Geoengineering and the Public Good
At an international conference on climate intervention in Asilomar, CA in March 2010, Dr. Ana Ivelisse Aviles, senior general engineer at the Government Accountability Office, approached Shobita Parthasarathy with a request: the GAO was conducting a technology assessment of geoengineering, the use of technologies to intentionally alter the climate. Would Parthasarathy and her students help them?
In addition to helping the GAO construct questions for a public phone survey on geoengineering, Parthasarathy formed a Ford School Geoengineering Working Group, which researched and presented policy reports on three governance problems posed by this new field:
- One geoengineering strategy extracts carbon from the atmosphere by dumping particles of iron into the ocean. How would experiments in this area be regulated under the current international legal framework? How should those be amended to address the unique risks posed by geoengineering experimentation?
- Another strategy involves the injection of sulfate aerosol particles into the atmosphere to make clouds reflect more of the sun’s radiation. Proponents want to begin in the Arctic, but what methods of bottom-up governance could the diverse peoples of the Arctic use to participate and to deliberate on such experimentation taking place in their homelands?
- Though often overlooked as a form of governance, patents shape the development of new technical fields—sometimes in ways that deter innovation and harm the public interest. How might patents affect the development of geoengineering, and are there precedents in patent law that would help steer the technology toward the public good?
Each group presented their findings (A Public Good, Ocean Iron Fertilization, and Geoengineering in the Arctic) to Dr. Aviles when she visited the Ford School in May 2010, and prepared a memo for the GAO’s report to the House Science and Technology Committee.
The GAO released their report in October 2010, which can be found on their Web site.
Broadband in Detroit
As part of their Practicum on Science and Technology Policy (PubPol 657), STPP students Kate Gallup and Heather Claxton teamed with Dharma Akmon (School of Information) to address Detroit’s digital divide and craft recommendations to enhance Internet access for disadvantaged city residents. The team identified the city’s underserved populations, the causes of their exclusion, and the means to reach them. Taking into account the dire financial situation in the city, they argue that Detroit should partner with local non-profits to provide affordable home broadband services. Their report includes specific recommendations for creating and capitalizing on that partnership. The experts that the team interviewed have been impressed with their results, and they have been asked to present their work to individuals and organizations in Detroit. For their work, Gallup, Claxton, and Akmon were invited to present their project at the 2010 Gramlich Showcase of student work.