Which Would You Rather Have: The Planet, Or A Patent?

from the decisions,-decisions dept

One of the more controversial approaches to the already controversial field of climate change is geoengineering, which Wikipedia defines as "deliberate large-scale engineering and manipulation of the planetary environment to combat or counteract anthropogenic changes in atmospheric chemistry."

Some people are concerned that such large-scale interventions might produce large-scale disasters. That makes small-scale experiments exploring the underlying technologies an important first step before taking this route. Unfortunately, it seems that one geoengineering experiment has been called off because of patents:

A field trial for a novel UK geoengineering experiment has been cancelled amid questions about a pre-existing patent application for some of the technology involved.

The Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE) project is a collaboration among several UK universities and Cambridge-based Marshall Aerospace to investigate the possibility of spraying particles into the stratosphere to mitigate global warming. Such particles could mimic the cooling produced by large volcanic eruptions, by reflecting sunlight before it reaches Earth’s surface.
As the article quoted above goes on to explain, the main issue here is a potential conflict of interests:
a patent application that was submitted by Peter Davidson, who runs the UK consulting firm Davidson Technology on the Isle of Man and was an adviser at the workshop that gave rise to the SPICE project, and Hugh Hunt, an engineer at the University of Cambridge, UK, who is one of the SPICE project investigators. The patent is for an "apparatus for transporting and dispersing solid particles into the Earth’s stratosphere" by "balloon, dirigible or airship" technology related to the SPICE field trial.
UK funding bodies require possible conflicts of interest to be declared when applying for grants, whereas here the patent application apparently only came to light a year into the experiment. Part of the project is continuing -- things like climate modelling and analysis -- but the most innovative element, the field trial, has been cancelled.

This episode shows one of the problems with trying to marry "pure" science with commerce, and the tensions that can arise between sharing knowledge freely and trying to make money by restricting access through licensing. It would be regrettable, to say the least, if the exploration of ideas that might play a role in addressing climate change were blocked because of patents.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. icon
    Niall (profile), 25 May 2012 @ 4:31am

    Re: Why are we condemning the voter's children to a CO2 death? Why?

    Given that science works by convincing people of evidence, which AGM has done in that time frame to everyone who isn't a Tory/Republican, shouldn't we at least treat it as a possibility? Climate change happens - we have historical evidence. Whether we can change the climate, and whether we should or not, we need to know more about the science in case Nature changes it for us. Unless you are a Raptard who thinks that some sky fairy will protect us/save us, we need to be ready ourselves, whether it's preventing or mitigating some natural catastrophe. Look at the records of what happened after Krakatoa, and extrapolate to the modern day. What happens if Yellowstone blows, or the San Andreas? Knowing the science better and accepting that yes, we /can/ change the environment is important and shouldn't be denigrated.

    And that's only if AGM doesn't happen, or is miniscule. What if it isn't? Where do we bring the precautionary principle in? Certainly in Europe, that's why GM crops are so unpopular - many people feel that it has been proven to their satisfaction that these are 'safe'.

    Wasn't the same Tory/Republican denialism seen about financial deregulation "nonsense, nothing bad can come from deregulating banks"? These are the same people who love their favourite banks/maga-corps/politicians to make billions screwing over people, then whine when some scientists might want to make some money to help the world.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Techdirt Logo Gear
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.