There are a couple of lessons to take away from this episode. First, public engagement will be essential to the success of any large-scale geoengineering experiment. This point was made well by Jane Long, co-chair of the group responsible for the recent Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) report on climate engineering research (see BPC Report, 10/6):
If you battle ahead without taking some time to do public engagement, you're going to end up doing what the Brits are doing right now, which is funding some geoengineering research, sending the scientists out in the field to deal with the public, and then having to postpone the whole project because they just mismanaged it. So we feel that's a very good example about how not to run it, that it should be done in a much more deliberative way.
Public engagement may be slow, time-consuming, and even frustrating, but the alternative is greater controversy and a more energized opposition.
Second, whether or not ETC Group was actually responsible for the testbed delay, once again we see a loud, organized opposition to climate engineering, but no countervailing voice of reason to make the case for a robust research program. The geoengineering community is essentially networked. While this structure is advantageous for generating ideas and discussion, it is disadvantageous when it comes to promoting concrete action in the political arena. The SPICE delay just reinforces the need for more organization among advocates of climate engineering research. Fortunately, an effort is currently underway (involving myself and others) to bring a greater level of coherence and institutionalization to geoengineering research advocacy. With more organization in place, future debates and controversies related to climate engineering should be more balanced and informative, with outcomes that are more responsive to the planetary emergency we face.