There I was, watching a segment of ABC’s Lateline about a rogue Geoengineering project that sought to sprinkle iron dust in to the Pacific Ocean in order to rejuvenate marine life, and then by extension, tackle the effects of climate change. I was astounded by this story for two reasons. The first is the idea that you could sprinkle a bit of dust in to the ocean and everything gets magically repaired. What are the long term consequences? Isn’t it a bit fanciful that this fancy iron fairy dust can magically repair our ecosystem? The second idea is how could a group of scientists conduct this project without any official sanction? Who would let them do this, and, get away with it? And perhaps the broader question is, why did it take a rogue project instead of a government to highlight the potential benefits of Geoengineering?
Ultimately the scientists involved in this rogue science project yielded some interesting results worthy of further study, and certainly Geoengineering may be a partial solution to how we deal with environmental issues. But the underlying question I asked myself was, if it’s reached the stage where we have to geoengineer our own planet to keep it habitable, doesn’t that underscore how badly we were treating the environment in the first place? Shouldn’t we be looking at that larger problem rather than this type of quick-fix solution?
Dealing with climate change has been a diabolically difficult political problem for governments all around the world. Climate change itself is difficult to explain to a populace who need a more simple explanation. Elements of the populace with their own political agendas have also stepped in and tried to hijack the debate to suit their own purposes, whether it is to frighten us in to action or to try and keep the status quo. Throw all this together, and include the increasing difficulty for nations to agree on appropriate action, and it is surprising that we have had any action taken at all so far. As we move forward in this environment, no pun intended, we shouldn’t hold our breath for large scale action.
That is not to say that the promise of Geoengineering isn’t worth pursuing. If the findings of this rogue project are anything to go by, the iron dust was able to do wonders in the ocean. And this iron fertilisation is just the beginning; there all sorts of other options from solar radiation management to carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere to heat removal from the oceans.
Although promising, Geoengineering can only be a supplemental solution to the problem that must work alongside options to mitigate global warming. After all, none of these options address the underlying causes of the problem. Geoengineering is a way to stave off the effects of climate change while longer term solutions can be implemented. In this respect it could be very useful.
Perhaps the final point I’d like to make is that it shouldn’t have been left up to a group of scientists who went out with their own rogue project to start calling attention to other possible solutions to the problems we are facing with climate change. Governments around the world should be taking charge of this problem and finding appropriate solutions. If they can’t provide leadership on this issue, then we as citizens need to remind them of their responsibilities, whether it be through protest or at the ballot box.
Watch FiST Chat 95: Geoengineering With Iron Dust for more on this topic.