The risky idea of dumping iron into the ocean to promote plankton growth has been around for a long time. The reasoning: more algae blooms, more CO2 absorbed. But many scientists think that by the time the algae dies, rots, and release methane and nitrous oxide, it will worsen the greenhouse effect. Even most supporters think it should be studied before being tried. The IPCC is expected to dismiss this particular idea as speculative and probably counterproductive.

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But Planktos corporation, backed by Silicon Salley, has decided to go full speed ahead experimenting with it — to hell with possible side effects. They are simply going to dump iron into a 10,000 square kilometer patch in the Galápagos — one of the most delicate and important ecosystems on the planet.

The hope is that they will be able to document long-term carbon sequestration and sell it at $5 a ton or more. (They are betting on the price of carbon rising.) If it fails, well, the money is risk capital, and the investors and executives won’t bear any of the costs for net emissions or damage to the ecosystems that helped shape Darwin’s thinking. No harm, no foul.

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I don’t think they have thought out whether this is aimed at the official Kyoto markets or the voluntary ones. I get the feeling that their business plan was designed by the underpants gnomes. But the sole incentive for it is the existence of carbon markets; without such markets, they might have devoted their capital to something less harmful, like selling cocaine.