30 June 2007

New Global Warming Danger

Would you pay someone to dump a whole load of toxic rubbish into the world's oceans? No — What about if they told you that by doing so you would be reducing your "carbon footprint"?

That is the latest scam scheme to emerge from the highly profitable carbon offsetting market, ostensibly established to combat global warming. The project is opposed by scientists, who have done insufficient research to know either how effective the experiment might be or what the unintended consequences may prove to be. It is opposed by environmentalists, who are concerned about potential negative impacts on the marine environment and human health. And it is opposed by the International Center for Technology Assessment, who believes it breaches laws against dumping material into the ocean without permits.

Ocean plankton blooms appear as bright, turquoise patches in the blue of the oceans [Credit: NASA Earth Observatory]Nevertheless, a private company, Planktos, plans to dump 100 tonnes of iron particles into the Pacific Ocean off the Galapagos in an attempt to trigger a plankton bloom, which they claim could absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, a portion of which would sink to the sea floor when the plankton dies, effectively transferring the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere to the bottom of the ocean. In the past twenty years, ten ocean expeditions around the world have attempted to trigger phytoplankton blooms by purposefully seeding the waves with fine iron dust. However, each of these has involved dumping no more than ten tonnes of iron particles and results have been inconclusive. Other questions remain about the impact of the iron and other materials that may be released with it, the impact of any harmful algal blooms that may develop, and the impact of gases that may be produced by the expected phytoplankton blooms or by bacteria decomposing the dead phytoplankton, including reducing oxygen concentrations.

As with research published this week by Grain, the international charity promoting the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity, showing that the rush for biofuels is causing enormous environmental and social damage, do we care? Probably not — after all, we're all AGW believers now, aren't we? And, besides, there's money to be made, so who wants to put a dampener on entrepreneurial initiative?