Reason No. 2 Why We Need Solar

phytoplankton bloom Shrimp Eat Iron Experiment

In my last post, I took a pretty dim view of the looming climate legislation battle.  Treehugger has a different and more upbeat take, reporting that 22 high-on-health-care Democrats have already whisked off a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pressing for clean energy and climate legislation this year.

But let’s turn now to what a certain one-celled creature has to say about climate change and the need for a solar power revolution:  Last week, the National Academy of Sciences reported on the results of their efforts to create iron-rich phytoplankton blooms that could sequester carbon dioxide.  The researchers were able to generate massive blooms by dumping liquid iron into patches of ocean.  So far so good.  Except the iron-fertilized phytoplankton was found to harbor high levels of a toxin that is fatal to seabirds and marine mammals and can sicken humans who consume tainted shellfish.

Phytoplankton is the base of the marine food chain, so poisoning it doesn’t seem like such a hot idea.  The results of the 12-year experiment are a major setback to scientists who held out hope that fertilizing the oceans with iron could be a silver bullet in the fight to stop climate change. As lead researcher Charles Trick conceded, “It is an indication that we are not masters of nature when it comes to large-scale ecological manipulations.”

So what do poisonous plankton have to do with solar power?  The experiment should serve as a wake-up call:  We shouldn’t be wasting resources and time pursuing dangerous and improbable high-tech carbon sequestration schemes when we have proven, reliable and safe technologies like wind and solar that will prevent us from generating so much darn pollution in the first place.

There are all kinds of dicey ploys floating around, from geo-engineered trees and crops to shooting clouds of sulfur into the atmosphere.  There’s no need for desperate measures (yet).  Let’s start with what already works and reserve apocalyptically dangerous strategies for if and when there’s no other option.

–Erica Etelson

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