An investigation by The Guardian has revealed that an American businessman has dumped 100 tonnes of iron sulphate off the west coast of British Columbia as part of a geoengineering scheme. Satellite images obtained by The Guardian confirm a large plankton bloom, covering 10 000 square kilometers. The man responsible for this geoengineering project is Russ George, a Californian businessman and former chief executive of Planktos Inc. The now defunct company (read the excellent take down of the company and its chief executive Mr. George, by Popular Science), released Mr. George and decided to,
Abandon any future ocean fertilization efforts that were once intended to restore marine plant life and generate ecological offsets for the global carbon credit market. Due to widespread opposition to plankton restoration in the environmental world, the Company has encountered serious difficulty in raising the capital needed to fund a series of ocean research trials. –Source
As part of his resignation package, Mr. George (whose previous business/science ventures have included cold fusion) obtained/regained the proprietary know-how associated with ocean fertilization concept, and started Planktos Science, no doubt choosing to add the word ‘Science’ to alleviate future investors fears. Below is a short video describing the process of ocean fertilization, and follow this link for Planktos’ description of the process.
Mr. George took that know-how with him and approached the local council of the Haida First Nation, and convinced them that his project would benefit the ocean and sold it as a ‘salmon enhancement project’. The CBC reports that the $2-million project was initiated by the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC) which in their Project Description used to secure funding, they described the project as such,
The Old Massett Village Council wishes to use HPP [Haida Parity Program] funding to secure a loan at the Northern Savings Credit Union in order to launch their Haida Salmon Restoration project. The Project involves offshore marine science research to improve ocean conditions for the benefit of salmon and other life. We intend to do this also to create community wealth to improve the standard of living for all Old Massett community members.
While the intentions are noble, there is no description of the actual project, which involved dumping 100 tonnes of iron sulfate into the Pacific Ocean. The only mention of ocean fertilization comes from a Northern Savings Credit Union Commercial Account Manager, who upon approving the loan application, advises Chief Councillor John T. Jones to give serious consideration to the risks of the project, having found several issues after a by no means exhaustive research into the topic-including finding “no reference to proprietary technology or recognition of Planktos Science as a “world leader” in this area” (page 12). The loan approval concludes with the advice that more due diligence should be required with respect to those listed risks.
In addition to the concerns of the lending company, many in the scientific community have serious concerns about large-scale environmental manipulations specifically iron fertilization. While some studies have shown that dumping iron at sea can sink carbon, it is not enough to soothe concerns over potentially harmful side effects on ocean chemistry and marine ecosystems. These concerns include information, or lack thereof, regarding;
- The estimated amount and potential impacts of iron that is not taken up by phytoplankton
- The amounts and potential impacts of other materials that may be released with the iron
- The estimated amounts and potential impacts of other gases that may be produced by the expected phytoplankton blooms or by bacteria decomposing the dead phytoplankton
- The estimated extent and potential impacts of deep ocean hypoxia (low oxygen) or anoxia (no oxygen) caused by the bacterial decay of the expected phytoplankton blooms
- The types of phytoplankton that are expected to bloom and the potential impacts of any harmful algal blooms that may develop
In response to these concerns an Ethics Code for Ocean Carbon Experiments was developed by Climos, another geoengineering company. The document calls on anyone doing these large scale experiments to protect the marine environment by obtaining permits from relevant authorities, do full environmental assessments, and avoid sensitive ecosystems, and calls for openness through release of data, third party verification of carbon uptake, and collaboration with the broader scientific community. While still at Planktos Inc. Mr. George called the guidelines “a great thing” and said his firm would follow them, it seems very unlikely that Planktos Science chose to follow those same guidelines.
In addition to the code of conduct for business practice, a more formal declaration about ocean fertilization projects was made at a 2008 meeting of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. Scientists and policy makers called for a ban on major ocean fertilization projects until they could better understand the potential risks and benefits of manipulating the oceanic food chain, 191 nations agreed to a moratorium. This massive geoengineering project off the pristine Haida Gwaii islands was blatantly illegal, breaking international law. According to the Ottawa Citizen, Mark Johnson, media relations officer at Environment Canada, said the department is aware of the ‘incident’ and the matter is under investigation by Environment Canada’s Enforcement Branch, so it would be inappropriate to comment further.
In the mean time, the president of the HSRC, Mr. John Disney, is very pleased with the results of the project, noting “the results were just spectacular, like we created life where there wasn’t life.” Guujaaw, president of the Haida Nation, said of the results and of Mr. George, “he promised a plankton bloom and he got it.” Guujaaw also notes in that interview that the Haida were unaware of the actual fertilization experiment until after the iron was dumped this past July. Now that the details of the project have been revealed, many are concerned about the long term, negative environmental impacts, and wonder whether they will be able to recoup the community’s investment.
Mr. George convinced locals to invest in the project with the promise of carbon credits, he has been pushing various carbon credit schemes in Haida Gwaii for years. He claimed that the plankton will absorb carbon dioxide, opening the door to selling carbon credits. Mr. Disney, and the rest of the Old Massett village council are banking on selling those carbon credits to repay the $2 million borrowed for the project from village reserve funds.The problem, as University of Victoria Nobel prize sharing climate scientist Andrew Weaver points out, is that it is not clear from this project if the carbon will be sequestered, and that it is very unlikely that they will be able to sell any carbon credits.
I think it is pretty clear that Mr. George manipulated the Haida Nation with half truths and promises that couldn’t be kept. He used their good intentions, respect for the environment, and the cultural and economic importance of salmon, to push his personal agenda with complete disregard for environmental and economical consequences. His actions are rooted in business and profit, and any semblance of science or genuine care for the environment are glaringly absent. Hopefully there will be a silver lining to this project, maybe it will work, but by acting in such a manner, Mr. George has not only limited the possible scientific lessons that could be learned, he may have also irreparably damaged the Haida Nation and their environment. Here is hoping that there is a silver lining to this iron sulfate induced bloom.
- Geoengineering experiment off B.C. coast called ‘blatant violation’ of UN rules (vancouversun.com)
- World’s Biggest Geoengineering Test ‘Violates’ UN Rules (climatecentral.org)
- Climate Craziness of the Week – Environmentalist ignores international moratoriums, dumps in the ocean (wattsupwiththat.com)
- When geoengineering goes rogue (washingtonpost.com)
- Illegal Scheme Exemplifies Threat of Geoengineering (commondreams.org)