A report today in the Guardian newspaper describes the actions of the world’s first rogue geoengineer. It’s alleged that Russ George dumped 100 tonnes of iron sulphate into waters off the Canadian Pacific coast. The idea of this type of geoengineering is that a plankton bloom is produced and these creatures, when they die, will sequester carbon dioxide in their skeletons and take it to the bottom of the ocean.
This method of geoengineering is taken seriously and there have been full scientific trials of its effectiveness in the southern ocean, as reported recently in Nature. However, that study was done in the context of international funding and regulation, and has taken 8 years to analyse. Russ George, in contrast, seems to have mounted a cowboy operation using, in part, funds hoodwinked from an indigenous group on the basis that it would help boost salmon stocks.
There is currently an international ban on geoengineering experiments in the wild, based partly on worries about effectiveness and unexpected side effects, but also on the assumption that not exploring this Plan B for coping with CO2 induced climate change will encourage governments to be more effective in reducing CO2 production.
But we all know that governments, and the populations they represent, are moving too slowly and not far enough in reducing CO2 production. There’s thus a window between governmental inaction, and the keenness of environmental groups to insist on governmental action for the rogue geoengineer.
WIll we soon see a time when there is a community of pirate geoengineers seeding the sea with iron, painting desert landscapes white or spraying seawater into the atmosphere, in just the same way that we now see civil society groups like Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd taking direct action for other environmental purposes?
The current case may have more to do with extracting funds from unsuspecting victims, but something similar to Sea Shepherd could be a very real possibility in the future.
And who would have thought the phrase ‘rogue geoengineer’ would appear first in a newspaper rather than in the pages of a Kim Stanley Robinson novel?