Council Votes Unanimously to End Climate Experiment – Alameda Post

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City Council voted after midnight on Wednesday, June 5, to end the University of Washington (UW) cloud brightening experiment that researchers were conducting in partnership with the USS Hornet Sea, Air, & Space Museum. The unanimous decision came after the City asked UW to pause the experiment in early May, citing that it was in violation of the City’s lease with the Museum.
As part of UW’s research into whether global warming can be mitigated by increasing the reflection of sunlight from marine clouds using aerosolized particles, the experiment involved spraying a plume of water and salt droplets into the air to determine the scalability of the localized process to the open ocean.
Discussion of the meeting item began with a presentation by City staff on the experiment’s background and the findings of an independent assessment of its possible health and environmental impacts.
Experts retained by the City found that the spray tests posed “little to no risk in the community or to wildlife” with no potential for impact on local climate and weather.
“All of the partners entered into this share a deep concern over climate change,” explained Dr. Sarah Doherty, Program Director of UW’s Marine Cloud Brightening Program. “We’re quite worried about the trajectory of the climate and damages in places like Alameda, but [also] around the world.”
Experts retained by the City found that the spray tests posed “little to no risk in the community or to wildlife” with no potential for impact on local climate and weather. Environmental consultants also assessed the noise, vibration, and emissions from the testing apparatus and anticipated no violation of an Endangered Species Act “biological opinion” that protects least tern habitats.
Public commenters generally opposed resuming the experiment at the USS Hornet.
“This is not the kind of ‘first’ Alameda wants to mark,” said Nikki Reich, Director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Center for International Environmental Law. “Geoengineering involves manipulating Earth’s systems at a regional or planetary level to have an impact on the global climate. Those effects can neither be tested at scale nor undone once unleashed, making experiments like this one either unnecessary or necessarily uncontrolled.”
Tina, a public commenter, added, “In 2010, a global moratorium on large-scale solar geoengineering was put into place. As indigenous individuals, we are requesting that you rethink your decision that allows our sun and its light to be taken from us and our planet on any scale.”
A few public commenters disagreed, urging Council to consider the longer-term consequences.
“This is our collective future we’re fighting for. Climate change is complex,” said public commenter Ariana. “This study is not about deploying something; it’s about understanding the implications. We need to do this research to better understand it.”
During Council deliberation, Councilmember Trish Herrera Spencer inquired why UW researchers decided not to notify the City of the experiment and drilled for details into the testing time frame.
In response, Doherty noted that researchers believed the testing met regional permitting processes and had incorrectly assumed such activities fell under the USS Hornet’s regulations through its relationship with the City. She revealed that spraying took place on March 26-28, April 2-3, and April 5, with each spray duration below 3 minutes.
“For us to go forward with something, I have to really feel we have clear and convincing evidence of what’s being done,” Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft said, expressing concern at what she perceived to be insufficient and, at times, conflicting information presented by UW. “The totality of everything we’ve heard doesn’t make the case for me.”
Councilmembers voted unanimously to deny the USS Hornet’s request to continue the experiment.
City staff’s presentation had included a list of additional conditions that Council could have placed on the experiment if it had been allowed to continue, such as the installation of PurpleAir monitors at select locations, written verifications from regulators, and limitations on hours of experimentation.
But in agreement with her colleagues, Councilmember Malia Vella took issue with how UW approached the process.
“By even hearing the item tonight, we’re rewarding the fact that there was no disclosure…by now creating and expediting a process for an after-the-fact approval with some really small mitigations in terms of the process,” said Vella.
“We are disappointed by the decision from the City of Alameda,” the UW project team announced in an official statement Doherty provided to the Alameda Post. “The opportunity to undertake this research in a fully open and transparent way at a site like the USS Hornet Sea, Air and Space Museum is unparalleled in its potential to increase access and equitable engagement for all people, and especially for Indigenous Peoples and other vulnerable and underserved communities. While we are already exploring alternative paths forward for the CAARE (Coastal Atmospheric Aerosol Research and Engagement) research, we urge the City of Alameda to reconsider today’s decision.”
For full coverage of the June 5 City Council meeting, see Karin Jensen’s article in the Alameda Post. The New York Times also covered this story for a national and international audience.
Ken Der is a contributing writer for the Alameda Post. Contact him via [email protected]. His writing is collected at
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