Keith weighs in...

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Rau, Greg

Apr 18, 2012, 12:13:15 PM4/18/12
Should/could this logic extend to CDR? Why (not)? - Greg

Researchers warn that technology that could stop global warming must stay out of private hands
Anne C. Mulkern, E&E reporter
Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2012
LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif. -- Researchers working on a technology they say could stop global warming want the government to keep it out of private hands, a lead investigator said this week.

David Keith, a Harvard University professor and an adviser on energy to Microsoft founder Bill Gates, said he and his colleagues are researching whether the federal government could ban patents in the field of solar radiation.

The technology, also known as geoengineering, involves a kind of manipulation of the climate. Shooting sulfur -- a reflective material -- into the stratosphere could compensate for the warming effect of carbon dioxide and cool the planet, Keith said.

It could be very effective but also has the potential to provoke conflict between nations, Keith said.

"This is technology that allows any country to affect the whole climate in gigantic ways, which has literally potential to lead to wars," Keith said. "It has this sort of giant and frightening leverage."

Keith spoke about the technology and his work on climate and energy Monday at Fortune magazine's Brainstorm Green conference. The Harvard professor of applied physics and public policy runs the philanthropic Fund for Innovative Energy and Climate Research.

Gates began funding that group out of his personal wealth after meeting with Keith and other advisers on climate. The fund, which has spent $4.6 million since 2007, is bankrolling the research into solar radiation.

Keith began studying solar radiation about 20 years ago, "when no one else was working on it," he said. Now others are investigating it, "the taboo has been broken and there's suddenly a fair amount of research happening and people are beginning to think more seriously about it."

Could the government ban patents?

With people talking about it more openly, some researchers believe it's time to make sure precautions are taken to prevent international conflict. Some of his colleagues last week traveled to Washington, D.C., where they discussed whether the U.S. Patent Office could ban patents on the technology, Keith said.

"We think it's very dangerous for these solar radiation technologies, it's dangerous to have it be privatized," Keith said. "The core technologies need to be public domain."

Those familiar with patent rules, he said, described it as mostly uncharted territory. "There's not much legal precedent," Keith said. "Nuclear weapons are a partial precedent." The United States could not ban patents in other countries but has influence, he explained.

"Patents are mostly symbolic in this area anyways," he said. "The issue is to try and find ways to lower potential tensions between countries around these technologies by sending signals that it's going to be as transparent as possible."

In addition to potentially stoking international political problems, the technology carries other risks. The particles could hold the Earth's temperatures constant, Keith said, but that has side effects.

"If you keep increasing the amount of carbon dioxide, and you keep also increasing the amount of sulfur in the stratosphere, you can hold the surface temperature constant," Keith said. "All sorts of other things begin to go more and more wrong as you have more and more CO2 in the atmosphere.

"So this is not a perfect substitute," Keith said, "but it might be a very effective way to reduce risk over the next half-century."

The work on solar radiation is one part of energy research Keith is involved in. He also runs a startup called Carbon Engineering, which is trying to build the hardware to capture carbon out of the air. The company has received about $3.5 million from Gates and has spent about $6 million total.

Lack of a broad social consensus

At the conference, where many are talking about innovations, Keith warned that those won't be enough on their own to stop climate change from becoming a severe problem.

"No technical fix solves this problem without some sort of broad, social consensus that the problem is worth solving," Keith said. "I don't think we're there yet.

"It's not a question of if the politicians are screwing up," he added. "Yes, they are, but really, we have not convinced enough of our fellow citizens that they really should take this problem seriously."

That involves getting people to think about their great-grandchildren as well as people in other countries, he said.

Keith also spoke critically about what the country has done so far on climate. People are involved in symbolic actions instead of meaningful ones, he said, like focusing on producing better plastic instead of looking at the really big sources of carbon emissions, like airplane travel.

In the United States, about $260 billion in public and private dollars was spent last year on clean energy, which is about 0.4 percent of gross domestic product, Keith said. With that kind of spending, "you should expect to really see the brakes go on" greenhouse gas levels.

"Except emissions were up 7 percent in 2010 and almost certainly more last year," Keith said.

That means either that the view that cutting emissions should be easy is wrong, or that the way the money has been spent is not effective, he said, "or both."

Stephen Salter

Apr 18, 2012, 12:42:09 PM4/18/12
Hi All

Does this mean that anyone can put any amount of any substance into the
common atmosphere, even substances which are known to be dangerous, if
this increases world temperatures but not substances which reduce them?

Or does it mean that you can do what you like if you are ignorant of the
effects but not if you have studied then as carefully as you can?

Or does it mean that you can emit nasty stuff if it makes money for you
and hurts a majority of people but you cannot emit harmless stuff which
costs you money but helps a majority?


Emeritus Professor of Engineering Design
Institute for Energy Systems
School of Engineering
Mayfield Road
University of Edinburgh EH9 3JL
Tel +44 131 650 5704
Mobile 07795 203 195

The University of Edinburgh is a charitable body, registered in
Scotland, with registration number SC005336.

Ken Caldeira

Apr 18, 2012, 1:01:49 PM4/18/12
A key difference is the ability of a small number of actors to make a big difference.

Many think that a primary risk with SRM is a small number of rogue actors acting without a broad consensus.

With emissions reduction and most forms of CO2 removal from the atmosphere, the main concern is that nobody is acting sufficiently. 

Direct Air Capture does not present a significant "rogue actor risk".

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Ken Caldeira

Apr 18, 2012, 1:54:56 PM4/18/12
In more practical terms, in most cases of interest it will be extremely difficult to define what constitutes a "solar radiation technology".

Is a mirror on the ground or a white roof a "solar radiation technology"?  To some people yes, to others no.

Most tools have multiple uses.  What if I come up with a way of producing fine aerosols and that technology also has industrial uses?

I would like to see somebody try to come up with a clear scope of what would be unpatentable in this domain. My feeling is that there is no clear scope around which a consensus can form, unless that scope is extremely limited.

The same definitional problem plagues efforts to ban "geoengineering experiments".

Trying to ban things depending on whether they do or do not comprise examples of "solar radiation technology" or "geoengineering" is likely to produce a hopelessly twisted morass that will benefit no-one but the lawyers.

These are vague terms that different people use to refer to different things. Let's define what we want to proscribe or have in the public domain without resorting to the use of words for which there is no consensus definition.

I challenge members of this group to come up with definitions of "SRM experiment" or "SRM technology" that could be used to make determinations in a court of law.

Michael Hayes

Apr 20, 2012, 3:55:49 PM4/20/12
From an inventors point of view,
1) What is the intellectual property ie. legal  distinction between regional weather modification and geoengineering?  

2) The declaration of one form of environmental modification being intentional and another being non-intentional has no ethical/legal relevance if there is 'reasonable knowability' of the effects of the action. Thus, should non-intentional SRM methods, such as FF use be subject to patent laws and/or other social restrictions?
3) The US standard for patentability is reduced to 3 basic concepts. (A) New: What about SRM is new? At this point of understanding....not much. (B) Nonobvious: What about SRM is not obvious to someone normally schooled in the prior art? At this point in our understanding of the 'prior art'.....not much. (C) Useful:  In the case of GE, is that not largely an issue of policy as opposed to patentable technology?
One last thought on patent restrictions for SRM and GE in general. There is no global/universal patent and/or means of enforcement. 
The need for global cooperation on the GE issue in general and the different technical forms of such will most likely be in the area of international policy and not that of patent rights. Consider that, under current US patent laws, a fringe group or individual can (at least) apply for a GE related patent for the sole purpose of keeping that technology from being used as a form of GE. They do not need to be the inventor, just the first to file an application. A few thousand dollars in application fees could materially influence the overall GE way or the other.
(Side Note) The patenting of a SRM related concept by someone other than the recognized 'origionator/inventor' has already happened (Benford/diatomaceous earth).
Michael Hayes

Michael Hayes

Apr 20, 2012, 4:56:55 PM4/20/12
to geoengineering
Need for correction. The patent I mentioned in the note is (from what I can tell through the US PTO) still only at the application stage. Here is the application.
'origionator/inventor' has already happened (Benford/diatomaceous earth)."

What patent was this? I know of one filed, since I was on it.


David Keith

Apr 20, 2012, 9:15:48 PM4/20/12

Ken has it right. A central problem with attempts to restrict patenting of SRM technologies is to make sensible distinctions about what should and should not be included.


In order to explore these issues further, Granger Morgan and others held a meeting in DC on April 3rd to address exactly these issues. Attendance included were technology developers, IP experts, legal scholars, scientists etc. (I presented remotely, helped to organized, but was not able to make it in person.)


Several of the posts on this thread have pointed out, that (1) there is no single system of patenting, (2) there are already patents, (3)  patents might not be that important, and most of all (4) the distinction is muddy.


These are all good points and were all discussed, though of course not resolved, at the meeting.


My view is that the underlying issue is to incent transparency in the development of these technologies, and that restricting IP might be useful to help incent transparency. I am not convinced that IP restriction is practical.


I do think that government funding for SRM research can and should include specific guidelines that incent transparency and restrict commercialization.  


While a generalized restriction on IP might be unworkable, research grants can (and do) include specific provisions about IP.


Here is an example of how one might make the distinction between core and supporting IP for which restriction does not make sense:


       Specific kind of particle that enables some specific feature of SRM

       Measurement method that is uniquely applicable to SRM.


       Aircraft to deliver payloads to 70,000 ft.

       Computer programs for dispatch management


I think efforts to incent transparency should be focused on technologies that have:

1.  high leverage (huge outputs for small inputs, e.g. SRM and not CDR or regular mitigation)

2.  and technologies for which objective performance measurement is difficult (see attached slide).




Michael Hayes

Apr 21, 2012, 7:20:16 PM4/21/12
An Inventor's Response,
Dr. Keith, I question how incentive can be factored in.
The foundational concept of IP is that those who invest the time and effort and risk the initial capital investment, can hope for a return on that effort and risk. The issue of invention incentive may be a secondary, even lower, consideration in the overall GE issue. Yet, it does have it's importance in helping us find the best technologies.
I propose an 'X-Prize' type of incentive be established to substitute for the formal IP incentive. It could have categories along your suggestions. Some form of 'Prefered Contractor' status for the winning team(s) could be considered.
Yet, finding un-invested/objective people with in-depth working knowledge of the many important issues which would agree to sit on such a panel may be as hard as finding the funding. This panel would, in essence, be creating the first prototype for a planetary GE advisory board. 
You mentioned "Aircraft to deliver payloads to 70,000 ft.". I would add to that category aircraft which could operate:
A) Within specific regions of the larger types of tropospheric clouds. There is no current craft which can safely and routinely maintain station in and around larger cloud structures due to the turbulence and wind shear activity. There are designs options to do this yet there has never been, until now, a need (customer).
The Need: Regional level induced precipitation, non-marine cloud brightening and even cloud creation can provide needed ancillary options for a broader GE campaign. The need for regional level modifications of a broader GE effort has long been recognized yet rarely addressed. Advanced AC designs can open up these important areas of interest.  
B) Within the mesopause. PSC and PMC reduction offers important GE options. This GE approach has gained little notice and consideration. However, it is an option which entails no substance injection and has a highly short wave polar thermal effect as well as the potential benefit of possibly reducing Ozone Depletion. This represents, as you state, a "high leverage" means. Again, advanced aircraft designs can open up these important options.
A few final thoughts:
The search for additional GE options should be an on-going effort. The relative few options which have gained attention have their strengths and their weaknesses and, in my view, should be advanced. However, creating an on-going means to seek out and support new ideas, such as through a prize system, could;
A) Provide a transparent and sound form of incentive for future innovation.
B) Help show that the general GE issue is not being subjected to the 'invested interest' of the original few concept/promoters.
C) Create the first non-in-house effort in building a type of 'GE over-sight' board. The Oxford GE Group's effort is a in-house level effort which provides good guidance. 
These are all important steps which need to be done sooner rather than later. 
Ken's Challenge:
I challenge members of this group to come up with definitions of "SRM experiment" or "SRM technology" that could be used to make determinations in a court of law.
SRM Technology/Action= That technology or action which has a 'reasonably knowable' short wave effect upon the interregional global environment through the management of solar radiation related geophysical processes. This is in contrast to those technologies and actions which pose 'reasonably knowable' long wave effects upon the interregional global environment such as, but not limited to, CDR.
Reasonably knowable?
Long wave vs. Short Wave?
We need to leave the gental persons of the Bar something to 'work out'.

Robert Chris

Apr 26, 2012, 8:00:26 AM4/26/12

David, you are quoted as saying ‘it's dangerous to have it be privatized. The core technologies need to be public domain.’  If a patent is key to some SRM development that knowledge will be in the public domain by virtue of it being patented even if some commercially sensitive details of the technology are not.  Broadly speaking, patents confer two rights on the patent holder, the right to charge others for exploiting it, and the right to control who uses it.  Why are we concerned about patents?  Is it a moral objection to people profiteering out of SRM, or do we think that in some way patents might stifle or distort research and/or deployment?  You say that your main concern is to incentivise transparency but how is transparency about SRM compromised by patents on enabling technologies (e.g. what about the patents on some computer components on which all SRM research already depends)?  Is there a concern that technologies will be patented and then suppressed?  Isn’t there any merit to the argument that the more profit there is to be made the quicker solutions might be found and therefore profiteering is a good thing?  Even before we get to the taxing practical issue of how to impose a special regime on SRM relevant patents, can someone explain a little more compellingly the potential malign effects of patents on SRM?

Robert Chris

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