The New York Times has an article about a new undertaking that plans to put iron-bearing dust into the ocean to trigger plankton blooms and thereby pull carbon dioxide out of the air.
Because there are so many other things we could be doing to solve the problems caused by fossil fuel dependency and energy wastefulness (auto and other efficiencies, clean decentralized diverse energies that don’t tie us to unsavory political regimes and propel us into military quagmires), I am uncomfortable with attempts to get comfortable with current energy technologies. We should be solving, not masking, the problems, in my opinion.
But the other thing that seldom seems to surface is that because most of the ocean is a nutrient “desert” most of what lives there is adapted to those conditions. I’m sure some people would want to grow forests where there’s now cactus. But we’d probably have quite a debate about the merits of desert ecosystems and the life forms that can live only in those conditions. Replacing ecosystems currently limited by iron with systems rich in iron, plankton, and a whole revised and episodic food chain seems worthy of a deeper discussion. The simple questions, ‘Would it work?’ and ‘What are the likely consequences?’ seem to call for a better level of debate.
For just one example, consider the populations of yellowfin and skipjack tuna that support major fisheries and provide food for millions of people. Those fish live in sparse, nutrient-limited clear blue water. They seldom come onto continental shelves much richer in plankton and almost never enter greenish, plankton-filled water. It seems to me that, all the energy questions aside for the moment, we should simply ask what happens to what’s living in iron-poor waters when we add iron–and whether that’s desirable and ethical.