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.)