Geoengineering research, if coordinated, may help curb greenhouse gases

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The White House should adopt a strategy for federal agencies’ research into geoengineering, a large-scale alteration of the earth’s climate system, as a possible way to adapt to the effects of climate change, the Government Accountability Office says.

Once considered impractical, geoengineering research includes such ambitious projects as shooting light-reflecting particles into the upper atmosphere; encouraging growth of CO2-eating plankton; changing ocean current patterns; and even covering oceans and deserts with reflective materials to reflect sunlight.

Many of the geoengineering strategies carry some environmental risks, and effects cannot necessarily be confined within a nation or region, the GAO said. For example, ocean fertilization to encourage plankton growth, or covering oceans or deserts with light-reflecting materials could have major impacts on their ecosystems.

“Major uncertainties remain regarding the scientific, legal, political, economic and ethical implications of researching or deploying geoengineering,” the GAO report said. Geoengineering should complement — not replace — cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, it said.

FAST FACT: In 2009-10, federal agencies spent $100 million on 52 research projects directly related to geoengineering, mostly on ways to mitigate climate change such as carbon sequestration. However, a large share of the $2 billion spent annually on federal climate science research could also be relevant to geoengineering, the report said, if there was better coordination.

Following are other new watchdog reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG), and other government entities:

HEALTH

  • FDA inspected 424 foreign drug plants in 2009, which represented about 11 percent of the agency's list of high-priority foreign manufacturers. At that rate, it will take the FDA an estimated 9 years to inspect every plant on the priority foreign manufacturer list (GAO).
  • HHS Dept. should require nursing homes owned by private investment firms to report more information about their complex ownership structures (GAO).

NATIONAL SECURITY

  • Federal agencies cannot account for almost $18 billion in reconstruction contracts in Afghanistan. About 7,000 contractors and other organizations received funding, yet there is no database to track projects and little sharing of information among U.S. agencies involved in reconstruction projects (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction).
  • Six Afghan national police buildings funded with $5.5 million from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are unusable because they were so poorly constructed (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction).
  • Most of some $2.75 billion worth of Marine Corps contracts, which allowed the contractor to begin work before final price terms were set, were not properly managed and may have charged the government too much (OIG).

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