In the good old days, when I lived in Florida, if you had a completely ridiculous idea but convinced someone else who had some authority, you could get it implemented. There being no Internet, it didn't have to be a great idea, if it went bad you could just make it go away.
But in the Internet Age, every dumb thing you do is permanent, so we can laugh at the idea of using 2 million tires to make an artificial coral reef today but in the Florida of my youth, this made complete sense to environmentalists - and they found data to back it up. The clean-up would be left to future generations.
'Future generations' are used by both side of the global warming debate. Alarmists say there won't be a world left if we don't do something...anything...now while Denialists say that future science will easily solve any problems we create. It's odd logic. Skeptics of global warming tend to be conservative and insist kids today are much dumber due to the influence of the liberal agenda in universities so why they think those dumb kids will fix the planet in the future is a mystery. Meanwhile, many proponents of global warming make statistical mistakes that second year undergraduate students ridicule so why people should believe that huge snowstorms are caused by global warming is also a mystery.
Like those tires sitting in big piles, the activists behind it created a sense of urgency, only the issue then was that we were running out of landfill space. What well-meaning activists were not asking is, "Are we solving an actual problem?" If Republicans were against it, it must be a real issue, just like with global warming. But it turned out they were solving a problem we actually didn't have. Landfill doomsday scenarios went out of fashion with pet rocks (and a new ice age) though for a time everyone was convinced we would have our houses filled with garbage.
So why did a ship named the Polarstern leave Cape Town, South Africa a few days ago with 50 scientists and 20 tons of iron sulphate? The word 'theory' is used too colloquially these days so I won't say the scientists in the LOHAFEX expedition have a theory - it's more like a wild guess - but they think if they dump a lot of iron sulphate in the ocean, it will create an algal bloom and suck a lot of evil carbon down into the bottom of the ocean.
How much carbon? A billion tons of carbon per year if applied across the Southern Ocean, some say. In true "Austin Powers" Dr. Evil fashion, they seem to have kept coming up with higher numbers until it sounded impressive.
I'm not an activist or a geologist or an oceanographer so I have this crazy notion that the environment is actually a very complex system and that doing one thing to mitigate one problem might not be a great idea if it leads to 10 more problems. Dumping a lot of iron sulphate would seem to be worth considering in more detail - no "we only have 10 years" or we're doomed hysteria but instead actual data based on small experiments. Yet there are two things working against that sort of common sense.
First, we have well meaning activist scientists in the LOHAFEX group who think they have found a loophole in international law and therefore are rightfully disregarding the wishes of 191 signators to the United Nation's Convention on Biological Diversity that put a moratorium on widespread experimentation with the ocean, precisely so this could not happen. Second, we have a 'carbon sequestration' industry that desperately needs there to be a CO2 global warming problem, else they have spent a lot of money on lobbyists and not gained anything.
I have no issue at all with private industry solving problems, of course. And a school with an agenda has no problem at all looking for loopholes, namely the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in Bremerhaven, Germany, who provided the ship and a chief scientist for LOHAFEX, along with some funding.
AWI says they are on our side. Their work will help distinguish legitimate, necessary science (their research, naturally) that can only get done by dumping iron sulphate in 300 square KM of ocean, from quack people out to make a buck (other groups obeying the moratorium) which is all well and good. Obviously I am not against science experimentation.
But are they solving the right problem? Pollution has gone up but global warming has not matched the rise in CO2 levels so we can probably solve the issue of greenhouse gases and warming without ecological tinkering. Like those tires in the ocean 3 decades ago, before we rush to implement a solution that may not work, let's take time and make sure we are solving a problem we really have.
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