Let’s be honest – when it comes to global warming there’s an awful lot of talk, but in reality our carbon dioxide levels continue to break records. This year, Hawaiian scientists reckon that carbon levels are up by 40% since the industrial revolution and are reaching the highest levels in the last 650,000 years. Whilst the world’s governments sign treaties and commission inquiries, panels, and boards of investigation, and talk of renewable energy and electric cars, actual progress on tackling the threat seems to be conducted at a leisurely pace. So are there any short term, ‘bodge-it’ answers to global warming, so that we can all go back to driving our four-by-fours without the disapproving glares of environmentalists and the secret guilt of our pro-eco subconscious minds?
Well, a bunch of scientists think they may have found an answer through something called ‘geo-engineering’. They have discovered that all the little phytoplankton (one-celled algae that float near the surface) in the world’s oceans are actually absorbing a lot more CO2 than was previously thought, before ultimately sinking to the ocean floor. This all very good, but there is only so much phytoplankton in the world and CO2 levels are still on the rise, despite the best efforts of our intrepid little CO2 busters.
But what if you were to fertilise the oceans with the right nutrients, thus stimulating phytoplankton growth with the result of absorbing more CO2? This is exactly the concept which a joint team of Indian and German scientists have recently been trying to experiment with in the Antarctic.
It’s believed that if they dumped the proposed six tonnes of dissolved iron sulphate over 300 square kilometres of the ocean surface, we would see an increase in phytoplankton growth and thus an increase in CO2 absorption. Experiments of this kind could possibly lead to vital benefits in the fight against climate change.
In this particular case the experiment has been postponed due to our lack of understanding of the ecological impacts of dumping a load of iron in the Antarctic. It will be some while before we can quell that secret guilty feeling. Yet I believe this ‘alternative’ thought processes to fighting climate change has, at least, the potential to be a positive step, just so long as we continue to proceed with caution.