Exclusive: Congress to Explore Geoengineering Next Month

Eli is a contributing correspondent for Science magazine.

The U.S. Congress will explore deliberate tinkering with the climate in its first ever hearing on geoengineering early next month, ScienceInsider has learned.

Congressional committees have shied away from focusing hearings on the controversial topic until now. One reason might be that talk of a technical fix could distract from needed emissions cuts, especially with the U.S. Senate and international negotiators debating new controls on carbon pollution.

The House of Representatives' science and technology committee has slated the hearing on the controversial subject for 5 November. The exact focus of the hearing is not known, but the meeting could be a first step towards establishing dedicated federal support for geoengineering research, which currently does not exist.

Bill Fulkerson, an energy policy expert with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, said that geoengineering research is “the most neglected part of the climate strategy we have” and that a research program is “exactly what’s needed.”

While the committee has not announced the hearing or finalized its list of witnesses, sources say it may feature John Shepherd, a scientist of the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom who led a recent study by the U.K. Royal Society on geoengineering; Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science; or Lee Lane, an official with the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy's geoengineering project. All three have called for government funding of geoengineering research.

Alex Dery Snider, spokeswoman for the House science and technology committee sent ScienceInsider this statement:

The Committee is looking to gain a greater understanding of a complicated but timely subject. We feel it would be irresponsible to ignore the issue because it is complex or potentially controversial. Our hearing should by no means be read as an endorsement of taking action. This is the appropriate venue to begin a thoughtful, in-depth conversation that includes the full range of perspectives on the topic. This is just the first step in what will be a very long discussion.

Do you think congress should be exploring this topic? Comment below.

Posted in Climate climate research, geoengineering