I had a dream… about plankton, and the dangers of growing it.

So I had a dream the other day. I always have very narrative dreams, and they always make sense, if you like to find sense in alien vikings visiting earth by landing on a transmission tower or Donald Duck and Goofy fighting for freedom to resist another alien invasion. Well at least, the vikings weren’t that aggressive. And they were cute. Anyway, it all made sense, in a dream context.

What’s better is when I dream a story that actually makes sense in real life. It’s like my brain is trying to tell me: “look, this is real, or could be real. Do something about it.” The problem is that when it comes to saving the world, there isn’t much I can do.

This is what happened the other night.

It was set in the near future, maybe 20 or 30 years from now. There are less human beings and the lifestyle has changed. Most people live in the coutryside and farm the land. People are happy in this world, they live close to nature, there is no pollution, there is plenty of food, there is no violence except in the cities, where not many people live. But this is about to change.

A girl starts traveling through the countryside. She wants to go to one of the cities where her fiancé disappeared several weeks before. On her way, she meets a man who is also traveling and who offers to take her to the city. But the episode in the city is short enough. Everything is changing. Engineers have built a train that works on oil produced by plankton. In the end, she understands that the man wants to destroy the plant where this oil is produced, and that he is right to do so.

So they go to antartica, where the plant is, and after some dreamy underwater, under-ice parts, the factory explodes (and the man with it).

The dream in itself is no genius. What’s genius about it is that before having it , I had no conscious idea that you could produce energy from plankton. When I woke up, I wondered if that was possible, so I did some research.

And it is! And it’s happening now! It’s a technology that was invented some years ago. Some laboratory plants have been built in the south of Spain, one is being built near Venice. There is a plant near Stockholm, but that was never meant to produce oil. It’s only to absorb carbone dioxide and purify the air.

Yes, because one great thing about phytoplankton (not zooplankton like in my dream), is that it needs A LOT of carbon dioxide to grow. And it grows fast. And it produces more oil than any other green energy, like colza or sunflowers. Of course, the oil, once used, produces carbon dioxide too, but the carbon dioxide that the plankton absorbs to live and grow is much more than the one produced by the exhaust.

The culture of it shouldn’t harm too many ecosystems because even if a lot of land is needed for a plant, you can put it in a desert as there is no need for fertile soil. According to the articles, you also only need a restricted amount of water as it keeps being recycled.

This is what it is supposed to look like:

Image

And you can check this article which depicts all the good stuff about it: http://wordsinmocean.com/2012/03/06/phytoplankton-to-the-rescue-the-promise-offered-by-algal-biofuels/

So. What’s wrong with me? Why, in my dream, did I want to destroy it? I kept searching. Again and again. For hours. And thinking too. I could only see advantages to it, but my dream told me it was bad. And I always believe my dreams (yes, the world will be saved by donald duck).

First, something was bothering me. It grows fast. In other words, if not controlled, it can very quickly become an invasive species.

Then, I read some comments left on articles by some people in Africa and the Canary Islands if I remember well. They were offering to sell the phytoplankton that grows there to the european industry. This annoyed me a little. No. A lot.

And finally, I found one article that talked about the measures to take in the USA as far as energies are concerned. It talked about phytoplankton, that some plants are being built and that genetical modifications are being considered in order for the plankton to grow faster and to be more productive.

That seriously bugged me as I was putting the pieces together. First, one type of phytoplankton will be selected. It will then be genetically modified for it to grow faster and probably be more resistant to temperature changes, etc. Making it a highly invasive species.

As long as it stays in tubes in the middle of the desert, it’s fine. But the problem is that when human beings see a way to make profit, they don’t think about the consequences. And that’s where I relate it to the comments of all those people willing to sell their phytoplankton. What will stop countries with far less regulations than western countries presumably have, from buying the genetically modified source, and growing it in an open space, which is much much much much cheaper than building a whole plant? Call me a pessimistic, but we are humans, and we’ve done worse for money.

The coast would be invaded, the fish that once lived there will only have one type of food, genetically modified phytoplankton. And who knows, maybe they’re brighter than us, and they’d rather starve to death than eat that shit. And that’s how you kill an ocean. Or two.

Then again, it may all go well. Or who knows, maybe the fish will love this plankton and it will bring our oceans and planet back to life.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions but mine is: let’s not play with new technologies without thinking about ALL the possible consequences. We are like babies playing with a rifle. Donald Duck will not always be there.

200px-Donald_Duck_-_The_Spirit_of_'43_(cropped_version)

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