(Source: Matt Groening/Fox)
Queue the conspiracies, this one is going to get ugly

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) raised eyebrows when it offered to shell out part of the $630,000 USD to a geoengineering study.

I. CIA Digs Into new Geoengineering Project

Geoengineering is the practice of trying to control the weather, earthquakes, solar radiation, or other terrestrial phenomena.  In the past, the CIA has engaged in some secretive research that critics have dubbed as outlandish. For example recent reports indicate that it spiked bread in a French village in 1951 with LSD, leading to mass hallucinations, instutionalisation, and 5 deaths.

The U.S. military has also tried its hand at geoengineering, rather successfully extending the monsoon season during the Vietnam War (Operation Popeye).  That effort led to the slogan, "Make mud, not war."  They also toyed with the idea of control hurricanes with silver iodine sprayed into clouds (Project Stormfury).  The Chinese attempted similar tactics to drive away smog prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.   

Weather Wars wide
[Image Source: SyFy Asia]

And then of course there's HAARP -- The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program -- which ostensibly an effort to monitor the weather, but in turn yielded accusations of geoengineering that made it "the Moby Dick of conspiracy theories", according to journalist Sharon Weinberger 

The new effort is designed to look at two tactics to fight "global warming" -- "solar radiation management (SRM)" and "carbon dioxide removal (CDR)".

CDR involves sucking carbon out of the air via chemical reactions or porous nanosponges.  SRM involves literally blocking the sun (partially) by sprinkling particulate chemicals in the air, in an effort to cut solar heating and greenhouse gas effects.  The study's page on the National Academies website reads, "This study is intended to provide a careful, clear scientific foundation that informs ethical, legal, and political discussions surrounding geoengineering."

The study is being conducted by a non-profit group of scientific advisors to the government and will last 21 months, producing a final report in 2014.

II. No Conspiracy, Move Along Says National Academies

The study's subject matter is sure to stoke conspiracy theories, but the CIA has indicated interest in climate change for some time now.  In fact, it maintained an entire research center devoted to the topic until last year, when it was shut down following complaints by Republicans in the House of Representatives who argued it was wasteful spending.

CIA Floor
The CIA has been studying warming for some time now. [Image Source: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty]

National Academy of Sciences (NAS) spokesperson Lauren Rugani tells The Verge:

[The study is solely meant to] assess the current state of knowledge about several geoengineering techniques [and the CIA's involvement] begins and ends with its financial contributions.  It should be noted, and in fact highlighted, that CIA is only funding a portion of this study, with the rest provided by NOAA, NASA, and the National Academy of Sciences itself.

She says that the CIA and other funding agencies will not interact with the study's authors, but only address the committee in charge of the study at a single meeting at its beginning.

As to why the CIA might think it worth spending on, she comments:

One of the objectives of the study is to discuss the possible national security concerns that might arise should geoengineering techniques be deployed (expected or unexpectedly), either by a private entity or another country.

In other words, the study may examine what would happen if China or some other big polluter started dumping chemicals in the atmosphere in an attempt to limit solar radiation.  Ms. Rugani says the study will not look to attempt any of the techniques that it discusses, merely discuss results to date.

So take that conspiracy theorists.

Sources: NAS, The Verge

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