"Simple, Neat, and Wrong"

On the way home today, NPR featured a story about two companies who believe that spraying iron-laden seawater into the ocean would "fertilize" the growth of plankton, which would absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere helping to slow global warming. If it works, it would provide a low-cost way for people and organizations to offset the greenhouse gases they produce by funding such iron-spraying, plankton-growing enterprises. The companies say it's a win-win (naturally) – they're helping the planet and making a little money, too! Some scientists are a bit more skeptical.

Here's what we appear to know for sure: plankton absorb carbon dioxide. Here's what we know in theory: spraying iron in the ocean may encourage plankton to grow.

Here's a little bit of what we don't know:

1. Will spraying iron in the ocean negatively impact other ocean species?

2. Will a surge in plankton negatively impact other ocean species?

3. Will spraying iron in the ocean change the nature of the plankton we're attempting to grow?

4. When plankton dies, what happens to the carbon? Where does it go, and for how long?

5. Will the gases produced by a lot of new plankton be detrimental to the planet?

H. L. Mencken once said, “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.” It amazes me that, in the face of a puzzle as massive and complex as global climate change, any scientist would advocate the rash implementation of anything billed as a quick fix.

Advocates of the idea say we need to "do something now!" Doing stuff is what got us here. We need to stop doing stuff ...