EDF tight lipped about new geoengineering research program

By Corbin Hiar | 06/12/2024 06:20 AM EDT

The Environmental Defense Fund’s research effort is a significant endorsement of the contentious field of solar radiation management.

The sun rises amid high temperatures in Mexico City in May.

Some climate researchers are studying whether sunlight can be safely deflected from the Earth. Marco Ugarte/AP

One of the nation’s most influential environmental groups plans to launch a program that would assess the impacts of reflecting sunlight to slow global warming.

The Environmental Defense Fund’s solar radiation management research effort is a significant mainstream endorsement of the controversial field, also known as solar geoenegineering.

“EDF has a long track record organizing transparent scientific collaborations on challenging environmental issues. We are at the beginning of a new process,” the group said in a statement attributed to Lisa Dilling, EDF’s associate chief scientist. “Moving forward, our work here will be reflective of that tradition.”


Dilling announced the move in a story The New York Times published Monday, which noted that it was supported in part by the LAD Climate Fund. EDF declined to make her available for follow-up interviews and did not respond to questions about the size of the new program and whether other organizations are underwriting it.

The LAD Climate Fund is supporting the program because EDF “has demonstrated the courage to confront our climate challenges with clear eyes and ruthless objectivity,” Larry Birenbaum, a partner at LAD, said in a LinkedIn message. The former tech executive directed funding questions back to EDF.

In theory, solar geoengineering involves spraying reflective particles into the stratosphere or increasing the reflectivity of clouds over the oceans. Advocates — including some top climate scientists — maintain the processes could temporarily reduce global warming until humanity manages to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to safe levels.

But other scientists and environmentalists argue solar geoengineering is too dangerous to even study. That’s because, they argue, it doesn’t address the main cause of climate change — the world’s addiction to fossil fuels — and it could have unintended consequences on the ozone layer or disrupt weather patterns.

“EDF’s core position on the issue as been consistent over the past decade,” Dilling’s statement said, alluding to the group’s 2011 declaration of support for research — not deployment — of solar solar radiation management, or SRM.

“Geoengineering projects should not be deployed at this time,” Dilling said. “We believe there an ongoing need for knowledge on the safety, efficacy and impact of SRM on both people and ecosystems.”

But the fierce debate over solar geoengineering has made it difficult to study.

The Alameda City Council in California voted last week to block a marine cloud brightening experiment in their Bay Area community. Council members objected to the secrecy surrounding the landmark research project, which researchers unveiled in another New York Times exclusive. It was the second solar geoengineering field study shelved in recent months due to community opposition.

How EDF aims to avoid similar controversies remains a mystery, especially since the group seems to have already had second thoughts about how transparent it wants the research program to be.

Earlier this year, EDF convened a private meeting of about 30 scientists, environmentalists and donors in San Francisco to help set best practices for an expected wave of philanthropic-funded studies of solar geoengineering. When POLITICO’s E&E News first revealed those discussions, Dilling said in an interview that EDF planned to release a report on the meeting in the coming weeks that would likely include participants’ names.

That never happened, despite repeated indications from EDF that the solar geoengingeering report was forthcoming. As recently April, EDF spokesperson Anne Marie Borrego said in an email that “[Dilling] and her colleagues are working on finalizing” the report and would let E&E News “know when it’s ready.”

But after the Alameda study was canceled, EDF said it had decided not publish online the meeting recap.

“We don’t typically post for the public our workshop reports,” Borrego said Tuesday in an email to E&E News. Dilling, who joined the group last August, was “fairly new at EDF and she didn’t know that when she told you it would be released to the public.”