Green tag support for ocean greening solution to global warming

The controversial concept of reducing global warming by boosting the growth of ocean plankton forests using iron as a fertiliser is the latest “green product” to be the focus of support under the EPA’s “Green tags” scheme for offsetting carbon dioxide production.

Unlike most of the other organisations in the scheme, which are developing renewable energy schemes from Green tag sales, the Planktos Foundation is going to offer a lower cost green equivalent of commodity futures. Instead of the more common US$20 price tag on green tags, the Foundation is offering US$4 green tag units representing one tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) to fund research into a concept which could offer future potential likely to increase the value of the green tag, making it a potential future investment which could be traded. Planktos is suggesting to US householders that they could offset their estimated average annual production of 15 tonnes of CO2 by purchasing US$60 worth of options.

Planktos wants to raise funds to conduct a five year research programme to investigate some of the issues raised by the so-called “Iron Hypothesis” that have attracted controversy. During this time, it estimates that the research will verify that up to five million tonnes of carbon equivalent will have been sequestered.

The concept is based on the suggestion, first raised by oceanographer John Martin, that an increase in the flow of iron-rich dust to the sea causes phytoplankton to grow. As a result, the increased photosynthesis removes CO2 from surface waters as the algae create biomass. This CO2 is replaced by carbon dioxide gas that flows into the sea from the atmosphere. An added attraction is the potential for boosting fish populations on the increased plankton life, and some US companies are already patenting particular iron mixtures to maximise the potential fish farming capabilities.

Critics are concerned that the interests of private industry have accelerated research into the theory according to business agendas, without a full understanding of the potential impact on the ecosystems. Sequestration, the main climate change solution offered by the concept, has also been criticised in principle for postponing the problem of emissions reductions.

The latest field trials were carried out in the Southern Ocean during the first three months of 2002, funded by the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Energy, and the US Coast Guard. The Planktos Foundation said this involved 76 scientists from 17 different institutions, and three monitoring vessels. Two iron enrichments were carried out to the north and south of the Antarctic Polar Front Zone.

This follows up a similar experiment on equatorial Pacific waters in 1995, and more recently in the Southern Ocean, with the primary aim of establishing whether iron fertilisation leads to enhanced carbon sequestration. Research will also look into the mechanisms involved in transporting the CO2 to the ocean depths as the plankton dies or decomposes, and whether the gas will just bubble back to the surface.

Bonneville Environmental Foundation’s (BEF) renewable energy products, which were one of the first Green tag agreements with the EPA, were granted Green-e Certification on May 6 by the Center for Resource Solutions (CRS). As part of the certification, BEF agrees to abide by the Green-e Code of Conduct, including submission of marketing materials to meet Green-e requirements on full disclosure of information. BEF will also participate in an annual review to verify that the quantity and type of renewable electricity purchased meets customer demand and marketing claims.

Foundation Vice President Rob Harmon, said, “From the beginning, BEF has worked to ensure customers buying Green tag products were getting what they paid for. Green-e certification is the environmental ‘Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval’. Its rigorous review process commands national respect.”

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