What should scare us most, climate change or hubristic schemes to mitigate climate change?
The unintended negative consequences of e.g. biofuel production from food crops are large, and include tortilla riots in Mexico because of rising food prices, destruction of rainforests in Indonesia to make way for palm oil plantations, and a general expansion of land under cultivation.
Here is a harbinger of things to come. A company plans to dump iron particles into the ocean in a 100 by 100 kilometer area near the Galapagos Islands in order to stimulate the growth of plankton.
In this case it is not the action of some mad scientist, it is business. The company is peddling “carbon offsets”.
What will be next? Why not seed the stratosphere with sulphur particles and claim carbon credits for that?
The biofuel fiasco and other well-meaning attempts to improve nature – think of the introduction of rabbits in Australia – should make us vary of climate change interventions.
How should we experiment with our poorly understood, nonlinear planetary systems? Very, very carefully.
Climate change is not as scary as climate change mitigation schemes that are driven by the combination of a powerful rent-seeking lobby, investors’ feeding frenzy, opportunistic politicians, and political correctness. Biofuel from food crops is one such scheme. There will no doubt be other even more ambitious schemes in the future. The danger is that they will do more harm than good, and that they will be almost impossible to stop because of the groups that benefit from them.
Update: BBC: Galapagos experiment sparks alarm.
Let me add that I don’t think that dumping 100 tons of iron filings in a 10,000 square kilometer area in the ocean is a cause for alarm. It is not going to trigger a new ice age, destroy the Galapagos ecosystem, or end intelligent life on Planet Earth. The main effect will be to relieve some rather naive people of some of their cash when they pay for carbon offsets.