By Rowenna Hoskin | Science Editor
The majority of the population see climate change as a prominent looming threat; although reducing our carbon footprints or recycling are steps in the right direction, it is thought that these actions as individuals will do very little to neutralise the impending doom on the horizon.
While this is true, some individuals are taking it upon themselves to alter the course of history by funding geoengineering research that could help to combat climate change – the catch? They are Silicon Valley billionaires whose projects are shrouded in non-disclosure agreements. This means they could change the face of the planet, and with it all kinds of interdependent factors such as species population sizes and the climate to name just two.
While this research is welcomed by some, other scientists caution the lack of international agreement and legislation surrounding these projects. The question that arises is, should billionaires be able to play around with the environment without the other billions of people consenting, or even knowing about it?
In September 2019, scientists, policy makers and benefactors met in California to discuss the idea of using a newly developed technology known as Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement (OAE). Scientists are able to reduce ocean acidification – currently threatening fragile ecosystems such as coral reefs – and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.
This degree of planetary alteration would be a colossal undertaking and is not actually as brilliant as it sounds. The report from the conference says that one OAE process requires the extraction of five billion tonnes of rock each year, which is double the quantity currently used in global cement production.
The rock has to be finely ground up to increase its reactive surface area and for this to be deployed globally it would take fleets of ships, which would create an immense carbon footprint. Essentially, the planetary benefits are complicated by its polluting effects.
The attendees of this conference – a mixture of ecologists, biochemists and experts in carbon removal – discussed the problems surrounding these issues and brainstormed solutions. Little did they know, the benefactor of the conference – Oceankind – is under the affluent influence of a Silicon Valley billionaire who would be able to fund the geoengineering projects out of their own pocket.
Oceankind was founded in California in 2018 as a limited liability company (LLC); charities in the US have to file public financial documents each year with the International Revenue Service but LLCs are impenetrable to public scrutiny.
Not only are their finances hidden from the public, all information about the people behind Oceankind is concealed. The only contact information relating to Oceankind is a post box address whose manager is Rosewood Family Advisors. They are a California based firm whose accounts and lawyers are dedicated to ultra-affluent people – suggesting that the mysterious benefactor is indeed a very rich and powerful person.
The Paris Climate Agreement emerged because of the growing necessity to do something about rising temperatures; while 189 countries have ratified the agreement, at least 130 – including four of the five largest emitting countries – are falling dangerously short of the goal. If the intense fires ravaging US and Australian states aren’t enough to persuade governments to increase their efforts to cut emissions and save the climate, it appears that rich individuals will find solutions themselves. Billionaires shrouded in non-disclosure agreements with unimaginable funds behind them are planning on dramatically changing the face of the planet.
With no legislation to enforce projects to publicise their findings and research, these geoengineering projects have the potential to combat climate change. However, the actual aims and goals of these billionaire funded projects are unknown and their environmental tinkering could in fact be for personal gain as opposed to saving the planet and the billions of people that live on it. With governments falling behind their targets, have we been thrown from the frying pan into the open flames of the private sector? Will they help to save the planet, or merely their private islands? Without public scrutiny to enforce accountability, Silicon Valley billionaires can play with the planet without suffering the consequences.
Science and Technology Rowenna Hoskin