Sinking in the Deep Blue Sea

In last week’s news, there was a story about a businessman who dumped large quantities of iron into the ocean off western Canada after convincing the locals that it would improve salmon fisheries. The resulting algae bloom can be seen from space.

Peggy Kolm:
This sounds like a science fiction story all by itself: geoengineering, apparently unscrupulous businessmen, deceit, science. I asked the regular SiMF contributors what they thought: Is this going to be the future: private individuals taking large projects on themselves in hopes they won’t get caught? Or should government or international organizations take over? Or should we not mess with things we don’t understand?

If this were a science fiction story, the guy who proposed the iron dump would probably be the hero, who proves the nay-sayers in the scientific establishment wrong with his bold move.

In real life I think it’s especially a concern when there is potential for long-term damage of the environment on an international scale, like this ocean dump.

My gut feeling is that there should be consequences of some sort if such projects without adequate small-scale testing cause massive damage, but it would be better if they could be stopped before the damage was done.

I’m not sure how that could be managed. Seems like governments are as likely to be complicit in the problem as they are to effectively regulate it.

I suspect we’ll be seeing more stunts(?) like this in the future.

Paul Schroeer-Hannemann:
He was incredibly reckless. Global warming might cause major long-term damage to the environment but algae blooms have been known to cause immediate damage to aquatic ecosystems. One can only hope we don’t get another well-intentioned but foolhardy businessman doesn’t do something worse like spraying sulfur aerosols into the upper atmosphere.

Athena Andreadis:
The other mind-boggling point in all this is that the Haida village did something that 1) they knew would affect the entire area, 2) solely on this con-man’s word, 3) with their salmon restoration fund. Surely they could have spent some of that money to get a second opinion? Notified others in their nation? Spoken to the government? Spoken to scientists?

Ryan Anderson:
I am always extremely skeptical of geoengineering projects because they inevitably claim to solve a problem by changing one single thing. But planets don’t work like that. There are so many interconnected factors that go into determining the climate that you can’t just drastically change one without having potentially catastrophic
consequences when other things change in response. And it’s not a linear system by any means, so you might cause a small change in one factor that is completely swamped by a resulting larger change where you least expect it.

Heather McDougal:
What would be the consequences, for example, if some rich sod decided to start terraforming the moon? Who would stop him? Or other planets — regardless of whatever ecosystems might be there? There is no interplanetary law, and probably wouldn’t be for a very long time — it would be like the old West, only weirder.

Or creating land masses/undersea kingdoms in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? Or doing something in the fragile Antarctic? Who has jurisdiction in those areas?

On another note, there is an Ursula Le Guin short story about a planet that some anthropologists land on that is incredibly infantile in its culture — cheap sex, food and drink that are awfully similar to milkshakes and hot dogs — and by the end of the story the anthropologists are beginning to have this uncomfortable belief that the planet is actually the product of an adolescent boy’s imagination (luckily the natives are beginning to move beyond that). Along the lines of individuals doing things in a loose cannon-ish way, what I keep wondering is, what happens if someone with bad ideals, or even simply cheesy or prurient ones, decides to do something drastic, based on those ideals?

What do you think?

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