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Is Latin America prepared for a debate over geoengineering?

Latin America faces four major questions on the controversial topic of using technology to intentionally reshape aspects of Earth and its atmosphere in a way that counteracts climate change.

By James BosworthGuest blogger / October 6, 2011



The Bipartisan Policy Center released a report this week on geoengineering research, also covered by the NYT, Rolling Stone and the Natural Security Blog.

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For those unfamiliar with the concept, geoengineering (or "climate remediation" to use the term in the report) is the controversial concept of using technology to intentionally reshape aspects of the Earth and its atmosphere in a way that counteracts climate change. For example, imagine if you could release a gas into the air that would cause global cooling and could balance out the global warming (see this article from The Atlantic in 2009 for some good discussion on the topic). Obviously, attempting to do something like that would be challenging, have significant impacts around the globe, and could be devastating if done incorrectly.

There are many debates surrounding the issue, but for Latin America, four questions are pertinent.

1.) Within Latin America, who can do the scientific research? Latin America needs the science and technology base, if not to attempt geoengineering, then at least to help policymakers understand the issue and have an informed position on the debate as it occurs globally. Without more scientists working on environmental issues, Latin America will sit on the sidelines of this debate.

2.) Who should govern geoengineering globally? Given that any attempt to do this would have a global impact, most people feel some sort of international governance and regulation should be created. The rules of this are up in the air and Latin America will certainly want a seat at that table, even if they are not the ones attempting the science.

3.) How should a rogue geoengineer be managed? This is perhaps one of the hardest questions out there on this debate. What if some country decides to go against the global governance structure and acts unilaterally to reshape the atmosphere? Is it an act of war? What happens if it is not a government but a corporation or crazy billionaire? While all that seems to fall in the realm of science fiction, we're not too far away from these questions.

4) Where do Latin American countries stand on geoengineering? This is perhaps the hardest question, and it's likely that the region will not be united on the answer. If governments even have an official position today, I'm sure it is against. It just seems too far out there to have many in favor of it. However, as heavier storms hit some countries while droughts and water shortages hit others, a regional movement in favor of this effort could begin to emerge.

Like many issues, this seems to be one where the OAS or UNASUR could help get the issue on the agenda and at least get countries thinking about their positions. I don't expect them to have well thought out and nuanced positions today. No country does currently. However, while it seems a long way off and far removed from Latin America's current urgent priorities, it could be a serious international debate within the next few decades and it will certainly impact the entire region if anyone attempts one of these geoengineering experiments.

For any think tanks out there writing the next Latin America 2025 or Latin America in 30 years report, this is the sort of topic that should be on the agenda. It's forward leaning, it's off the radar, it will have a big impact, and the region needs to begin discussing it.

--- James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant who runs Bloggings by Boz.

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