The Yoga Place Blog

Raising Global Consciousness

Rediscovering Ancient Wisdom to save the human Race

His blind faith in the validity of scientific research as indisputable truth is not born out by John Ioannisis's work that has demonstrated that most published research findings are false.

The coming "gold rush" - feeding plankton with iron filings to sequester carbon - madness or saviour?

We are in need of a global carbon tax fast - forget the carbon credit scheme - it has the potential to seed bigger scams than we have ever seen before. And these scams could trigger actions that could have the potential to threaten our existence - especially when it comes to schemes that tap "free" resources like our oceans.

Have you hear of the latest potential "gold rush"? And it might save us from global warming - but then it might also accelerate the process.

Anyone will be able to join in - all you will need is a boat and a bunch of iron filings and the millions will come rolling in? And you won't have travel to California or do any hard work like digging and having the luck to strike a gold seam. All you will need to do is find a plankton forest in the ocean and throw an bunch of common iron filings over board with some form of "proof" to verify you have done it.

Can you imagine the stampede if this one gets off the ground.

If you thought that the dot-com boom or sub-prime market and associated property bubble were delusions then this one takes the cake.

The "appealing" aspect of this potential "iron rush" is that it could temporarily slow or avert global warming by removing carbon from the atmosphere. You could be a hero and make millions while doing it with relatively little skills or effort. But the "worrying" aspect is it might also backfire. Did you get that - it might backfire and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The Theory

The as yet unproved theory is that "iron seeding," or "iron enrichment" - dumping tons of pulverised iron ore into the ocean - can catalyse the growth of microscopic algae that will then suck carbon out of the atmosphere - in the same way a rain-forest on land works for the health of the planet.

Turning the theory into money

So how would this scheme theoretically make money?

The scheme depends on being able to "sell" the additional carbon that the iron fillings cause the plankton to "store" or sequester.

There are already markets that buy sequestered carbon. These markets buy carbon credits from countries or companies that "sequester" carbon by doing things like planting forests that "apparently" permanently remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it. These markets then sell the carbon credits to polluters to offset their emissions of carbon.

For this to work there theoretically needs to be "proof" that "adding x amount of iron fillings causes Y amount of extra carbon to be stored "permanently". And when I say permanently I am thinking of what might happen if half the planet gets in on the act and starts dumping iron filings into the ocean to make their millions - might the ocean plankton become "obese" and start to exhibit symptoms such as plankton type 2 diabetes or heart disease? Or maybe high doses of iron filings would kill off the plankton and they would release noxious greenhouse gases in the process?

But how much "proof" would these markets need that the plankton would be able to "permanently" sequester carbon? Not much I don't think, or at least not in the short run. For example these markets are already selling carbon credits from new forests that are being planted. But there is no way of proving that these forests will ever continue to grow, will last forever or will even sequester carbon. The trees might die or get burned down. There is already proof that trees behave differently in different environments - in some environmental conditions trees actually start to give off carbon dioxide rather than store it.

But the reason that a scheme like this would fail to make money for all but a few that got in early is that it is based on "access" to a free resource that anyone can exploit with little capital or skill.

Every Tom Dick, Harry and Jane would be out in the oceans dumping iron filings over board and the carbon markets would be flooded with carbon credits. The price of carbon would plunge.

It makes me wonder if the real way to make money on this scam is to hype it up and go "short" on the carbon price.

The other "alternate" way the scheme could make money is if the "process" was licensed. But this raises some interesting questions. Who owns the oceans, aren't they a common resource owned by all? And if someone is going to do the licensing who is it, what "price" do the exploiters pay and who gets the proceeds from the licence holders. What is the process for becoming a licence holder? - if the oceans belong to everyone then anyone should have an equal chance to be an exploiter.

Where is this scheme at right now?

A company called Planktos is about to start a real life experiment to attempt to prove the controversial theory almost as I write this. They have a boat called Weatherbird II out on the ocean at the moment but the details are being kept secret because a "radical environmental groups" apparently want to halt the mission.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which patrols the Galapagos Islands to protect them from ecological threats, has pledged to stop Planktos.

But Plankto's plan is to seed a patch of ocean, 50 to 100 kilometres in diameter, with 50 to 100 metric tonnes of raw iron ore in an area 320 kilometres west of the Galapagos Islands and measure the results.

Mr George, A Planktos spokesman said the area is a perfect place for a test because iron from the islands feed a vast, natural plankton bloom that can serve as a biological control for the experiment.
Environmentalists fear that the test could go awry and threaten the islands. But Mr George said the natural Galapagos bloom drifts west, and so would the one that Planktos hopes to generate.
The iron ore to be used in the test is the same as dust blown naturally by the wind into the ocean according to Mr George.
"Hundreds of millions of tons of dust are landing in the ocean every year. How can anyone suggest that our 50 tonnes of rock dust will provoke some cataclysmic result?"
If the research goes well, Planktos aims to make money by fertilising the ocean, measuring the carbon its plankton forests sequester and selling carbon credits for cash on emerging world carbon markets.

Climos, a silicon based company, also has plans to pursue iron enrichment.

Are there any environmental risks to the scheme?

News of the impending experiment has caused consternation among scientists and environmentalists, many of whom do not think the theory has been sufficiently tested to try out on such a large scale.
Oceanographers critical of Planktos say scientists have simply not yet done the work needed to prove that phytoplankton blooms can sequester carbon safely and for the long term.
There are also questions about whether decaying blooms might produce other, more powerful greenhouse gases.

Kenneth Coale, a researcher at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in California who has conducted leading work on the subject said that "Many scientists think we should try to establish the facts and the downstream consequences of iron enrichment and there are a few non-scientists who think if it can make money we should do it now."
According to an article ion the ABC, few of the researchers who consider themselves experts in iron-enrichment appear to know who the scientists are that Planktos intends to take on its experiment.
David Santillo, a scientist at the Greenpeace Research Laboratories in Britain, said "I think that from the last 15 years of science we know enough to say, 'don't do it'." His thinks that "At this stage to have companies out there already wanting to press ahead with commercialisation is deeply unhelpful."

My own thoughts

I think we should be pursuing ideas that reduce greenhouse emissions and per capita renewable resource consumption rather than backing ideas that promise to offset emissions that allow us to continue with business as usual - especially ideas that may fail to deliver their promises in the long run, or worse still exacerbate the situation.

The problem with ideas that offset emissions is that they at best are only treating symptoms - they do nothing to reduce the cause of the problem.

We have enough examples in medicine of how symptomatic treatment of disease can go wrong in the longer term. We have evidence of an increasing number of drugs that are and have been used to treat chronic diseases causing unexpected and unintended lethal side effects. Viiox is just one example. For that matter the jury is not yet out on antibiotics even - they have only been around for 60 odd years and their effectiveness has been severely compromised. How effective will they be in 100 years time?

I had hoped that one thing we could have learned from evolution is that life forms adapt to changes in their environment. This scheme relies on changing the environment of plankton - giving them more food in the form of iron filings. I wonder how many years of testing we need to do in a real plankton environment to see how they adapt to their environment and how other parts of the ecosystem respond.

We already have proof of how previous attempts at sequestering carbon using plants has failed to live up to its promise due to "unseen" problems. initial assumptions were that tree planting would automatically sequester carbon indefinitely. But trees can die or be burnt down. They can turn from carbon absorbers to carbon emitters depending on the environment.

We already know that the oceans are changing the way that they operate as carbon storage devices. Will plankton beds change the way they behave as the oceans change - will they act differently depending on where they are and how the qualities of the ocean currents change? How bullet proof are they and what happens when they die? How dependant are they on other aspects of their ecosystem for their survival and what is happening to these environments?
One of the weaknesses of reductive science is that it doesn't see the big picture. It is reductive not integrative. We live in a nature via nurture world with complex adaptive interacting interdependent systems. The way that systems behave depends upon many things - adding refined products to environments has unintended side effects - oil and coal are in a sense refined trees and the consequence of feeding them to the "earth body" is global warming. Refined sugars, refined grains and fats fed to humans has led to a global epidemic of obesity, type 2 diabetes, coronary heat disease and so on.

The biofuel strategy is another example of a plan that hasn't been thought through. It should have been blindingly obvious that we have an impending land and food shortage. Converting grains or plant oils into ethanol or biodiesel is madness if not a crime against humanity. How is this for a statistic - if every bit of grain in the USA was converted into ethanol using current technology it would only satisfy 12% of their current petrol needs. Or the corn required to fill the petrol tank of an average SUV would provide enough food to keep a person alive for one year.

Australia - the myth of strong economic management and the march towards dictatorship

We are being offered a new form of direct participation in democracy in our coming federal election. It is called Senator On-Line.

What is it?

To use their own words " Senator On-Line is not aligned to any other political party - it is neither Liberal nor Labour. Senator On-Line is a truly democratic party which will allow everyone on the Australian Electoral roll who has access to the internet to vote on every Bill put to Parliament and have its Senators vote in accordance with a clear majority vie"

In other words Senator On-Line stands for nothing. They are nothing more that an empty vessel or conduit for us to participate directly in the political process.

At one level the suggestion of a system that lets me bypass party based thinking and have my own say in political decisions sounds very attractive. But I have some questions. Apart from the obvious question of whether it will work in practice there is the issue of accountability. Why should I give power to someone who has no responsibility and stands for nothing.

May I loose power with this system rather than gain it? What about the twin concepts of "there is power in numbers" and its corollary "divide and rule"? This looks like it fits into the category of "divide and rule".

And what about the potential for subtle manipulation? This is easy to do and used frequently by barristers in court cases and politicians who want to create false ideas in voters minds - if you to see research on this have a look at Stephan Lewandowsky report titled Memory for Fact, Fiction, and Misinformation.

When I heard about the senator on-line proposal on the ABC's "In the National Interest" radio program on Sunday 28th October it seemed like the idea was a natural extension of a trend I have been observing emerge.

The emerging trend I have observed is that governments have become more powerful at the same time that they are simultaneously doing less and less to deserve that power. And the key logic that politicians are using to justify their position is an apparent process that they have called "Strong Economic Management" . Governments and politicians have increasingly found ways to shirk or offload responsibilities and accountability. And it is not only the liberal party playing the game - labour is at it too. But should we worry? If you believe John Howard "Australian's have never been better off". We have a new master called the economy. And this apparently requires a new skill - "Economic Management".

Running the country using the principles of "economic management" is a great job if you can get it. If any existing part of your government responsibility is becoming an electoral liability then eliminate your responsibility for it in the name of economic sense - either blame the states, transfer responsibility for running it to the states (or the federal government if you are a state) or sell it to the private sector.

Avoid making any new investments in the future because this would make you responsible for something that might go wrong. Besides that might mean you would have to do something unpopular like raising taxes or something "irresponsible" like borrowing money. Let the "market" make the investment. That way if things go wrong you can blame it on "market forces" that you have no control over. However if things work out you can take credit for having the management insight to let the market work.

Remember that globalisation is your best friend - use it properly. When the economy benefits from it (Chinese lead mining boom) it's because of your strong economic management. When interest rates go up though blame it on global forces out of your control. But remember that when they go down it is because of your "strong economic management".

With all the tax dollars you have now that you don't need to make investments you might be able to stay in power for a long time. You can use some of it to pay back government debts and claim fiscal responsibility. You can use some of it to pork barrel marginal electorates. You could even use some of it for "creative advertising". Last but not least you could hand it back as "tax cuts" targeted at your support base.

And don't forget to spend big on spin doctors to help you justify it all - it is amazing how gullible the voters are and how easy it is to manipulate them with fear. They will let you get away with almost anything if they feel they are getting wealthier.

Excuse me if this sounds cynical but if the hat fits then wear it.

Lets have a look at the federal election we are about to have. In essence John Howard's pitch is that the major issue facing Australia is "economic management". We should vote for the liberal party because of their record of "strong economic management". And they are playing the fear card big time too. A vote for labour is a vote for destroying the economy - labour equals high interest rates and union power. Howard and his spin doctors are obviously well versed with Stephan Lewandowsky's insights on the use of fiction and misinformation to implant erroneous fact in the minds of the public.

But what does "strong economic management" supposedly entail and how does it translate into a sustainable long term future?

What are these guys managing? Where are the key performance indicators they are measuring themselves against? Why are these key performance indicators the right ones? How is economic performance translating into sustainable long term social benefits?

In my opinion the KPIs are no where to be found - targets bring responsibility.

Instead there has been a tendency to equate economic management with interest rates, the repayment of government debt and running budget surpluses. And because this has been done in the absence of key performance indicators it is fair to ask the question - at what cost was this achieved? How much of the reduction in costs was at the expense of cutting or scrapping existing services (as opposed to delivering them more efficiently) or reducing investment in the future (such as the run down in education spending) or flogging off the farm (privatisation of Telstra etc.)

One golden rule of "good economic management" is that government debt is bad -the private sector should be making these investments - the invisible hand of the market is the best way to make investment decisions.

Lets take a close look at the validity of the private sector / market logic. Why can't the government make the same investment and let the invisible hand of the market do its wonders? Since when has the private sector had a monopoly on the market? And if we want to take it one step further, if the market is so efficient, why then do we have the emergence of "private equity" . The "private equity" logic is that they can be more efficient that the stock market because they can take a longer term perspective that the stock market will allow them to. And isn't long term investment for the future what we expect governments to be making?

If governments go to the "market" to look for players to make these "risky" long term infrastructure type investments instead of doing them themselves are we really likely to get them done more cheaply? Have we got any case studies?

Evidence of past deals indicates that Private investment is more expensive than government investment. A close inspection of corporate behaviour will indicate that big corporations are on the whole not the risk takers the public might perceive them to be. Risky innovation is usually done by small companies. Corporations buy the succesfull innovators after the risky phase is over. Corporations are unlikely to get into speculative long term investments unless they have all the possible risks covered which means we will have to pay a premium to cover for events that may never happen. For example the privately built Sydney cross city tunnel demanded returns of 16% p.a. David Dohmkins, then National president of the Australian Institute of Project managers, said that the Sydney cross city tunnel deal was like buying a house using a credit card rather than a home loan. His opinion was that the government could have borrowed at 6% and outsourced the project management skills to make up for their lack of in house capability.

The truth is that if governments were really the "good economic managers" that they claim to they would be able to be able to make long term investments more cheaply than the market or some form of private public partnership. Governments have access to cheaper capital and they don't need to make a profit.

Private investment and PPP's also lock governments into long term fixed contracts. This reduces the capacity for governments to change social policy without paying compensation fees.

I am not suggesting that there is no role for private investment or that all governments should do it all. To get back to my original point, I feel like I am being asked to vote for governments that want power but are also trying to avoid the responsibility that goes with it.

The senator on-line idea seems to be taking this one step further - "an empty vessel". Power with no responsibility at all.

I wonder how well the senator on-line system would work if it was put into practice. What quality of decisions would come out of it? How easy would it be for special interest groups to hijack? What sort of capacity does the average voter have to assess senate level issues and realistically how much time would they need to spend to do this well?

The track record is that we have governments that claim to be good economic managers. Yet it is clear that they fail in this task when measured against conventional definitions of management. What is the take away message? Are politicians ignorant of what real management is about and believe what they are doing qualifies as good? Alternatively do they know that what real management is about and recognise their failures but claim success and believe that the voters are too ignorant to know any better? If this second option is the case and voters are really that ignorant then what hope could we have that a senator on-line type democracy would result in good outcomes?

Personally I think that liberal democracy is a species on its last legs. We have a looming global crisis of depleting renewable resources exacerbated by climate change. We are already using our renewable resource at 139% of capacity. In other words we are heading for a disaster even if we keep our global population and per capita renewable resource usage at today's level.

The only way we can avoid future disaster is to reduce both population and per capita renewable resource usage. Democracy in Australia is taking us in the opposite direction in both measures. The key competitive selling point in our coming election is which party do we believe can grow the economy more - historically an increase in economic growth is correlated to increased per capita renewable resource usage. On the population front our current government is trying to increase the population by offering a $5000 bonus for each new baby. Other countries are behaving in similar ways - economic growth wins votes.

We are threatened by long term global issues that require collective action and restraint. But we are governed by self interested democratic systems that are growth orientated and have a short term focus. This is a structural recipe for disaster.

One way or another many people will die as a consequence of global warming and a collapsing renewable resource base. The questions are who, where and when. How will people respond to this situation? What forms of government will emerge when the going gets tough? Liberal democracies are competitive systems that compete with each other over the short term by offering more. The future environment will be one off less not more - generation Y are already feeling this effect and are earning less that Generation X did at their age. Housing is increasingly unaffordable. Our ageing population coupled with declining health and will exacerbate this effect.

I have my bets that a dictatorship or multiple war lords will be the likely form of government that will emerge when times get really tough . At one level we are heading towards a type of dictatorship at the moment. We have already lost substantial freedoms in the name of the war against terror and the government's power to invade privacy and detain without trial has increased. Freedom of information is being curtailed. And politics is becoming more and more about the leader rather than the party

On the international front we can see similar losses to "democracy". In the USA, George Bush has immense power to act above the law thanks to the "war" status. If Hilary Clinton is elected as the next president we will have either a Bush or a Clinton in the top job for 23 years (1989-2012). In 2000 the result of the US election wasn't decided by the electorate - six members of an arguably stacked supreme court made the decision. In Russia it looks like President Putin may have found a way to effectively side step constitutional laws that limit a President to two terms in office. He will simply run for the position of Prime Minister instead of President and carry on as usual.

History shows that when times are tough people like a tough man at the top. We need to look no further back than the 1930's to see the effects of economic difficulties on government structure - some people called this the age of dictators. "In the 1920s democracy flourished, but the Great Depression brought disenchantment, and most of the countries of Europe, Latin America, and Asia turned to strong-man rule or dictatorships. Fascism and dictatorships flourished in Nazi Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal, as well as non-democratic regimes in the Baltics, the Balkans, Brazil, Cuba, China, and Japan, among others. Together with Stalin's regime in the Soviet Union, these made the 1930s the "Age of Dictators"" (Wikipedia quote)