- by Anna Pha
- The Guardian
- Issue #2070
The last thing we need
Oceans are increasingly being seen as tools against global warming while offering tremendous business opportunities through the use of geoengineering. Geoengineering involves unproven technology that interferes with complex ecosystems and the climate in an attempt to store CO2 or alter the climate. Marine geoengineering involves such methods as burying CO2 in the ocean bed or increasing the earth’s reflection of light or radiation. Labor’s Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023, which is currently before Parliament seeks to legalise marine geoengineering. (See also GREEN NOTES Guardian #2068, 04/09/2023)
The Convention on the Prevention of Maritime Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and other Matter, or London Protocol, was amended in 2013 on a proposal initiated by Australia, to allow ocean fertilisation activities to be permitted for research purposes only, and to enable other marine geoengineering activities to be regulated in future. Ocean Fertilisation (OF) involves the removal of carbon dioxide by the dumping of iron filings or other “nutrients” (e.g., urea) into the ocean to stimulate the growth of phytoplankton through photosynthesis which takes in CO2. The theory is that when the phytoplankton die, they sink to the seafloor sequestering carbon on the deep ocean bed.
Scientific studies have shown that as bigger creatures feed on the plankton the amount of CO2 released via the food chain is bigger. In addition, too much phytoplankton can disrupt the marine food web and create toxic algal bloom. The presence of iron or urea can cause mineral and nutrient imbalances in an already stressed and acidic ocean environment. Excess nutrients can disrupt the ecological balance and trigger harmful algal blooms exacerbating ocean acidification. The Elon Musk-funded venture, WhaleX, in partnership with the Australian company Ocean-Nourishment Corporation, is attempting to rebrand its ocean fertilisation project, calling it “Artificial Whale Poo.”
There are other forms of marine geoengineering. The former Morrison Coalition government commenced a $150 million program to investigate options for “cooling and shading” the Great Barrier Reef and other reefs. This includes solar radiation management by such means as marine cloud brightening, mist, fog, or surface films.
The International Maritime Organisation states that marine geoengineering technologies “have the potential to cause deleterious effects that are widespread, long-lasting or severe.” It also notes that “there is considerable uncertainty regarding the effects on the marine environment, human health, and on other uses of the ocean.” It is strongly opposed by fishing and coastal communities, and Indigenous populations.
The fossil fuel industry is one of the forces pushing for geoengineering as a cover to continue polluting. It also offers the potential for highly profitable carbon credits, hence the interest of venture capital and billionaires like Musk.
Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek claims the bill will regulate the loading, dumping, and incineration of waste at sea and the placement of artificial reefs within Australian waters. It does not.
At the Convention of Biodiversity COP15 in 2022, over 80 civil society organisations called for the reinforcement of precautions against geoengineering to protect biodiversity and communities. “We need to build upon and strengthen the collective voice of civil society calling for restriction,” Geoengineering Monitor says. “More interference in complex ecosystems which we do not fully understand through get-rich-quick schemes based on speculative technologies is the last thing we need.”