There has been a lot of publicity recently about my comments on the
CIA and geoengineering. Fortunately, The Guardian
to write an op-ed to give me a chance to explain my views using my
own words. Unfortunately, they chose an inflammatory title, but
please read the content.
[includes links to some of the items in the text]
The CIA asked me about controlling the climate – this is why we
[I did not write this title or subtitle.]
Geoengineering has many risks, and we don’t yet know the CIA’s
intentions. But given the lack of political will on climate
change, we have to look at it
Tuesday 17 February 2015 11.35 EST
On January 19, 2011, I got a phone call from two men who told me
they were consultants for the CIA. Roger Lueken and Michael Canes,
analysts for the Logistics Management Institute, asked, among other
things, “If another country were trying to control our climate,
would we be able to detect it?”
I told them that I thought we could, because if a cloud in the
stratosphere were created (the most commonly proposed method of
control) that was thick enough, large enough, and long-lasting
enough to change the amount of energy reaching Earth, we could
certainly see it with the same ground-based and satellite
instruments we use to measure stratospheric clouds from volcanic
eruptions. If, on the other hand, low clouds were being brightened
over the ocean (another suggested means of cooling the climate), we
could see telltale patterns in the tops of the clouds with satellite
photos. And it would also be easy to observe aeroplanes or ships
injecting gases or particles into the atmosphere.
Spy agencies fund climate research in hunt for weather weapon,
At the same time, I wondered whether they also wanted to know if
others would know about it, if the CIA was controlling the world’s
climate. Given that the CIA is a major sponsor of the recently
released US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reports on
geoengineering (which they have renamed “climate intervention”), the
question arises as to the possible interest of the CIA in global
Let me be clear. I completely agree with all the NAS findings.
Global warming is real and is being caused by humans, mainly by
burning coal, oil, petrol and natural gas, which puts carbon dioxide
– a greenhouse gas – into the atmosphere. Global warming will result
in major harm to humanity if left unchecked. The solution is to stop
using fossil fuels for our energy supply and switch to solar and
wind power, and to adapt to some of the coming climate change.
Geoengineering by blocking sunlight should not be implemented now,
as its risks and benefits are too uncertain, but we need more
research on the various proposed scenarios. Taking carbon dioxide
out of the air is a good thing, but currently extremely expensive,
and we need research on that, too.
The 2014 US Quadrennial Defense Review makes clear that climate
change poses a major threat to the US and the rest of the world. It
says: “The pressures caused by climate change will influence
resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies,
societies, and governance institutions around the world. These
effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad
such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability,
and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity
and other forms of violence.”
Certainly it is the job of the US military and the CIA to help
protect our country from such threats, and it is not surprising that
the CIA is interested to learn about geoengineering. In fact, the
CIA opened a Center on Climate Change and National Security in 2009.
When it was forced by Congress to close it in 2012, it said they
would continue working on these issues anyway.
Can the CIA weaponise the weather?
Whether you see the role of the CIA in climate change as nefarious
or protective depends on how you weigh evidence with your
preconceived notions. There is a long history of weather and climate
control being proposed for military purposes, as described
brilliantly in the 2010 book by James Fleming, Fixing the Sky, but
there is no evidence the CIA is doing anything wrong on this issue.
I know of no way to control local or regional climate with
geoengineering without effects elsewhere, but while it is possible
that such techniques could be developed by research, geoengineering
for hostile purposes is prohibited by the United Nations Convention
on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of
Environmental Modification Techniques.
I don’t want to be working on geoengineering. But I don’t yet see
the political will in the world to address global warming. If the US
enhances its research efforts on geoengineering, we will learn about
both the potential risks and benefits of its implementation, so that
future policymakers will be able to make informed decisions, and not
hasty ones in a panic if confronted by environmental dangers.
My recent work lists five potential benefits and 26 potential risks
of stratospheric geoengineering, and the number one benefit – if
stratospheric geoengineering is possible at all (an important
research question) – is that it could cool the planet, reversing
some of the dangers of global warming. But will we ever be able to
overcome the governance and ethical issues?
Thus further research is urgently needed. In the meantime, we need
to vigorously move to a carbon-free energy system.
Alan Robock, Distinguished Professor
Editor, Reviews of Geophysics
Director, Meteorology Undergraduate Program
Department of Environmental Sciences Phone: +1-848-932-5751
Rutgers University Fax: +1-732-932-8644
14 College Farm Road E-mail: rob...@envsci.rutgers.edu
New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8551 USA http://envsci.rutgers.edu/~robock
Watch my 18 min TEDx talk at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsrEk1oZ-54