yesterday’s announcement over the past years for a wide variety of genetic “miracles”. The controversial scientist has made a lot of wild claims, but surprisingly most of them have panned out. But his latest “crazy” idea might just top them all. Late last year Venter disclosed that he is creating a life form that feeds on climate-ruining carbon dioxide to produce fuel. It’s hard to imagine a better win-win, and he says he’s very close to making the dream a reality. Such a feat could be world changing. Indeed!

“We have modest goals of replacing the whole petrochemical industry and becoming a major source of energy,” Venter told Al Gore, Google co-founder Larry Page and other attendees at the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference held recently in Monterey, California. “We think we will have fourth-generation fuels in about 18 months, with CO2 as the fuel stock.”

Venter says that there is virtually no limit to the kind of applications that designer organisms can be custom created for.