What exactly is geoengineering?

I was looking around for something to write about for the initial post on this new blog concept. I thought about tackling ObamaCare, because I don’t completely understand it (despite the fact that I worked with a health care company this summer), but that felt like kind of a big thing for a debut, so I wanted something a little smaller and more niche. I found this story on NPR, which is essentially about “hacking” the Earth in order to deal with the increasing reality of climate change. Basically, and depressingly, it’s possible that the climate change situation on Earth could get so bad that we’d (“we” as the collective human race) would need to do something drastic in order to save the planet/ourselves (sounds like I’m pitching a bad script), such as shooting chemicals into the stratosphere to protect the Earth from the sun. Problem is, the deployment of a strategy such as this would require some serious research basis, and that research isn’t being done. The expression “buried our heads in the sand” with regard to where we’re at on this comes up in the article.

At the beginning of the article, they talk about a project in the Haida community of Canada; the Haida need salmon to survive (almost all of their protein intake comes directly from the sea), but the salmon were disappearing. They dumped iron dust into the ocean, created a big algae bloom (it was visible from space), and hoped the algae would suck up the carbon dioxide and the fish would return. Apparently, they returned in some large capacity, but some people aren’t convinced, noting that fish yields vary pretty dramatically year-over-year. The whole thing was fairly controversial, and involved this dude named Russ George, who used to run a company called Planktos, Inc. That company claims to “restore ecosystems and slow climate change.” Cool. Problem is, his previous attempts at “ocean fertilization” — what he did in Canada, basically — were near the Galapagos and Canary Islands, and got his ships barred from there by the Spanish and Ecuadorian governments. Someone should write a NCIS spec script about my man Mr. George. Some believe what George does is illegal; others don’t. At issue seems to be base violation of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as the London convention on the prevention of marine pollution. (By the way, have you ever heard about notions of a floating garbage island in the ocean? It’s not completely that far off.) You can’t dump things into the ocean in a for-profit setting, which seems to be at issue; while the Canadian government apparently knew of the plans to dump, the locals predominantly seemed to vote for it because it was a “salmon enhancement project.” Canada, though, is viewed as one of the “four Horsemen” of geoengineering, along with Australia, New Zealand and Britain. They just won a notorious Dodo Award as a result.

Russ George seems like an interesting man, if a complete train wreck. Apparently he once crafted a publicity stunt to give non-existent carbon credits to The Vatican:

Back to geoengineering for a second, because it’s actually it’s a much bigger issue than anyone seems to realize (damn, I’m learning something about the world on my first post here). Think about this: Russia controls most of the Arctic, to the point that their President called the Arctic their “resource base for the 21st century.” If you reduce the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, this plan of Russia’s kinda starts to fall apart; but if you push through the idea of geoengineering — ostensibly, rigging the planet — then you can “have your carbon cake and eat it too.” China is interested in the idea as well; it’s a way to reduce emissions without taking a backseat on growth.

I was looking for more, and broader, context on all this, and I found this BBC documentary on geoengineering, which is pretty sweet:

It appears that increased geoengineering regulation will take place, but then there’s the conspiracy side of the world: the most prominent geoengineering watch website was taken down two months ago, although it’s back now. Their primary video, referring to geoengineering as “weather modification on a global scale,” also denotes it as “the most important topic of our time.”

Because everyone in my world loves TED Talks, I wanted to see if there were any resources on TED related to these topics. Sure enough, David Keith did a TED Talk promoting the idea of geoengineering as a climate change solution.

There are a ton of resources all over the ‘Net on this topic — the important thing is to find the legit ones, and parse out the partisan, agenda-driven ones. It seems like the science is unclear, the research could be more developed, but the rules are there, and individuals/groups taking control of beautiful stretches of the ocean themselves isn’t exactly the best next step. But at another, albeit smaller, level, I do applaud George for taking some kind of initiative. He got me to write this post and learn a bit more about the issue; I don’t agree with what he’s doing (especially in one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems), but at the same time, it’s better than not paying attention at all… right?

Ted Bauer