photo: David Sifry
For techo-fix fetishists the idea of using geo-engineering solutions to mitigate the effects of global warming sounds wonderful: Dump iron fillings into the ocean, erect giant mirrors in space, dump limestone in the ocean.
But with one of these solutions at least, seeding the ocean with iron, Australian scientists are urging caution:
More Study Needed to Determine Risk
Reuters is reporting on an as yet unreleased study by scientists at the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Center in Hobart, Tasmania:
"I don't think the scientific community has even sat down and made a list of the things we need to check before we feel comfortable that this would be a low-risk endeavor," said one of the Australian report's authors, Tom Trull.
"We never even designed measurement programs to look at ecological change and the risks"...
Undesirable Changes in Marine Ecosystems Could Occur
The report went on to say,
Ocean fertilization may cause changes in marine ecosystem structure and biodiversity, and may have other undesirable effects.
While controlled iron fertilization experiments have shown an increase in phytoplankton growth, and a temporary increase in drawdown of atmospheric CO2, it is uncertain whether this would increase carbon transfer into the deep ocean over the longer-term.
Reuters says that the ACE CRC report estimates that ocean iron fertilization "would likely hit an absorption limit of about 1 billion tonnes of carbon" or about 15% of total carbon emissions.
Unknown Global Risks For A Fraction of the Reductions Needed
Which as another scientist quoted in the article, John Cullen of Dalhousie University (Canada) so aptly puts it,
That really puts the risk in context. We're talking about altering ecosystems of planetary scale for a benefit that won't actually relieve us from dealing with all the other issues, such as conservation or alternative energy generation.
Cullen's statements really sum it up for me. Instead of reevaluating the way in which every one of us lives our lives (in terms of material consumption, housing patterns, transportation patterns, dietary norms) to build societies which are radically lower in carbon emissions than they are currently, just spend a lot on money trying to tinker with global ecosystems to correct for global problems which were caused by us in the first place.
The problem was historically not realizing the ecological impact of producing and burning fossil fuels (both in terms of global warming as well as other forms of pollution) until it was a problem of catastrophic proportions. Now to solve that problem, let's tinker so more with ecosystems in ways which are unpredictable. Philosophically I find that a very bizarre proposition.
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