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The CIA Wants To Control the Climate!!!!11!

No, not really.

But that's the conclusion people are getting from a story published initially at Mother Jones, and picked up around the web. The CIA -- along with NASA, NOAA, and the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) -- is funding a $630,000 NAS project to study geoengineering. Not how to do it, but what the broader ramifications are for global politics. The announcement at the NAS gives the details:

An ad hoc committee will conduct a technical evaluation of a limited number of proposed geoengineering techniques, including examples of both solar radiation management (SRM) and carbon dioxide removal (CDR) techniques, and comment generally on the potential impacts of deploying these technologies, including possible environmental, economic, and national security concerns. The study will:

1. Evaluate what is currently known about the science of several (3-4) selected example techniques, including potential risks and consequences (both intended and unintended), such as impacts, or lack thereof, on ocean acidification,

2. Describe what is known about the viability for implementation of the proposed techniques including technological and cost considerations,

3. Briefly explain other geoengineering technologies that have been proposed (beyond the selected examples), and

4. Identify future research needed to provide a credible scientific underpinning for future discussions.

The study will also discuss historical examples of related technologies (e.g., cloud seeding and other weather modification) for lessons that might be learned about societal reactions, examine what international agreements exist which may be relevant to the experimental testing or deployment of geoengineering technologies, and briefly explore potential societal and ethical considerations related to geoengineering. This study is intended to provide a careful, clear scientific foundation that informs ethical, legal, and political discussions surrounding geoengineering.

This is an entirely appropriate use of a very small amount of money (in government terms) and the resources of the intelligence services. As I've gone into multiple times, the global political risks around geoengineering are massive, likely greater than the environmental risks. A better understanding of an emerging complex geopolitical issue is precisely what I'd want an intelligence service to be doing. It's a lot better than operating killer drones and reading our email. People who don't want to see geoengineering happen should be glad that the US government is taking this seriously as a potential issue.

I had an opportunity a couple of years ago to participate in a "wargame" project run by the CIA Center on Climate Change and National Security -- see souvenir above -- and watched as a climate-focused exercise turned into a geoengineering-focused game. As far as I could tell, this was not the designer's intent, but an organic result of player actions. And over the course of the game it came very close to leading to armed conflict between the US and China, a conflict over uncertain (and unsettling) consequences of a geoengineering effort. [The CIA Center on CCNS is now closed, in part due to climate issues being integrated across the spectrum of CIA research, and in part because House Republicans cut funding. Can't have the government studying climate change as if it were a real thing, you know.]

There's no question that geoengineering needs to be thought of as a potential global political risk. I'm glad to see a project like this. And I hope that the intelligence and strategic risk analysis services of other governments around the world are doing the exact same thing.

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