Planktos’s commercial ocean iron fertilization carbon-trading gambit: Brakes on Flakes

Intergovernmental scientific body fires shot across geoengineer’s bow

An intergovernmental scientific committee of the London Convention on ocean dumping agreed at its closing plenary in Spain, to a tough consensus “statement of concern” warning that iron fertilization of ocean surfaces – as an attempt at commercial carbon sequestration – has environmental risks and lacks scientific evidence of effectiveness. The statement was triggered by news that Planktos, Inc. a for-profit enterprise with offices in San Francisco, Budapest, and Vancouver is about to dump 100 tons of iron nanoparticles over a 10,000 km² stretch of Pacific Ocean in the vicinity of the Galapagos Islands. The company’s goal is to sell carbon offsets on the unproven assumption that the phytoplankton bloom created by the iron dumping could lead to the permanent sequestration of CO2 greenhouse gases. “Its a very strong statement – literally an emergency call for the full London Convention [of the International Maritime Organization] to take up the threat of ocean geoengineering when governments convene in London this November 5-9,” says Jim Thomas of ETC Group, en route to Europe. “By publicizing the scientific body’s concern now, governments are bluntly warning companies that there could be national and international regulatory repercussions from commercial iron dumping.” Planktos has already been advised by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that commercial iron dumping by a U.S. flagged ship could be in violation of EPA rules. In response, the company has told US officials that it will either find another flag or another ship. Although the company has said that it intends to dump 100 tons of iron particles in a stretch of ocean somewhere near the Galapagos Islands this month, the whereabouts of its vessel, the Weatherbird II, is not clear and ETC Group believes the boat to still be docked at Fort Lauderdale, Florida.


Ecuadorian officials responsible for the Galapagos Islands have told Planktos that the proposed dump threatens the World Heritage Site’s unique environment. Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group’s Mexico City office agrees but points out that, “The Planktos dump is only the first of a number of ocean and stratospheric geoengineering initiatives that companies are commercializing as so-called ‘green’ techno-fixes for global warming. Planktos has exposed a major gap in global governance that might let corporations play God with Gaia.”  “It’s tempting to dismiss the company as a lot of hot air,” says Pat Mooney, executive director of ETC Group in Canada, “but it has the vessel, the iron, and the arrogance to make quite a mess.”

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