Geoengineering is no place for corporate profit making

There is no shortage of ideas from business to save the environment – the problem is when they want to make a fast buck

by Clive Hamilton (Guardian)

If you want to make money out of global warming invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy companies, says Clive Hamilton Photograph: Jochen Tack /Alamy“Save the world and make a little cash on the side.” That’s the motto of Russ George, the colourful entrepreneur behind Planktos Science who wants to put geoengineering into practice now. George is convinced that by adding iron sulphate to the oceans, he can stimulate plankton blooms and so suck enough carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to offset human emissions from burning coal and oil.

In 2007, backed by a Canadian real estate developer, the Planktos ship set sail from San Francisco bound for the Galapagos Islands and loaded up with iron sulphate. George was going to make a killing by selling carbon offsets to whoever wanted them.

George believed, and told whoever asked, that ocean fertilization could become a $100bn business and hinted to journalist Jeff Goodell that America’s biggest coal-burning utility was interested in buying his carbon credits.

The venture soon collapsed, leaving a cloud of mistrust hanging over all research into iron fertilisation. Not long after Russ George set the regulatory alarm bells ringing, the London Convention, which regulates ocean dumping, and the Convention on Biological Diversity both passed resolutions banning iron fertilisation experiments except under restrictive conditions.

Rogue geoengineers like Russ George drive respectable researchers crazy, not to mention those business people who think there really are profits to be had from a plan B. On this question, last week’s report by the US National Research Council (NRC) stresses that carbon dioxide removal is expensive and limited by “technical immaturity”.

A range of companies have identified business opportunities in technologies designed to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it somewhere more or less permanently. Those who believe they can profit from carbon credits because polluters with emission caps will pay for them point to the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism, which allows parties to meet their emission reduction obligations by paying developing countries to grow forests onto land cleared long ago.

More trees means more carbon dioxide soaked up in vegetation rather than in the air, at least for a time. However, worried about the verifiability and permanency of carbon dioxide stored in trees, the European Union does not allow credits generated that way to be traded in its emissions trading scheme.

And the commercial promise of other methods of carbon dioxide removal is likely to be very limited. Credits for using giant machines to remove the gas are not likely to be accepted internationally for a long time, if at all, not least because the industrial infrastructure needed for extraction would need to be about as big as the infrastructure that puts it there – oil wells, coal mines, railways, pipelines, power plants, refineries and so on.

Neverthless “air capture” technologies are being developed by firms like Carbon Engineering, a Canadian company founded by Harvard physicist and geoengineering enthusiast David Keith. They are ventures looking for a rationale, but that has not stopped Alberta oil sands billionaire N Murray Edwards and Bill Gates from investing in the company.

Ethical dilemmas

The prospects are awful when fossil fuel companies play both sides of the fence – oil companies such as Shell and ConocoPhillips have also put money into geoengineering. Is it ethical for the polluters to promote technologies that may allow them to continue to pollute?

If the promises made by geoengineering erode the political incentives requiring polluters to cut their emissions, will we see fossil fuel corporations begin lobbying to get political endorsement for climate modification?

The ethical and political difficulties deepen when we get to the other kind of geoengineering scheme reviewed in the NRC report, “albedo modification” – formerly known as solar radiation management – schemes to reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface.

No one will ever make money out of trading emission reduction credits in global dimming. But some commercial outfits can envisage a desperate world paying them princely sums for access to the technology for doing it.

There have been a flurry of patents being issued, 28 at the last count, including one for a hose suspended by blimps in the sky that would spray sulphate aerosols. Branded the StratoShield it’s owned by a firm named Intellectual Ventures, which markets the device as “a practical, low-cost way to reverse catastrophic warming of the Arctic – or the entire planet.”

Among the investors in Intellectual Ventures who perhaps see themselves making a motza from planetary catastrophe are Nathan Myhrvold, formerly chief technology officer at Microsoft, and Bill Gates himself. If the future of the world comes to depend on the Stratoshield, will they play hardball?

So here’s the bottom line: if you want to make money out of global warming invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy companies. They are guaranteed winners and your children will not hate you for it.

 

Intergovernmental Climate Report Leaves Hopes Hanging on Fantasy Technology

by Rachel Smolker

Wellheads that check the temperature and pressure of the sequestered carbon dioxide gas at American Electric PowerÕs Mountaineer plant.This year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has confirmed for us, once again, that the planet is warming, even more and even faster than panel members thought. In fact, it is getting even warmer even faster than they thought the last time they admitted to having underestimated the problem. We humans are in deep trouble, and finding a way out of this mess – one that will ensure a decent future for us – is becoming increasingly difficult, if not nearly impossible.

That difficult task is what the latest installment from IPCC, the Working Group 3 report on mitigation is intended to address. This past weekend, the “summary for policymakers” was released after the mad rush of government negotiations over the scientists’ text took place in Berlin last week.

This is the fifth assessment report, and differed from the previous reports by also including some (contentious) discussion of ethical considerations. Notably, this report acknowledges that economic growth is the fundamental driver of emissions. It also offers economic analysis showing that taking necessary steps to protect the climate would require an annual economic growth opportunity loss of a mere 0.06%. As Joe Romm noted: “that’s “relative to annualized consumption growth in the baseline that is between 1.6 percent and 3 percent per year.” So we’re talking annual growth of, say 2.24 percent rather than 2.30 percent to save billions and billions of people from needless suffering for decades if not centuries.”

That’s great, but the big question is: What investments are recommended, and would they actually work? What became clear from leaked earlier drafts was a troubling prominence of false solutions and unicorns included among the strategies for mitigation.

The report considered 900 stabilization scenarios, aiming to achieve anywhere from 430-720 ppm (parts per million of CO2) by 2100. What they concluded is that to achieve (maybe) even the alarmingly high 450-550 ppm – the level thought to hold some chance for limiting warming to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels – would at this point require not only reducing emissions, but also using some technology to actually remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

It seems that IPCC is at a loss to provide realistic pathways even to achieving 450 or 550 ppm, which is pretty alarming in itself, but also, it seems unrealistic to assume in any case that we are in control of earth systems such that we can pick a ppm target and just go there. We are already experiencing unanticipated, underestimated and uncontrollable feedbacks that make the discussions of targets and ppm modeling seem a bit obsolete. Nonetheless, this is the framework for the report.

IPCC is telling us that we will need not only to reduce the ongoing flow of emissions, but also to find a way to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere. The working group cochair Ottmar Edenhofer, a German economist, stated at the press briefing that many scenarios “strongly depend on the ability to remove large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

How are we to supposedly remove CO2 from the atmosphere? The only techniques on offer are bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration, also called BECCS, and afforestation.

The problem with this conclusion, and the reason the media picked up on it even prior to the final report release is that BECCS is almost entirely unproven; we already have a strong basis for assuming it will not actually work to remove CO2, and it is extremely risky and costly. IPCC acknowledges this, even as they deem it essential.

The media, starting with The Guardian, picked up on this even in advance of the final negotiations, referring to BECCS as “the dangerous spawn of two bad ideas,” and in another article referring to it as the “plan to worsen global warming.”

The BBC headlined “UN dilemma over ‘Cinderella’ Technology.” And the UK Daily Mail asked: “Could we SUCK UP climate change? Referring to the great potential for carbon storage in Britain due to many abandoned coal mines and gas wells.

Here is what the final summary report actually states: “Mitigation scenarios reaching about 450 ppm CO2eq (carbon dioxide equivalent) in 2100 typically involve temporary overshoot of atmospheric concentrations as do many scenarios reaching about 500-550 ppm CO2eq   in 2100. Depending on the level of the overshoot, overshoot scenarios typically rely on the availability and widespread deployment of BECCS and afforestation in the second half of the century. The availability and scale of these and other Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) technologies and methods are uncertain, and CDR technologies and methods are, to varying degrees associated with challenges and risks (see Section SPM 4.2, high confidence). CDR is also prevalent in many scenarios without overshoot to compensate for residual emissions from sectors where mitigation is more expensive. There is only limited evidence on the potential for large-scale deployment of BECCS, large-scale afforestation and other CDR technologies and methods.”

Biofuelwatch (the organization for which I serve as codirector) authored a report on BECCS in 2012, and so we have some familiarity with the nature of the “uncertainties” and the degree to which evidence on the potential is “limited.”

There is near-zero real-world experience with BECCS beyond a handful of attempts and a surprising number of canceled projects.

BECCS is not only “risky,” but already we have very good reasons to assume it will fail. For one thing, the entire logic behind BECCS rests on false assumptions. One false assumption is that bioenergy (and so far that appears to include all manner of processes, from corn ethanol refineries to coal plants retrofitted to burn trees in place of coal for electricity) is “carbon neutral.” The idea is that adding CCS to a carbon neutral process, will render it “carbon negative.” That simplistic thinking assumes that carbon absorbed out of the atmosphere by plants as they grow will be captured and buried, and then when more plants grow, they will absorb yet more carbon, a net “removal.” But, much is left out of that story.

Virtually nobody still contends that corn ethanol is “carbon neutral.” Yet the premier BECCS project that is often referred to is an ADM corn ethanol refinery in Decatur Illinois. In fact, when emissions from indirect impacts are included in analyses, along with a complete assessment of the impacts from growing, harvesting, fertilizer and chemical use etc., most bioenergy processes actually cause more emissions even than the fossil fuels they are meant to replace. As for burning biomass (mostly wood) for electricity, there is a substantial literature – including peer-reviewed science, challenging the “carbon neutral” claim. It is well-established that counting just the emissions from smokestacks, burning wood releases around 50 percent more CO2 per unit of energy generation even than coal, along with many other pollutants. And it is simply incorrect to assume that this CO2 (as well as even further emissions resulting from harvest, transport and many indirect impacts) will be resequestered in new tree growth. If new trees do in fact grow, it may take decades. Further, we know already from the current scale of biofuel and biomass demand – just look at the current corn ethanol debacle – that it is driving loss of biodiversity, higher food prices, land grabs and other damages. Scaling up bioenergy to the extent that would be required to supposedly reduce global CO2 levels would be a disastrous backfire.

IPCC might have noted that the US EPA officials, charged with regulating CO2 emissions, found itself stymied with regard to how to account for emissions from bioenergy. Under pressure from industry, they decided to exempt biomass burning facilities from regulation for three years while they studied the problem. But that exemption was challenged in court, and the judge ruled there was no basis for it. In other words, CO2 from bioenergy should not be assumed “neutral” and therefore should not be exempted from regulation.

Most BECCS projects so far involve capturing CO2 streams from ethanol fermentation processes (because that is a relatively pure stream of CO2 that is cheaper and easier to capture). But then, the CO2 is not stored safely away, rather it is pumped into depleted oil wells to raise the pressure enough to force remaining oil out, a process called “enhanced oil recovery.” Oil industry analysts in fact estimate there is huge potential for accessing oil in this manner, and because it is profitable, it offsets some of the very substantial costs associated with CCS. This is hardly “carbon dioxide removal”! Furthermore, it is laying the groundwork in experience for using CCS applied to fossil fuels – i.e. so called “clean coal.” Capturing CO2 from coal plants remains more expensive and difficult due to the mix of gases, but the coal industry is hopeful that technology development will occur with BECCS.

The largely prohibitive costs have to do with the fact that capturing, compressing, transporting and storing CO2 all requires infrastructure and energy. It is assumed that adding CCS results in a “parasitic” energy load in the range of at least 30 percent of the facility capacity. In other words, 30 percent more biomass would be needed simply to power the CCS process itself.

Pumping and storing CO2 – from bio or fossil fuels – underground is downright foolhardy. We know full well that the earth’s crust is not static! There is the potential that CO2 deposits could increase seismicity (earthquakes). A catastrophic sudden release would be very dangerous given that CO2 is lethal at high concentrations. There is also much concern that the vast infrastructure of pipelines and trucking etc. that would be entailed in large scale deployment of CCS (with fossil or bio energy), would result in myriad small scale leaks. Valclav Smil calculated that to sequester just a fifth of current carbon dioxide emissions “. . . we would have to create an entirely new worldwide absorption-gathering-compression-transportation-storage industry, whose annual throughput would have to be about 70 percent larger than the annual volume now handled by the global crude oil industry, whose immense infrastructure of wells, pipelines, compressor stations and storages took generations to build.”

IPCC recognizes how risky and uncertain BECCS is, and yet they still deem it essential? We might have hoped they would offer a pathway with more likelihood of success, given all that is at stake.

IPCC also include natural gas, nuclear and large-scale bioenergy all as “low-carbon or zero-carbon” options. And, as with BECCS, they provide lip service to the risks and concerns around these, but they seem to minimize these very real risks when the scenarios they rely on incorporate those same mitigation strategies (to differing degrees) as though they were viable.

To their credit, IPCC has recognized that geoengineering is not an option and should not be considered “mitigation.” While there was pressure, especially from Russia, to include geoengineering, including solar radiation management (SRM) into the mix, this was met with welcome resistance. Carbon Dioxide Removal techniques, including BECCS, also are considered in the context of geoengineering debates. But they are tightly linked to practices in place already, so it is more difficult to place them squarely in the geoengineering camp, where they would be subjected to the Convention on Biological Diversity defacto moratorium. We already know the impacts of large-scale bioenergy, and they are not at all clean, green, sustainable, low-carbon or carbon negative. They make matters worse, not better. Under the influence of desperation, we risk making lethal blunders.

While IPCC painted a remarkably palatable economic analysis of the costs of mitigation, they fall pretty flat in providing realistic means for using that finance to successful ends. Perhaps the problem boils down to this: IPCC knows economic growth is the driver, but instead of suggesting that we dramatically ramp it down within a justice-based framework, they instead seek a means to keep the engines of growth revving, but using “alternative,” and so-called “zero- and low-carbon” sources of energy and materials. In so doing, they sidestep reality.

This article originally appeared in Truthout.

Don’t Dump Iron — Dump Rogue Climate Schemes

George-Russ-Dumping-from-Ocean-Pearl-2012-Photo-HSRCOriginally posted to Huffington Post

by L. Jim Thomas

The press release had a pretty stark headline: “Haida Announce Termination of Russ George.” If the name sounds familiar its because he is the Californian businessman who last year led the world’s largest, and unapproved, geoengineering (climate manipulation) scheme to dump over 100 tonnes of iron into the Pacific ocean west of Haida Gwaii in British Columbia. Dubbed a “geo-vigilante” by The New Yorker and a “rogue” geoengineer by almost everyone else (including the World Economic Forum and Canada’s environment minister Peter Kent), George was the guy who persuaded the small impoverished indigenous community of Old Massett on Haida Gwaii to part with over $2.5-million. He did so under the pretense that dumping iron in the ocean to stimulate a plankton bloom would net lucrative profits in the carbon credit market and maybe even bring back salmon stocks. Continue reading “Don’t Dump Iron — Dump Rogue Climate Schemes”

B.C. village’s ocean fertilization experiment probed

Environment Canada investigating after iron-rich dust dumped off coast

Fifth Estate (CBC)

U.S. businessman Russ George, chief scientist and CEO for the HSRC, has been a proponent of the controversial idea of iron fertilization for years. (CBC/HSRC)

Environment Canada’s enforcement branch has executed search warrants in British Columbia as part of an investigation into a controversial iron-fertilization experiment that took place off the coast of Haida Gwaii, B.C., last summer, CBC’s the fifth estate has learned.

In July 2012, the Haida village of Old Massett and an American businessman dumped 100 tonnes of iron-rich dust into the ocean off Haida Gwaii, sparking international controversy.

In an exclusive interview, Ken Rea, chief councillor of the village, told the fifth estate’s Gillian Findlay that despite two UN resolutions banning iron fertilization and anti-dumping legislation in Canada he would like to do it again and make it sustainable

Ken Rea, chief councillor of the village of Old Massett in Haida Gwaii, says that he would like to bring iron fertilization back to Canada and make it sustainable, despite anti-dumping legislation. (CBC)

“After all the uproar, based on a whole bunch of inflammatory mischaracterized words, after calling it illegal, calling it dumping, calling it rogue and not having any of the evidence to back up their statements, none of it, they had no evidence to back all these statements up, we have it,” Rea says in an interview that airs on the fifth estate Friday at 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. in N.L.

Old Massett residents invested $2.5 million to start the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC) and initiate the iron-fertilization project in hopes that it would boost the salmon population.

U.S. businessman Russ George, the chief scientist and CEO for the HSRC, has been a proponent of the controversial idea of iron fertilization for years.

Scientists say iron promotes the growth of plankton, microscopic organisms that provide a food source for salmon and other sea life. George based the experiment on the theory that growing artificial plankton blooms can remove carbon from the atmosphere and help reduce global warming.

Plankton absorb carbon dioxide from the sea and the air; the theory is that when plankton die they take carbon to the bottom of the ocean. Countries or companies that produce a lot of carbon could then buy carbon credits from the company that created the artificial plankton bloom.

There have been more than a dozen studies on iron fertilization in oceans with varying results, but there is no conclusive evidence plankton can remove substantial amounts of carbon from the environment in the long-term.

Some scientists say putting iron in the ocean is dangerous, because it could create “dead zones” where nothing can live. John Cullen, a professor of oceanography at Dalhousie University in Halifax, says unregulated experiments, such as the one off the coast of Haida Gwaii, should not be allowed.

“If those consequences cannot be predicted with confidence and verified with measurements then the activity should not be permitted,” he said.

George first gained media attention when he tried to do an iron-fertilization project off the Galapagos Islands in 2007. His company, Planktos Inc., attempted to dump 100 tonnes of iron-rich dirt near the World Heritage site before he was stopped by governments and environmentalists.

Jim Thomas, of the environmental action organization the ETC Group, says a UN moratorium on iron fertilization was passed with George in mind.

“It was prompted by what Russ George was planning to do, so we then had two international moratoria in place. And since then there has actually been even further agreements through other bodies,” Thomas told the fifth estate.

Old Massett residents said three meetings were held in 2011 before the community voted to approve the project. April White, a local artist and geologist, told the fifth estate the project was pitched by the village’s economic development officer, John Disney.

Iron fertilization involves dumping iron-rich soil into the ocean. Scientists say iron-rich dirt promotes the growth of plankton, microscopic organisms that provide a food source for salmon and other sealife. (CBC/HSRC)

“He said this project would bring in so much money. Everybody would have jobs because he had customers already lined up to buy the carbon credits from rich industries in Europe,” White said.

There is currently no regulated market for carbon credits based on fertilizing the ocean. Since there is no proof that plankton actually removes carbon in any significant way, there is no market.

White says Old Massett residents were also told the project would bring back salmon. That convinced them to vote in favour of the project, she said.

“Salmon is very much a part of the culture — I like to say we’re salmon people. It’s what connects us to nature. For the salmon not to come back in the same numbers is a real trauma. It really is a heartfelt thing.”

According to Rea, the salmon have all but disappeared and the loss has hit his fishing community hard. He said unemployment in Old Massett is about 70 per cent.

George declined to speak with the fifth estate. The HSRC website says that through this project the company is “working to learn how to replenish and restore the ocean plankton blooms, the ocean pastures, and salmon.”

The iron-fertilization experiment has split the Haida nation.

Residents of Skidegate First Nation, a Haida community 100 kilometres south of Old Massett, told the fifth estate they believe their reputation as stewards of the environment has been tarnished by what the village of Old Massett has done.

In an email to the fifth estate, Environment Canada said ocean fertilization is not allowed under Canadian law unless it qualifies as legitimate scientific research. Environment Canada says it did not receive an application from the village of Old Massett and is still investigating.

Greatest risk of ocean experiment is that it will spawn more

by Dene Moore (Postmedia News)

Handout satellite image provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA via Getty Images

VANCOUVER – A small British Columbia First Nation making waves around the world with a controversial experiment in the Pacific Ocean is on the front lines of climate change, even critics admit.

And as the fears of global warming grow, there is a risk that potentially dangerous geoengineering experiments like the ocean fertilization carried out off the islands of Haida Gwaii will be unleashed as a quick fix, warns Jim Thomas, spokesman for Montreal-based ETC Group, a geoengineering watchdog.

“In desperate times desperate people do sometimes rather stupid things,” said Thomas.

A spokesman for the Haida Salmon Restoration Corp., which arranged funding for and carried out the experiment, said the organization is no longer doing media interviews about the issue.

John Disney, head of the salmon restoration corporation and economic development officer for Old Massett, said the corporation’s intentions have been misinterpreted, and the experience has been very trying.

“You have to understand that caught up in some big international … whatever, this little Haida community has had their whole integrity and their character totally assassinated,” Disney said.

The Haida people have relied for centuries on the world around them for survival, in particular on the salmon. The fish play a central role in not only the Haida diet, but the culture of Haida Gwaii, an archipelago 80 km off the northwest coast of B.C., that is home to a UNESCO world heritage site.

Like fishermen throughout B.C., they watched salmon stocks decline for decades until a near collapse in 2009. That year, the largest run in the province — the Fraser River run — plummeted to 1.7 million fish. The federal government announced a public inquiry, but many felt it was too late to save the run.

Then the following year, returns defied all predictions. Rivers ran red with the backs of spawning salmon as the Fraser River run hit 34 million.

There is no shortage of scientific speculation that a 2008 volcanic eruption on the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, which spewed iron-laden ash over thousands of kilometres of the North Pacific, was the cause for the large return.

A 2010 study of the Mount Kasatoshi volcano by Institute of Ocean Sciences, within the federal Fisheries and Oceans Ministry, concluded that the ash was a contributing factor.

“…the volcanic emission of iron-rich dust in 2008 caused a massive late summer bloom of diatoms that enhanced the food chain for young sockeye salmon in the Gulf shortly after they migrated into the oceanic habitat,” it said, though the ash was not exclusively responsible.

And it was not the first time. In 1956, the study noted, a volcanic eruption in Kamchatka, Russia, was believed to cause a sockeye run 20 million-strong in 1958.

“This is about the fish,” Ken Rea, chief councillor for the village of Old Massett, said when news first broke of the experiment. “This is about providing sustainable opportunities for our future generations.”

Over several days in late July, from a leased fishing vessel called the Ocean Pearl, almost 200 metric tons of iron dust, iron sulfate fertilizer and iron oxide were dumped over an area of about one square kilometre 300 kilometres west of Haida Gwaii, just outside Canadian territorial waters.

Satellite images suggest the fertilization resulted in a 10,000-square kilometre plankton bloom. The Haida will have to wait two years to see if they achieved the desired effect on salmon returns.

But if the village of Old Massett entered into the experiment in an effort to restore salmon, critics aren’t saying the same of its partner in the project.

Russ George is listed as the CEO and chief scientist of Planktos Inc., a defunct company dedicated to “carbon remediation and creative eco-restoration.” George has made several attempts to sell carbon credits for ocean fertilization.

“This is a village project. They started it, they own it, they run it. It’s not the Russ George rogue geoengineering story,” George told Scientific American magazine this week.

“You’ve seen the vile and vehement twisting of this story. You can probably imagine how I feel. (It) was the faith and trust and hopes and dreams of a village whose environment is dying, whose culture is dying because the salmon are dying. And now the world is saying they were duped.”

George is pursuing the Holy Grail of environmental entrepreneurship: a profitable process to address the current global climate crisis.

A phytoplankton bloom does capture carbon, trapping it at the bottom of the ocean as the organisms that feed off the algae die and sink. Previous, smaller-scale tests show the effect was short-term.

“It’s not divided,” said Roberta Hamme, an oceanographer at the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of Victoria who studied the fallout from the 2008 volcanic eruption in Alaska.

“Almost every experiment has said that it’s not an efficient way. You can take up some carbon, but it’s not an efficient way to go about it and, if it were done on a large scale, would likely have significant impacts on the ecosystem.”

George’s critics suggest long-term carbon capture is environmental snake oil.

“Our concerns are nested in wider concerns about geoengineering … We are concerned about any move towards deploying or testing geoengineering schemes,” said Thomas, of ETC, which stands for Erosion, Technology and Concentration.

“We’re concerned about what this means in terms of moving toward more geoengineering tests.”

International negotiations have failed to address climate change, he said, and there are people who “are reaching for these quick fix, very risky approaches such as geoengineering.”

As far as salmon restoration, Thomas said stakeholders should wait for the report expected later this year from the public inquiry into the 2009 collapse.

“The particular hypothesis that they were trying to examine is interesting but it’s not an excuse to try a large-scale ocean fertilization.”

Iron Ocean Dump Greatest Risk Is Haida Salmon Boom: Critic

by Dene Moore (Canadian Press)

VANCOUVER – A small British Columbia First Nation making waves around the world with a controversial experiment in the Pacific Ocean is on the front lines of climate change, even critics admit.

And as the fears of global warming grow, there is a risk that potentially dangerous geoengineering experiments like the ocean fertilization carried out off the islands of Haida Gwaii will be unleashed as a quick fix, warns Jim Thomas, spokesman for Montreal-based ETC Group, a geoengineering watchdog.

“In desperate times desperate people do sometimes rather stupid things,” said Thomas.

A spokesman for the Haida Salmon Restoration Corp., which arranged funding for and carried out the experiment, said the organization is no longer doing media interviews about the issue.

John Disney, head of the salmon restoration corporation and economic development officer for Old Massett, said the corporation’s intentions have been misinterpreted, and the experience has been very trying.

“You have to understand that caught up in some big international … whatever, this little Haida community has had their whole integrity and their character totally assassinated,” Disney said.

The Haida people have relied for centuries on the world around them for survival, in particular on the salmon. The fish play a central role in not only the Haida diet, but the culture of Haida Gwaii, an archipelago 80 km off the northwest coast of B.C., that is home to a UNESCO world heritage site.

Like fishermen throughout B.C., they watched salmon stocks decline for decades until a near collapse in 2009. That year, the largest run in the province — the Fraser River run — plummeted to 1.7 million fish. The federal government announced a public inquiry, but many felt it was too late to save the run.

Then the following year, returns defied all predictions. Rivers ran red with the backs of spawning salmon as the Fraser River run hit 34 million.

There is no shortage of scientific speculation that a 2008 volcanic eruption on the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, which spewed iron-laden ash over thousands of kilometres of the North Pacific, was the cause for the large return.

A 2010 study of the Mount Kasatoshi volcano by Institute of Ocean Sciences, within the federal Fisheries and Oceans Ministry, concluded that the ash was a contributing factor.

“…the volcanic emission of iron-rich dust in 2008 caused a massive late summer bloom of diatoms that enhanced the food chain for young sockeye salmon in the Gulf shortly after they migrated into the oceanic habitat,” it said, though the ash was not exclusively responsible.

And it was not the first time. In 1956, the study noted, a volcanic eruption in Kamchatka, Russia, was believed to cause a sockeye run 20 million-strong in 1958.

“This is about the fish,” Ken Rea, chief councillor for the village of Old Massett, said when news first broke of the experiment. “This is about providing sustainable opportunities for our future generations.”

Over several days in late July, from a leased fishing vessel called the Ocean Pearl, almost 200 metric tons of iron dust, iron sulfate fertilizer and iron oxide were dumped over an area of about one square kilometre 300 kilometres west of Haida Gwaii, just outside Canadian territorial waters.

Satellite images suggest the fertilization resulted in a 10,000-square kilometre plankton bloom. The Haida will have to wait two years to see if they achieved the desired effect on salmon returns.

But if the village of Old Massett entered into the experiment in an effort to restore salmon, critics aren’t saying the same of its partner in the project.

Russ George is listed as the CEO and chief scientist of Planktos Inc., a defunct company dedicated to “carbon remediation and creative eco-restoration.” George has made several attempts to sell carbon credits for ocean fertilization.

“This is a village project. They started it, they own it, they run it. It’s not the Russ George rogue geoengineering story,” George told Scientific American magazine this week.

“You’ve seen the vile and vehement twisting of this story. You can probably imagine how I feel. (It) was the faith and trust and hopes and dreams of a village whose environment is dying, whose culture is dying because the salmon are dying. And now the world is saying they were duped.”

George is pursuing the Holy Grail of environmental entrepreneurship: a profitable process to address the current global climate crisis.

A phytoplankton bloom does capture carbon, trapping it at the bottom of the ocean as the organisms that feed off the algae die and sink. Previous, smaller-scale tests show the effect was short-term.

“It’s not divided,” said Roberta Hamme, an oceanographer at the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of Victoria who studied the fallout from the 2008 volcanic eruption in Alaska.

“Almost every experiment has said that it’s not an efficient way. You can take up some carbon, but it’s not an efficient way to go about it and, if it were done on a large scale, would likely have significant impacts on the ecosystem.”

George’s critics suggest long-term carbon capture is environmental snake oil.

“Our concerns are nested in wider concerns about geoengineering … We are concerned about any move towards deploying or testing geoengineering schemes,” said Thomas, of ETC, which stands for Erosion, Technology and Concentration.

“We’re concerned about what this means in terms of moving toward more geoengineering tests.”

International negotiations have failed to address climate change, he said, and there are people who “are reaching for these quick fix, very risky approaches such as geoengineering.”

As far as salmon restoration, Thomas said stakeholders should wait for the report expected later this year from the public inquiry into the 2009 collapse.

“The particular hypothesis that they were trying to examine is interesting but it’s not an excuse to try a large-scale ocean fertilization.”

Haida company facing controversy over Pacific Ocean iron dust dump says it’s “creating life”

Jorge Barrera (APTN National News)

SOCKEYEEXTINCTThe head of a Haida-owned company at the centre of an environmental controversy after its fishing boat dumped 100 tonnes of iron sulphite to seed the Pacific Ocean says the experiment is not a potential ecological disaster, but one that has “created life.”

The Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation launched the $2.5 million experiment to boost the level of available plankton for salmon and create a carbon sink to tap into the potentially lucrative carbon credit market. The experiment was carried out under the direction of Russ George, a maverick businessman who has been hounded by environmentalists for years.

The experiment, the largest geoengineering project in the world, was carried out in July more than 320 kilometres west of the Haida Gwaii islands off British Columbia’s coast. It has been roundly criticized by some environmental groups who say it violates at least two UN moratoria and that it plays a dangerous game trying to artificially alter ecosystems.

John Disney, head of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation and economic development officer for the Old Massett Village, said the experiment is simply recreating natural conditions to boost the survival rates for Pacific salmon which form one of the cornerstones of Haida diet and culture.

“We just created a big area of life where there wasn’t life,” said Disney. “It wasn’t done half-hazardly. It was done scientifically and we have many, many systems monitoring.”

Disney also dismissed charges the experiment violated UN resolutions on ocean dumping. He said “three sets of lawyers” have reviewed the project and found it didn’t go against any UN positions.

Disney has also met several times with Environment Canada officials who have known about the project for several months. Because the experiment took place in international waters, there is little Environment Canada can do about it.

“We have lawyers watching our back,” he said. “I kept (Environment Canada) in the loop on this.”

Environment Canada issued a statement stating that it was investigating the issue. The department, however, did not respond to questions about how long it knew about the experiment.

Disney also said the depiction of George, who is the “chief scientist” for the experiment, has been misleading.

“He is amazing at taking a scientific theory and applying to the bush or the ocean and adjusting it adapting it so it really works in the real world,” said Disney. “These (type of) guys are geniuses and they are frowned upon on the academic world.”

Described as a controversial businessman, George once ran a geoengineering company called Planktos Corp. which previously failed to execute similar projects in other parts of the world, including the Canary Islands.

In 2007, several environmental groups wrote the Securities Exchange Commission in the U.S. accusing George of issuing misleading statements to investors.

“Planktos proposes that its iron fertilization project will trigger oceanic phytoplankton blooms that will absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide through photosynthesis,” states the letter. “Prominent international scientific bodies with expertise in ocean dumping, ocean health and climate change…have questioned the scientific underpinnings of projects like Planktos’ and expressed grave concern.”

The letter was signed by Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, ETC Group and Fishwise, among others.

APTN National News could not reach George for comment. However, George defended himself against attacks from environmentalists in an Op-Ed piece published in the Ottawa Citizen in 2007.

“Perhaps it is a kind of fundamentalism that drives this, where all for-profit companies are intrinsically evil,” said George, whose company was based in California. “Perhaps they fear that if the patient, in this case Mother Earth, is somehow brought back from the edge of death, their raison d’etre will disappear.”

Disney said he has known George since 2003 and the two have worked on projects over the years, including a study on shaving down the time it takes to reforest logged-out old growth forests by 150 years. Disney said he’s upset with the portrayal of his community as being duped by George.

“Has he ever lied to us? Is he a ruthless American businessman? No he isn’t,” said Disney. “We wanted him for his marine science knowledge.”

Disney said the 750 residents of Old Massett Village were extensively consulted and they voted in March 2011 66 per cent in favour of allowing council to finance the $2.5 million project.

He hopes the project will eventually turn a profit on the carbon credit market because plankton consume carbon dioxide.

Disney said plankton levels have been dropping for years and it has had a severe impact on salmon population which depends on it as a main source of food. As a result, young salmon can’t bulk up quick enough in the ocean to avoid natural predators, he said.

Disney said the plankton have been starving to death as a result of dropping iron levels in the ocean triggered by climate change.

The experiment took pulverized dirt dug up from a high-iron zone in Alberta and dumped it into an eddy far off Haida Gwaii’s coasts.

The iron dust dump has created a 10,000 square kilometre plankton bloom that has been captured by satellite.

“We haven’t found one negative side affect,” said Disney. “I talked to every single scientist involved in this…and they said…it was 100 per cent positive.”

Using an array of high-tech equipment, Disney said the experiment is under constant monitoring.

Disney said he believes the surprise 2010 sockeye salmon run which saw 40 million of the fish return to the Fraser River was primarily caused by an increase of iron in the ocean caused by the eruption of a volcano in 2008 that spread ash over the North Pacific.

Environmental organizations, in particular Ottawa-headquartered ETC Group, have been critical of the experiment.

“We have been watching ocean fertilization and geoengineering for five or six years, there are clear environmental risks,” said Jim Thomas, a spokesperson for ETC. “Our concern is that it is a set of new techniques that will allow the pollution industry to sidestep their commitments to reduce carbon emissions.”

Thomas said the type of artificial ocean seeding can have unexpected consequences.

“Studies seem to show that when you have an artificial plankton bloom it’s a whole different story,” he said. “You get different species being favoured and it grows in a different way.”

Charles Miller, an oceanography professor at the University of Oregon, said he did not have enough facts to comment on the issue.

“We do not have all the facts in the public sphere where we can review them,” he said, in an email to APTN National News.

 

Canadian government ‘knew of plans to dump iron into the Pacific’

by Martin Lukacs (Guardian)

Aerial view of Haida Gwaii
An aerial of Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada. Photograph: Russ Heinl/Alamy

As controversy mounts over the Guardian’s revelations that an American businessman conducted a massive ocean fertilisation test, dumping around 100 tonnes of iron sulphate off Canada’s coast, it has emerged the Canadian government may have known about the geoengineering scheme and not stopped it.

The news combined, with Canadian obstructionism in negotiations over geoengineering at a United Nations biodiversity meeting in Hyderabad, India, has angered international civil society groups, who have announced they are singling out Canada for a recognition of shame at the summit – the Dodo award for actions that harm biodiversity.

They are criticising Canada for being one of “four horsemen of geoengineering”, joining Britain, Australia and New Zealand in opposing southern countries’ efforts to beef up the existing moratorium on technological fixes for global warming.

The chief executive of the company responsible for spawning the artificial 10,000 square kilometre plankton bloom in the Pacific Ocean has implicated several Canadian departments, but government officials are remaining silent about the nature of their involvement.

In an interview with Canadian radio, John Disney said: “I’ve been in touch with many departments within the federal ministry. All I’m saying is that everyone from the Canadian Revenue Agency down to the National Research Council and Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Environment Canada – these people, they’ve all known about this.”

The Guardian has seen government correspondence which indicates that Environment Canada officers met with Disney’s company in June and expressed their misgiving about any ocean fertilisation going forward, but appear to not have taken further action.

After the huge experiment happened in July, Canadian government officials were anxious to find out if the company’s boat flew under a Canadian flag and whether the iron was loaded in Canada.

A large number of Canadian personnel have been involved on the boat, the largest fishing vessel under Canadian registration in the province of British Columbia. Disney, who is also a non-native economic manager for the indigenous council in the Old Masset village in Haida Gwaii, told media that the iron was brought from Alberta.

Russ George, a colleague of Disney’s, told the Guardian: “Canadian government people have been helping us. We’ve had workshops run where we’ve been taught how to use satellites resources by the Canadian space agency. [The government] is trying to ‘cost-share’ with us on certain aspects of the project. And we are expecting lots more support as we go forward.”

Environment Canada officials refused to comment, saying “the matter is currently under investigation.”

“To clear these serious allegations of complicity the Canadian government needs to speak out and account for these events,” said Jim Thomas of the international technology watchdog ETC Group. “Officials need to condemn this dump as a breach of Canadian laws and take swift action against geoengineering: in Haida Gwaii that means initiating measures against Russ George and any Canadians involved, while in Hyderabad that means backing a global test ban.”

Sources indicate that the Council of the Haida Nations, the political body that speaks for all Haida people, is passing a resolution that any future decision on such projects will have to be ruled on by the entire nation, rather than by one village.

The Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation was established by Old Masset village after they borrowed $2.5m dollars from a Canadian credit union, which provided the loan despite flagging numerous concerns about George’s credibility and his plans to try to win carbon credits for the project.

University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver told media that there are “profound implications” to dumping iron, and no guarantee that the ocean can be used as a carbon sink.

“They are not going to get a penny in carbon credits, because there’s no evidence the carbon is going to stay where it is,” he said.

100 tonnes of iron sulphate dumped off Canada’s Pacific coast

(Torstar News Service)

A sample of iron sulfate is seen in this image.

The Pacific Ocean, just off Canada’s west coast, has a new suspect ingredient: 100 tonnes of iron sulphate.

An American entrepreneur with a controversial past in geoengineering dumped the iron dust into the Pacific near the Haida Gwaii islands in July after allegedly telling local villagers that the “experiment” was a salmon restoration project, according to ETC Group, an international environmental watchdog with offices in Canada.

Russ George, a U.S. businessman, “blatantly violated” two international moratoria when he dumped the iron dust, Jim Thomas of ETC told Torstar News Service on Monday — a UN convention and the London Convention on the disposal of wastes at sea.

Ocean iron fertilization — a highly controversial practice — means stimulating plankton blooms in open water, which then seize carbon from the atmosphere and, on sinking to the bottom of the ocean, store it away. Earlier experiments, about a dozen mostly done by universities, have shown mixed results.

George did not respond to requests for comment from Torstar News Service but told the Guardian the two moratoria are a “mythology” and do not apply to his project.

He called the experiment the “most substantial ocean restoration project in history,” and said it has collected a “greater density and depth of scientific data than ever before.”

George, the former chief executive of Planktos Inc., made headlines in 2007 after failed attempts to make similar dumps near the Galapagos and Canary Islands. His ship was barred from ports by the Spanish and Ecuadorean governments. Planktos abruptly closed down months later.

According to the president of the Haida nation, Guujaaw, a village on the islands was specifically told the dump would benefit the ocean.

“They agreed, believing fully that it was a positive project . . . for salmon enhancement,” Guujaaw told Torstar News Service.

He added they would have never agreed if they known it violated the international agreements.

“We live off marine environment,” said Guujaaw, who uses one name. “We would never do anything to wreck it.”

Thomas of ETC said George convinced the villagers to set up a company to channel more than $1 million of its own funds into the project. He promised it would help sell carbon credits and that would earn money for the community.

Satellite images obtained by the Guardian confirm George’s claim that the iron has spawned an artificial plankton bloom as large as 10,000 square kilometres.

What impact that kind of a dump will have on the ocean and marine life isn’t yet clear.

Ocean iron fertilization has been defined by the Royal Society, an international scientific agency, as having “high potential for unintended and undesirable ecological side effects,” and not proven effective.

Charles Miller, an oceanographer at Oregon State University, echoed that sentiment.

“There are lots of unanswered questions,” Miller told Torstar News Service. “How much did he dump? Who was monitoring it? What the long-term impact will be . . . is difficult to assess.”

Given George’s history, “it is unlikely he got anyone qualified to co-operate with him,” said Miller.

John Cullen, an oceanographer at Dalhousie University, told the Guardian that some possible effects, such as deep-water oxygen depletion and alteration of distant food webs, should rule out ocean manipulation.

“History is full of examples of ecological manipulations that backfired,” he said.

Environmental controversy erupts on Canada’s Pacific coast

Satellite images show a massive artificial plankton bloom off the Haida Gwaii islands after 100 tonnes of iron sulphate was dumped there.

by Raveena Aulakh (Toronto Star)

fowestcoastdump15.jpeg.size.xxlarge.letterboxThe Pacific Ocean, just off Canada’s west coast, has a new suspect ingredient: 100 tonnes of iron sulphate.

An American entrepreneur with a controversial past in geoengineering dumped the iron dust into the Pacific near the Haida Gwaii islands in July after allegedly telling local villagers that the “experiment” was a salmon restoration project, according to ETC Group, an international environmental watchdog with offices in Canada.

Russ George, a U.S. businessman, “blatantly violated” two international moratoria when he dumped the iron dust, Jim Thomas of ETC told the Star on Monday — a UN convention and the London Convention on the disposal of wastes at sea.

“There are very clear international agreements that there is (to be) no ocean fertilization,” he said. “Except if the permit (is) granted in very limited set of circumstances. It didn’t happen in this case.”

Ocean iron fertilization — a highly controversial practice — means stimulating plankton blooms in open water, which then seize carbon from the atmosphere and, on sinking to the bottom of the ocean, store it away. Earlier experiments, about a dozen mostly done by universities, have shown mixed results.

George did not respond to requests for comment from the Star but told the Guardian the two moratoria are a “mythology” and do not apply to his project.

He called the experiment the “most substantial ocean restoration project in history,” and said it has collected a “greater density and depth of scientific data than ever before.”

George, the former chief executive of Planktos Inc., made headlines in 2007 after failed attempts to make similar dumps near the Galapagos and Canary Islands. His ship was barred from ports by the Spanish and Ecuadorean governments. Planktos abruptly closed down months later.

According to the president of the Haida nation, Guujaaw, a village on the islands was specifically told the dump would benefit the ocean.

“They agreed, believing fully that it was a positive project . . . for salmon enhancement,” Guujaaw told the Star.

He added they would have never agreed if they known it violated the international agreements.

“We live off marine environment,” said Guujaaw, who uses one name. “We would never do anything to wreck it.”

Thomas of ETC said George convinced the villagers to set up a company to channel more than $1 million of its own funds into the project. He promised it would help sell carbon credits and that would earn money for the community.

Satellite images obtained by the Guardian confirm George’s claim that the iron has spawned an artificial plankton bloom as large as 10,000 square kilometres.

What impact that kind of a dump will have on the ocean and marine life isn’t yet clear.

Ocean iron fertilization has been defined by the Royal Society, an international scientific agency, as having “high potential for unintended and undesirable ecological side effects,” and not proven effective.

Charles Miller, an oceanographer at Oregon State University, echoed that sentiment.

“There are lots of unanswered questions,” Miller told the Star. “How much did he dump? Who was monitoring it? What the long-term impact will be . . . is difficult to assess.”

Given George’s history, “it is unlikely he got anyone qualified to co-operate with him,” said Miller.

John Cullen, an oceanographer at Dalhousie University, told the Guardian that some possible effects, such as deep-water oxygen depletion and alteration of distant food webs, should rule out ocean manipulation.

“History is full of examples of ecological manipulations that backfired,” he said.