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Geoengineering for the Timid

(p. A15) In 2012, a man named Russ George, working with the Haida people of British Columbia, tried an experiment. From the back of a rusty fishing vessel he spread 120 tons of iron-rich dust on the surface of the North Pacific Ocean. The result was a bloom of plankton, visible by satellite--and a quadrupling of the salmon catch along the coast of the Northeast Pacific. This may or may not have been a coincidence, but it was the intended result.

. . .

Far from being thanked, Mr. George was pilloried for failing to get permission for this rogue "geoengineering" gesture. A second experiment by German scientists in the Antarctic Ocean was stopped by the German government under pressure from environmentalists. A United Nations treaty--the London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution--was changed to forbid "any activity undertaken by humans with the principal intention of stimulating primary productivity in the oceans." This seems a strangely defeatist prohibition, given that a more productive ocean would not only feed more people (and whales) but also sequester more carbon dioxide from the air, through photosynthesis by plankton, potentially providing a self-financing way to prevent possible future climate change.

. . .

. . . Mr. Biello is a writer from Scientific American and is impeccably sympathetic to the environmental movement. The result is a book that explores an intriguing topic but lacks a hard edge or even a clear message.

. . .

Just in the choice of stories to tell, though, the book leans toward the notion that the solution to our environmental challenges will come from technology, and in that sense it is most welcome. Technical fixes are anathema to many environmentalists, but it has been obvious for some time now that innovation and adaptation are the way we will reverse or cope with pollution, habitat loss and climate change. By contrast, a retreat to some golden age of simpler lives more dependent on organic and natural resources is neither possible nor likely to be good for nature: Seven billion people going back to nature would leave nature in a parlous state. The way we will save the planet is by high-tech invention and prosperity, not low-tech simplification and asceticism.

For the full review, see:

Matt Ridley. "BOOKSHELF; Ruling Over Our Dominion; We are living in the Anthropocene: an era when human beings have changed the planet in ways that will be obvious in the geological record." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Nov. 17, 2016): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 16, 2016.)

The book under review, is:

Biello, David. The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth's Newest Age. New York: Scribner, 2016.

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