It\’s illegal to do scientific experiments!

Illegal that is, if there\’s money involved.

\”It appears to be a blatant violation of two international resolutions,\” said Kristina M Gjerde, a senior high seas adviser for the International Union for Conservation of Nature. \”Even the placement of iron particles into the ocean, whether for carbon sequestration or fish replenishment, should not take place, unless it is assessed and found to be legitimate scientific research without commercial motivation. This does not appear to even have had the guise of legitimate scientific research.\”

Cuntti di Tutti Cuntti, eh?

A controversial American businessman dumped around 100 tonnes of iron sulphate into the Pacific Ocean as part of a geoengineering scheme off the west coast of Canada in July, a Guardian investigation can reveal.

Lawyers, environmentalists and civil society groups are calling it a \”blatant violation\” of two international moratoria and the news is likely to spark outrage at a United Nations environmental summit taking place in India this week.

Satellite images appear to confirm the claim by Californian Russ George that the iron has spawned an artificial plankton bloom as large as 10,000 square kilometres. The intention is for the plankton to absorb carbon dioxide and then sink to the ocean bed – a geoengineering technique known as ocean fertilisation that he hopes will net lucrative carbon credits.

The thing is, we really would like to know whether iron fertilisation \”works\”. There have been very limited indeed studies of it. Those studies showing that it\’s not quite the magic bullet that some (including myself) had thought it to be. Those studies showing that it\’s more expensive than some (including myself) had thought.

But do note what is actually going on here. Only those \”approved\” are allowed to do the experiments. Which really isn\’t the way to gain unbiased results now, is it? Nor is it really all that scientific. Reproducibility being at the heart of the discipline and that does rather require multiple experiments.

\”If rogue geoengineer Russ George really has misled this indigenous community, and dumped iron into their waters, we hope to see swift legal response to his behavior and strong action taken to the heights of the Canadian and US governments,\” said Silvia Ribeiro of the international technology watchdog ETC Group, which first discovered the existence of the scheme. \”It is now more urgent than ever that governments unequivocally ban such open-air geoengineering experiments. They are a dangerous distraction providing governments and industry with an excuse to avoid reducing fossil fuel emissions.\”

Well yes. But what if iron fertilisation actually works? In theory the cost of sucking a tonne of CO2 out of the atmosphere could cost from $.10 to $200. We\’d really rather find out where in that range the cost is don\’t you think?

What will be really amusing about how this plays out is that the more they talk up the damage the experiment has done then the more they\’re talking up the effectiveness of the technique. A larger bloom means more CO2 sequestration after all…..

8 comments on “It\’s illegal to do scientific experiments!

  1. “It is now more urgent than ever that governments unequivocally ban such open-air geoengineering experiments. They are a dangerous distraction providing governments and industry with an excuse to avoid reducing fossil fuel emissions.”

    Or to translate from Greek-speak to English, they might work and that is not what we want so they must be banned.

    There is actualy a case for banning radical geoengineering projects before they have been studied. We don’t want people casually going around finding out whether they can make the magnetic poles switch or whatever. But a little bit of iron is about as natural and as harmless as you can get. It will dissolve into the oceans and no one will ever know it was there. It is not as if we haven’t dumped larger lumps of iron into the sea without any noticable harm. The Titanic for instance.

    But of course there is the nagging fear it may work and work cheaply. What chance making us all return to tilling the Earth behind oxen then?

  2. The scientific establishment won’t allow me to just try out my radical new brain surgery techniques, even though I think they’ll be revolutionary. They’re insisting I conduct some kind of trial under the auspices of a respectable academic institution’s ‘ethics committee’, using ‘consultant surgeons’ and ‘operating theatres’. The scumbags!

  3. It is a good idea to have a system of regulation for ecological experiments.

    SMFS is mistaken to think that iron sulphate would have the same effects as elemental iron. He’ll come to no harm using an iron spoon to stir his tea, but a teaspoonful of iron sulphate could kill him.

  4. > we really would like to know whether iron fertilisation “works”

    Agreed. But we’re not going to find out by randomly dumping iron into the sea.

    > a “blatant violation” of two international moratoria

    I don’t think those moratoria have any force, though. But the article says

    “International legal experts say George’s project has contravened the UN’s convention on biological diversity (CBD) and London convention on the dumping of wastes at sea, which both prohibit for-profit ocean fertilisation activities.”

    But that is something different, because those aren’t moritoria, those are real conventions.

    Well, it all seems a bit confused. I’m sure blog posts with Daily Mail style headlines will help to clear up the confusion.

  5. “… unless it is assessed and found to be legitimate scientific research without commercial motivation.”

    And yet we have taxpayer funded research which is intended to make the UK a global leader in ecomental technologies. Whether it is wave power, CCS or other things the goals are not only to be more efficient in fossil fuel use but create an exportable product or service.

    There would be absolutely no point in subsidising a green economy into existence if our betters didn’t believe that it would one day begin to pay for itself. Unless they are unaccountable crooks and/or idiots that is.

  6. @Gareth Hit it on the head there, you may get your Square kilometer arrays and Large Hadron Colliders but most government funded science and engineering research is just people trying to get patents.

    And actually government funding of tech research is a fairly new concept It used to just be crazy entrepreneurs like this dude

  7. john b – “The scientific establishment won’t allow me to just try out my radical new brain surgery techniques, even though I think they’ll be revolutionary. They’re insisting I conduct some kind of trial under the auspices of a respectable academic institution’s ‘ethics committee’, using ‘consultant surgeons’ and ‘operating theatres’. The scumbags!”

    Virtually every medical breakthrough we know of was the result of unethical procedures. Sure, now we have committees we don’t get as many people proposing lobotomies as we used to. Or infecting people with STDs with malaria. And so on. But on the other hand we get fewer and fewer new drugs. The Western pharmaceutical companies have all but stopped producing new drugs that actually cure people of real diseases.

    There is a trade off and I am not sure we chose the right side.

    3 PaulB – “It is a good idea to have a system of regulation for ecological experiments.”

    But only if the regulation exists to make sure it is safe, not to prevent any experiments at all. The Green objection is not to the safety of this one, but to the fact it takes attention away from what they want – to ban fossil fuels. That is, it might work.

    “SMFS is mistaken to think that iron sulphate would have the same effects as elemental iron. He’ll come to no harm using an iron spoon to stir his tea, but a teaspoonful of iron sulphate could kill him.”

    Personally I would not want to eat a lot of Iron (II) Sulphate. Not because it is particularly poisonous, but because it has an affinity for water. But if I got any in my eyes, the first thing I would do would wash it off. As it has this neat thing for water. Dumping it in the ocean is not going to poison many fish. In fact it is going to be harmless. As the ocean is quite full of iron and sulphates as it is. Which is why it is not only used by the older sort of doctor as a medicine, probably most people have seen it being used for their lawns.

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