Anti-Science Environmentalism: Iron Seeding Experiment Protested...Again

R/V Polarstern — a floating large scale laboratory. Image credit:AWI, Alfred Wegener Institute

Surprising how often ideological opposites rely on similar tactics. It's happening now with environmental lobbyists opposing field experiments to validate a non-violent and potentially cost-effective way to put Patient Earth in the Climate Emergency Room: where stabilization and prognosis for a long term cure are possible. In this example, citizen activists appear to be following the former (Bush) Administration's anti-science play book. Read on for a detailed example.Similarities in tactics and shared anti-science attitude: on the "left" and the "right".
On the one hand.
As has been well documented on a variety of posts here (see below), the Bush Administration, on several occasions, edited US-EPA reports to downplay the risk of climate change. The Bush Administration also cut budgets for earth satellites (knowing 'what doesn't get measured won't get done'). And, the former Administration frequently attempted to stop or obfuscate the public statements of climate scientists such as James Hanson. There are plenty more examples outside the arena of environmental science, but these show the basic profile.

The aforementioned tactics were designed to halt and hide progress on the consensus of climate scientists, and to confuse the public and media. Big tobacco did it, first. The fossil fuel industry and their proxies did it with climate science, with resounding decades of success. And now, certain environmental advocacy groups have learned.... well, judge for yourself.

Via:Australia.To, CLIMATE CHANGE: Controversy Sails with the Polarstern

The prestigious German oceanography ship Polarstern recently was conducting a major experiment of seeding the oceans with iron in order to absorb carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse-effect gas.

The experiment, under way to the northeast of the South Georgia Islands in the southern Atlantic, is intended to promote a temporary spike in the growth of phytoplankton and the consequent absorption of carbon dioxide. The experiment involves spreading 20 tonnes of iron sulfate over an area of 300 square kilometers.

For an overview of the science and chronology of iron seeding experiments to-date, visit the Climate Change and Global Warming Fact Sheet.

The Polarstern's journey was covered in a TreeHugger post dedicated to their brave crew: Chicken Little On Climate Stage In Dual Role: Playing Industrialist & Environmentalist. Have look at the satellite image in Chicken Little post. See if you think that marine ecosystems look threatened by that little red blip on the ocean's surface. The resulting plankton bloom, which registers a relatively more "green" color shown as "red" on the satellite image, is associated with luxuriant plankton growth induced by a dispersion of dilute iron sulfate, at around 200ppm.

Keep in mind that ambient iron levels in the deep oceans have fallen off since the 1970's, and that iron is a naturally present micro-nutrient, perennially deposited to the ocean from the air. Iron replenishment, which is what these field experiments aboard the Polarstern are about, is in no way exposing organisms to an unnatural condition.

Keep in mind, also, that with iron, dose makes the poison (or vitamin): as it is in all living things. If a human consumes excess iron, he can indeed become ill: presenting sores on the tongue and an upset gut, for example. However, iron deficiency also can pose serious health consequences. Having enough iron "on board" is of particular importance for pregnant women, for example.

Food crops also need the right level of iron in soils. For a detailed reference, see, Micronutrients in Crop Production And, sufficient iron in food crops is one way people get their necessary iron.

Plankton is the basic "food crop" for all predators of the sea. And, so it is with iron in the seas: some is needed; not enough and ecosystems will produce less.

Back to the tactical comparison.

Here are a few excerpts of what scientists on Polarstern recently had to say:

The test "will show how plankton reacts to the addition of iron, what quantity of phytoplankton forms, how much CO2 is fixed - absorbed -, what percentage of carbon remains in the system, and how much carbon is sunk in the depths of the ocean," Bathmann explained to Tierramérica.

"The experiment is going well. Fertilization was carried out in a closed oceanic eddy. The phytoplankton are growing and the biomass has more than doubled," Bathmann, in charge of monitoring the experiment from land, told Tierramérica.

And, on the other hand.
Have a look at what "opponents" of this field experiment, being conducted by a group of scientists affiliated with a prestigious German scientific institute, are saying, per the cited article.
"The absorption of carbon dioxide through the activation of algae growth in the sea does not constitute an effective method to fight climate change and, furthermore, it involves great environmental risks. The sea cannot be turned into a bio-reactor,..."

"One consequence of this kind of risky project could be that it can take away financial resources in other places for reasonable research in energy efficiency, for renewable energy and for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases,..."

..."It is a megalomaniac plan of the researchers. The background is the economic interest to find a low-cost solution for the global problem of CO2," says the environmental group in a pubic statement.

Following the Emergency Room analogy.
These statements of opposition might be better understood if characterized by something we understand from our daily lives. Imagine driving safety activists advocating closure of hospital emergency rooms, on the theory that if automobile drivers knew there were no means available, following an accident, for stabilization, diagnosis, and treatment, that they (drivers) would proceed with greater attention and caution. Knowledge that there was no backup would make driving behaviors "safer," in other words. If you believe that I have a bridge in Brooklyn you might want to bid on.

By analogy, then.
Stopping scientific investigation into and understanding of a potential means of stabilizing earth as it enters a climate crisis will force industries and governments to to forge ahead with emission reductions. That seems to mirror the ethical view behind the cited protests against iron seeding experiments.

How long have we been working on Kyoto?

Before you click on, can we talk about words and metaphors and motive?
Print journalists and bloggers seem all to lump 'iron seeding' into the category of "geo-engineering."

What exactly about plankton growth reminds you of the root word" geology"?

Or, "engineering", for that matter?

Earth-resuscitating technologies commonly included in the "Geo-Engineering" category include the use of artillery to shoot heat-reflecting mirrors into orbit around the earth; or, use of rockets to blast up sulfur compounds to accomplish the same, volcano-like heat shunning function. Both these interventions would be billion dollar projects involving defense departments tools - no doubt. Potentially, the reaction of many nations to efforts to control the earths' climate by militaristic means will not be peaceful either.

Cannon-fired mirrors in the same league as spiking plankton blooms, indeed.

Rockets shooting sulfur plankton blooms?

These are absurd comparisons which only benefit those who wish to avoid objective inquiry or who want to muddy public understanding.

Environmental ethics: who has them and who does not?.
Above all, it is time to break away from Bush-Era thinking, and to encourage governments to act incisively, with science, not lobbying, as guide to climate policy and the regulation of adaptive measures. Let elected officials and agency heads hear the voices of of actual scientists. Then, we can move on to the ethical and technical and cost aspects - in the open.

I have no problem with voices loudly opposing iron seeding experiments- if those voices present an ethical position and do not masquerade as scientists speaking of measured risk. But, to pre-suppose the experimental outcome, and to exaggerate the risk to defend a narrowly constructed ethical position is...well it's Bush-like.

Additional background posts from TreeHugger
Nature and Stop Kingsnorth Interview James Hansen
EPA: We Report, You Decide
Think Ocean Geo-Engineering is a Good Idea? Think Again ...
Where We Stand on Iron Fertilization

Tags: Alternative Energy