Can we hang them, please?

Above all, it will be the governments of poor countries which are likely to object to any planetary-scale project. Two years ago, all countries except the US agreed to a de facto voluntary moratorium on geo-engineering projects and experiments. Apart from the unpredictability of the science, there was mistrust that western-northern-driven technological solutions to climate change would be fair or equitable. Two weeks ago, 160 organisations from around the world sent an open letter to Rajendra Pachauri, the Nobel prize-winning chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, after it had hosted a meeting of geo-engineers in Lima, Peru.

\”Geo-engineering is too dangerous to too many people and to the planet to be left in the hands of small group of so-called experts,\” they warned. \”The IPCC has assured us it will go forward carefully in this work. We will be closely following the process.\”

Because they\’re worried that implementation would not be \”fair or equitable\” they\’re insisting that we don\’t bother to find out whether it can be done at all?


Jeebus: take what seems to be (but of course we don\’t know because we\’ve this ban on science, see) the most efficient of these technologies, iron fertilisation.

Yes, there\’s a lot of controversy over whether it works at all. Works in the long run that is.

We do know that there are parts (very large parts in fact) of the ocean that are near lifeless. Almost all of the various chemicals and elements necessary for life are there but there\’s a shortage of iron. Add iron to the warer and we get an algal bloom: this in turn attracts the things which eat algae, the things which eat the things which eat algae and so on: those latter beasties being what we normally call \”fish\”.

We know this bit works.

One of the reasons we know it works is because we can see it happening naturally: sandstorms in the Sahara are known to pick up iron rich dust (heck, we sometimes get it dumped on us here in Southern Portugal) and such clouds, when hitting parts of oceans, have been seen to be creating such algal blooms.

We also know that as the algae which we\’ve fertilised with the iron grow they absorb CO2 from the ocean/atmosphere (doesn\’t matter much which, if from the ocean then the ocean will absorb more from the atmosphere).

Now, obviously such teenie beasties have a life cycle. The truth about the effectiveness of this technique in long term reduction of CO2 is what happens at the end of that lifespan. If they\’re all eaten and pooped, or when they die they rot, then the CO2 will end up back in the ocean/atmosphere. We\’ve created a sink, just as with a forest, but not a long term solution for we have to keep replenishing that sink.

However, we also know that some portion of such beasites don\’t end up being recycled back into the ocean/atmosphere. They sink to the bottom and end up in layers: what we then call millions of years later things like chalk and limestone (both forms of CaCO3….that\’s the C being sequestered, you see?).

Now, what we don\’t know, with any accuracy at all, is what portion recycle and what portion become rock. But we would rather like to find out.

Ages ago I ran through the numbers using what were, at the time, reasonable figures for everything. As I recall, I came up with a number of 3 cents US per tonne of CO2 stuck into rock. Note, please, that this number could be out by two, three, five even, orders of magnitude. Which is why we want to do the research: to find out whether this is a mind-garglingly cheap method of reducing atmospheric CO2 or not.

And thus we would rather like to have a few girt big ships wandering around the oceans throwing iron overboard. Iron powder in one area perhaps, iron ore in another. Heck, if we don\’t need elemental iron then we could throw the wastes from alumina production overboard: that\’s 40% Fe.

Wouldn\’t take much, a few tens of millions of $ and a few years and we could find out whether we can both save the planet and get lots of sushi.

And yet on the basis that such might not be fair or equitable we\’ve a de-facto ban on the experiments which could find out whether this is true or possible?

Please, can we hang them all?

(Can someone remind me of the Planktos story? Didn\’t they actually set out to try this and find themselves stopped by lawsuits at every turn? Their website now seem to be a spam haven.)

20 thoughts on “Can we hang them, please?”

  1. These 160 idiots might have a point, though probably not the point they were making.
    Your smoke on the water scheme, Tim, looks like it might leave a valuable crop of fish behind. Who would own that if the iron seeding is done beyond the 200 mile limit?

    The IPCC seems to be keen on grandstand projects and mirrors in the sky but it never does the basics. Which industries show the best potential for emissions savings? Rio, Kyoto etc made no effort to encourage anyone to find out.

    So the 160 idiots might have a point: let’s tackle some basics (ownership; who’s going to pay) before we do the PR communiqués on how wonderfully green we are.

  2. 3c to solve $80 of problem? Wow! Even if the numbers turn out wrong by 4 orders of magnitude then it still makes sense. A quick back of the envelope calculation based around the most recent price of EU carbon credits that I could find says it would self fund (easily) if they could sell carbon credits, plus the extra fish production could be a very useful side effect if not one that could be accrued by the company doing the seeding.

  3. The fish side of it is probably at least as important as the carbon. If the seas are really turning to deserts as we’re constantly told then the sooner we start re-stocking the better, although no doubt someone would object that it’s no longer the pristine ‘natural’ ecosystem that it once was so it doesn’t count

  4. Yes, but hey, you are sounding like a real scientist. You know bloke in white coat actually doing experiments to get empirical results. That’ll never do, tut, tut!

  5. Don’t some of the bits that sink to the bottom eventually become oil and gas? So it’s not a finite resource at all (merely one that takes a heck of a long time to re-produce)?

  6. These things never work as intended. It’s like deliberate predator introductions; they always end up eating the wrong things and wrecking the ecosystem.

    What will probably happen is you’ll end up with giant blooms of the wrong type of algae, emitting vast quantities of toxins into the sea that destroy other life, move into previously healthy areas and ruin the ecosystem there, and you spend hundreds of billions trying to clean up the mess and after fifty years manage to get half way back to where it was before you started something so stupid as dumping iron into the sea.

    The amazing thing for a rationalist realist living in a society rapidly falling to puritan romanticism is just how barmy things become acceptable; the great and good do utterly crazy things and discuss utterly crazy things and do it in a mood of absolute seriousness. It’s a bit like a clown with a machete; it would be funny if it weren’t trying to kill you.

    It’s also how I imagine if must have felt to be one of the last pagans in Rome, watching these nutjobs take over and there’s nothing at all you can do about it except stand by with a bemused expression and try not to feel too sad as the fanatics rage through the streets.

    Really. All this is crazy talk. I so wish you could stand back and see that. But you won’t. The Christians won, after all.

  7. This isn’t about equity, what they are scared of is that we find a solution that works. Then the water melons lose there excuse for controlling our lives and making us live in their preferred style.

    Listen to this from 1:50 in for about 30seconds. It describes how a greeny conference would reject a magic wand that would solve the global warming problem without a need to reduce CO2 production.

  8. “Yes, there’s a lot of controversy over whether it works at all.”

    There’s also a lot of controversy over whether AGW is real and hence no need to monkey with any of this stuff at all.

  9. I’m all for doing the research. But pretending we know that it works, or have a number for the cost that is close enough to be worth writing down, is wrong. Already you have people going “Wow!” at your unreliable numbers. You’ve been around journos long enough to know how this stuff goes.

    Tim adds: What a weird idea.

    “Boss, we ought to check this out. A way of sequestering CO2 at only $1070 a tonne!”.

    “Boss, we ought to check this out. A way of sequestering CO2 at only $0.03 a tonne!”

    Which experiment should we be doing? Why, the second of course.

    Which are we actually doing? The first is the real number for the German solar feed in tariffs.

    It’s the estimate of the costs which is exactly the point, the reason we should be doing the experiment.

    Numbers calculated from this:

    “Planktos, an environmental company based in California, hopes to create a bloom of 50-60 million tonnes of which, it estimates, up to 20 per cent will sink, taking with it 3-5 million tonnes of carbon.

    The trial is to be carried out in international waters 350 miles west of the Galápagos Islands. Previous research has shown that iron seeding can encourage a plankton population explosion but scientists have met with mixed results.

    Planktos intends to drop up to 100 tonnes of iron, ”

    Iron powder priced at $1,000 a tonne.

    It’s that very price that’s the number making the experiment worth doing.

  10. Ian B.

    You have a point but if even discussing the possibility of such things is off the agenda then your mad world can only arrive all the sooner and the greens can hardly demand action this day and then kick up when someone says “how about this then ?”
    Some introductions have worked although certainly bringing in predators is never a good idea. I remember reading somewhere that British earthworms were introduced in New Zealand as the local ones didn’t produce very fertile soil. Although given the widespread destruction of NZ’s natural environment and the loss of its wonderful avian fauna, maybe that’s not a good example.

  11. Thornavis-

    All the evidence suggests the mad world is arriving anyway, regardless of what we do. Tide of history and all that. Delaying actions seem rather pointless. It is unlikely they will have any significant effect anyway. Can you think of a successful conservative delaying action that has worked over the past century? They’ve done so well against gay rights, feminism, multiculturalism, internationalism, the EU, greenism, etc etc haven’t they?

    Me, I’ve reached the stage of just sitting back in bemused wonderment at the delusional nonsense people can be induced to believe in, be it the fear of carbon or that one’s best friend is a dead carpenter.


    They’ve won. I’m happy to see anyone who has a strategy for defeating them, but I don’t know anyone who has developed one.

    I mean, you have to admire them in a sense. Convincing virtually everybody that carbon is toxic, that’s a hell of an impressive scam to pull off. I wonder if the pagans felt a similar gruding admiration for the purveyors of the deceased chippie cult.

  12. I agree with SimonF. The Greenies aren’t interested in exploring any solutions that don’t involve de-industrialising the West, imposing restrictive hair-shirt austerity policies on the lifestyles of Westerners (especially those hated Americans), massive taxation and a massive State to enforce the new eco-diktat, and all the other evil and insane things the modern environmentalist movement proposes.

    Trying to convince them there is another way is like trying to convince the pagan cult from ‘The Wicker Man’ not to burn policemen.

    They’ve already decided that Western capitalist civilisation, our consumer culture, cheap flights, cars, cheap food, etc. are evil, and these are the real “problems” to be cured.

  13. Ian B.

    You never know maybe the cult of the green will go the same way as the cult of the dead chippie and morph into some kind of Deistic state religion, there will still be true believers but most people will just be paying lip service and getting on with something more important. Given the generally quicker pace of things now, with luck, it’ll only take a few decades rather than a millennium or two.

  14. “They’ve won. I’m happy to see anyone who has a strategy for defeating them, but I don’t know anyone who has developed one.”

    It’s almost as if Ted Heath is in the room with us.

  15. “Got any suggestions Kay?”

    Chin up: this is a re-run of the ’70s. there will be another Margaret Thatcher along in due course.

    Statist solutions always lead to failure, but every 25 years a new generation needs to learn this. The big time lesson starts very soon (the EU is going to break apart, for a start).

  16. Kay Tie.

    This is a re-run of the 70’s, the EU will break apart ? maybe, let’s hope it’s not a re-run of the 30’s, predicting the future is a mugs game and relishing the prospect of massive continent wide upheavals is foolish. There’s a lot of people on the left predicting pretty much the opposite to you and it never seems to occur to them either that their preferred new dawn might all end in tears.

  17. “that their preferred new dawn might all end in tears.”

    On the contrary, I expect it to end in tears. If we are lucky, it will be as bad as the ’70s. If we are unlucky, the ’30s. Only it’s Russia that has many of the attributes of Weimar Germany this time.

  18. Tom Holland, in his preface to Millenium, points out that the first millenium (1000 AD) was in fact 1033 (ish, think about it). He then states : “[James] Lovelock’s best estimate as to when climate change will send us all over the edge? Within twenty to thirty years: sometime around, say 2033.”

    I for one don’t see us in a re-run of the 70?s, but there are many who would like to see us back there, or even worse.

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