Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ocean Geoengineering: Serial Climate Hacking

Serial climate hacker Russ George (Planktos) leads indigenous villagers to dump iron into the sea - a secret geoengineering project off Canada's West Coast. Press conference statements by the Haida Old Massett Village Chief, interview with Living Oceans' Karen Wristen, Russ George clips from interview by Guardian's Martin Lukacs. Radio Ecoshock 121024 1 hour.

Here are the audio files for this week's program:

CD quality (56 MB)

Lo-Fi (faster download, lower quality, most popular, 14 MB)

AUDIO FROM THE PRESS CONFERENCE, Vancouver October 19th. Recorded by Alex Smith.

Old Massett Chief Ken Rea and Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation President John Disney (16 min)

CD quality or Lo-Fi

HSRC Attorney James L. Straight on the legality of the project (11 min)

CD quality or Lo-Fi

The raw audio of the question and answer period with reporters (28 min)

CD quality or Lo-Fi

There are also two transcripts from the press conference. One transcript is of the Chief Rea and John Disney statements. The second transcript is the Question and Answer period.


The world was stunned last week to find a small village of indigenous people had performed a massive experiment off the Pacific Coast of Canada. To no-one surprise, the so-called "rogue climate hacker" Russ George was a lead actor.

How did the salmon beliefs of the Haida combine with the long-time dream of the former CEO of Planktos Corp? Why would an economically challenged village of 700 people spend millions on a high-tech, high risk venture?

As nature shows signs of dying, we can expect more desperate acts.

This is Radio Ecoshock. I'm Alex Smith.

The Old Village of Massett is on the north end of the islands of Haida Gwaii, formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands. It's a hamlet where First Nations people have suffered 70% unemployment the past 15 years. The village on an inlet is partly sheltered from some the strongest storms in the world, washing the island rainforests much of the year.

The salmon runs of Haida Gwaii are much more than the main source of food. There are salmon ceremonies, rich salmon art, the whole culture is infused with this emblematic fish. But the salmon have almost stopped coming. That is why one Haida village was willing to risk millions of dollars on a scheme mainstream science had already abandoned, and formally condemned.

The Haida people were known as fierce warriors, making slaving missions down the Pacific coast in their great sea going canoes. They are are still proud and respected in British Columbia.

The villagers were dealing with one of the world's most persuasive men, a big dreamer certain he knows how to fix the planet, with limitless nuclear energy, with protected forests, or by conquering the oceans for humankind as new fields to be farmed.

Russ George

Russ George fought for years to mount an experiment dumping iron into the open ocean, to create a massive plankton bloom. He almost made it in 2007, with the Weatherbird II. His company, Planktos, came tumbling down amid over-blown claims that never materialized.

Two needs, two dreams met. The Haida villagers set to sea again, longing almost mystically to see the return of their salmon, by feeding tons of iron as a stimulant to plankton. Russ George was onboard the rented fishing boat "Ocean Pearl" promoted to the title of "Chief Scientist".

The evidence indicates Russ George is not a scientist at all, as most people understand that word. He's a social artist, almost a savant, maybe a visionary, but I wouldn't call him a scientist, as I will explain.

Were people misled? Was money misspent by a poor community? Is the world one-step closer toward trying to redesign the land and the sea, in the wake of industrial pollution? We'll hear the voices of those who were there, and investigate some claims, evaluated by real scientists.

I will not demonize anyone here. These are human players, with something to give us, some huge lessons written on the real living canvass of history. We are not talking about tobacco or oil barons killing millions, but rather well-meaning people who perhaps went too far. You will hear for yourself, and reach your own conclusions.


We'll start with an extraordinary event. The unauthorized scheme to fertilize the ocean was uncovered by the ETC Group while at an international conference on biodiversity in Hyderabad, India. Suddenly on October the 15th, the ETC Group broke the story in Britain's Guardian newspaper.

The Haida group involved, and Mr. George, were caught off guard, as a storm of media broke upon the little island community. Representatives from the Old Village of Massett traveled down to Vancouver, to face a solid wall of TV cameras, well-known national newspaper reporters, and this radio producer.

Village of Old Massett Chief Ken Rea

I'm going to play you now my recording of Old Massett Chief Ken Rea, and the Village administrator John Disney, at the press conference October 17, in the Vancouver Aquarium. The event was hosted by Vancouver lawyer Joe Spears. I'll run this straight through, withholding my comments to the end.

Rea/Disney transcript here.

You've just heard Old Massett Village Chief Ken Rea, and village administrator John Disney, explain their venture to drop iron into the Pacific Ocean. They had two goals: to provide more food for salmon, and to claim valuable carbon credits.


I must add the main government on Haida Gwaii, the Council of the Haida Nation, has renounced any involvement in this scheme. In a letter published October 18th, 2012, we read the following:

"The Hereditary Chiefs Council and the Council of the Haida Nation are in no way involved in artificial fertilization through dumping of iron compounds in the ocean around Haida Gwaii.

The consequences of tampering with nature at this scale are not predicable and pose unacceptable risks to the marine environment.

Our people along with the rest of humanity depend on the oceans and cannot leave the fate of the oceans to the whim of the few.

President of the Haida Nation, Guujaaw

It is signed by the President of the Haida Nation, Guujaaw, and the 8 members of the Hereditary Chiefs Council. Read that statement here.

So it is unfair and incorrect to say "The Haida did this". As Chief Ken Rea told the world press, this experiment was undertaken only by the single village of Old Massett, acting on its own authority.

How could that happen? A little later we'll get an explanation of the politics of aboriginal rights, from none other than Russ George. It's an eye-opener on how this little group bypassed every Canadian authority, issuing its own permits, almost as a sovereign village.


First, we should look at the money trail.

When asked where a tiny village with sky-high unemployment came up with two and a half million dollars for a high-seas adventure, this is what Chief Ken Rea said in the press conference Q and A.

From the Press Conference Q and A (full transcript here)

"CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation]: Whose money is it?

Ken Rea: It's the community's money.

CBC: ??? from the taxes, from the government, or transfers? What's the biggest source of money?

Ken Rea: We've had monies available from other funding sources that belong to the community. We've had money from proper management and shared revenue sources from various resources. And we've, over careful management over many years we've built up a reserve. "

Considering the money belonged to the villagers, and some of it came from Canadian taxpayers, this is hardly a transparent answer.


Living Oceans Society Executive Director Karen Wristen

A Canadian ocean NGO, the Living Oceans Society, released documents from Massett Village, and from the North Coast Community Credit Union, detailing the application for a loan of two million dollars for the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation.

You can find a copy of the internal emails and financing documents for the Old Massett Village here.

I interviewed Karen Wristen, Executive Director of the Living Oceans Society - the group who found online documents detailing the $2 million loan application by Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC) to the North Coast Credit Union. That Credit Union's due diligence raised questions about ocean fertilization, the legality of the project, and the scientific credibility of Russ George. Read what they had to say. There is also a proposed budget breakdown for the project in those papers.

The Living Oceans Society also warned Environment Canada on August 19th that a geoengineering experiment was on-going, giving them the name and location of the ship. Apparently nothing was done.

Wristen, herself a lawyer with experience in environmental case law, concludes there is no big monetary payback possible from this project - the people of the Village of Massett stand to lose a lot of money. The salmon, she says, "got a very expensive lunch".

As you can tell, there are still a lot of questions about the way this money was allocated, the wisdom of the expense, and whether these millions can ever be repaid.


Despite talking so much about salmon, which were certainly on the minds of most villagers, documents and interviews show the larger hope of repayment was to come from selling carbon credits.

There is a theory that plankton will capture more carbon dioxide from the air. Then on dying, that carbon will fall with them to the deep sea bed, where it will be sequestered. If done on a large scale, this might somewhat reduce the carbon dioxide pumped into the air by polluters. Major polluting industries, especially in Europe, will pay a price for each ton of carbon captured.

As you will hear later, Russ George believes with 100 percent certainty that creating plankton blooms does capture carbon dioxide. And now he claims this latest venture proves it beyond any doubt.

The fact that Russ George does not express scientific caution, and has never published any peer-reviewed evidence of his claims, is one sign that he is not following the accepted scientific method.

Other trained ocean and zoological scientists, some of them onboard previous plankton seeding tests run off government ships, have cautioned that carbon dioxide may not be reduced, or not sequestered long-term, or that other greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide may be produced. The consensus of world scientists is that plankton seeding should not be done. Committees for international Conventions representing 192 countries recommended a moratorium on such activities.

None of that deters Russ George. Through his former company Planktos, George was so confident of success that he pre-sold carbon credits, even to the public online, long before he captured any carbon dioxide. I can't find any indication that money was returned when George's company forests were not planted in Hungary as promised, and his ship the Weatherbird II did not dump its iron.

When we investigate the tangled web of corporations and corporate shells set up by Russ George, along with the convicted Canadian financier Nelson Skalbania, we become even more leery of George's claims.

In fact, there are several versions of Russ George. The first is a tree-planter, and his experience is strong there. But you can also find Russ George in his persona of a self-taught nuclear scientist, expert and businessman in the field of nuclear fusion. His company D2fusion sold stocks, which crashed, and promised products, which never appeared. On You tube there is a presentation by DR George to the American Chemical Society in 1999.


But Russ is no doctor. That's just his initials: D R George. Why doesn't he correct people who address him or post him as Dr. George?

In the Old Massett Village presentation you heard earlier, Russ George was touted as the Chief Scientist on board the Ocean Pearl. I think that is misleading.

What is a scientist? In the 1800's, many scientists were gentlemen of leisure investigating basic things. They made many discoveries. But today, in a very complex world, we developed a university system which trains scientists. It takes many years to earn a PhD in any field, including life sciences like biology, zoology, and oceanography.

Russ attended the University of Utah for a few years and apparently dropped out without a degree. That is, he does not appear to be a university graduate. Most people would find that surprising in the resume of a "Chief Scientist".

Another part of the definition of a modern scientist, is the requirement to develop theories which are published in peer-reviewed journals. That is a check and balance system to make sure facts follow theory.

As far as I can find out, Russ George has never been published in an accepted peer-review journal. So he can make quite extraordinary statements, and the rest of the scientific community has not checked them.

None of this denies Russ George is an extraordinary man, even a brilliant one. I see him more as a social and media artist, with an ability to learn the language of scientific disciplines. He is also a visionary, with the strength to inspire people - even a small village of people on the wild side of the ocean. Visionaries also have their limitations. Some believe in their vision 100%, without any doubt, or desire to check with others.


For example, let's start with this founding statement repeated often by Russ George over the year, and given again in the Power Point provided by the Old Massett Village for the Vancouver press conference. That slide says:

"Over the past half-century there has been a decline in atmospheric dust deposition from the deserts and dry lands of Asia - the most important season[al] source of iron for the North Pacific Ocean."

Really? I wondered if such a study had even been done. Looking in the references for these slides, the first is a paper "Atmospheric global dust cycle and Iron inputs to the ocean" by Natalie M. Mahowald of Cornell, and a half dozen other world experts.

Natalie M. Mahowald, Cornell University

I read the paper. It didn't say anything about the decline of dust from Asia to the Northern Pacific. The paper is a key summary of all the top dust science, a survey to see what is known. It talks about research, and looks at two more important questions: has the chemistry of industrial-laced air changed the availability of iron to plankton in the sea? And will climate change alter dust deposition?

Baffled, I wrote to Natalie Mahowald over the weekend. She gave me a helpful reply almost immediately.

First, I asked, is this dusty statement by Russ George, echoed by the Haida village, true?

Her reply: "Probably not. More important than dust is soluble iron from Asia, which is likely to have increased."

Second: could such a statement be derived from that paper?

Answer: "I don't think there is anything in that paper on this."

She adds: "There is almost no data describing the trends in dust coming from Asia over the whole 20th century. There is some evidence that dust maximized in the 1950s in Chinese dust sources (e.g. Mahowald et al., 2007), but this is not true of all of Asia and that data is only available after 1950 or so.

What is more important for ocean iron, is the amount of soluble iron going into the ocean, not dust or total iron. Several studies have suggested that economic growth in Asia has substantially increased soluble iron inputs to the North Pacific by direct emission of soluble iron from anthropogenic emissions (e.g. Chuang et al., 2005) or by supplying acids like sulfate, which make the dust iron more soluble (Meskhidze et al., 2003) and we estimate from that an increase in North Pacific soluble iron inputs from atmospheric deposition (e.g. Luo et al.., 2008; Mahowald et al., 2009).

Mahowald continued: "In this region, sedimentary sources of iron are likely to be quite important, so that inputs from the atmosphere may not be driving phytoplankton growth (e.g. Lam and Bishop, 2008).

Thus, overall I would say, no, I do not agree that soluble iron inputs to the North Pacific have decreased over the 20th century, but rather have likely increased but the uncertainty is large."

So what! you say? Everything in the story of this ocean seeding experiment depends upon this fundamental premise that nature is not doing its job. Less dust is falling, the plankton are starving for iron, and that is why we must go out to sea and spend millions of dollars dumping iron into the ocean.

But here we have the venture's cited world expert saying that is probably not true, more iron may be available anyway due to industrial pollution. There is inadequate scientific information to make sweeping statements about a decline.

With Russ George, you can be inspired if you want, but you have to check every detail of what he says. It's a heady cocktail of three quarters truth, well worth listening to, and one quarter exaggeration bordering on blarney.


Surely we are not just dealing with volcanos and dust when it comes to salmon decline. It's a shame the Old Massett people couldn't wait for the upcoming release of a comprehensive report by the Cohen Commission inquiry into the disappearing sockeye salmon.

In my opinion, and not only in my opinion, the Old Massett Village leaders are also over their heads. For example, during the press conference, two actual ocean scientists from the University of British Columbia were allowed one question each, with no reply. Note there were no microphones for the press, just one mic for the presenters, carefully controlled by two of their lawyers present.

Maite Maldonado, University of British Columbia

Again I wrote to a person who asked a question at the press conference, but was not allowed to comment. She is Maite Maldonado, a professor in the Earth, Ocean and Sciences Department at UBC. Maite is also familiar with the fisheries on the Pacific Coast, and a Canada Research Chair in Phytoplankton Trace Metal Physiology.

Maldonado says the Haida Salmon Restoration project leaders were greatly over-simplifying a complex living system. After quoting from the most-cited paper on the volcanic ash and anomalous plankton bloom of 2008, by Hamme et all 2010 , Maite concludes the bottom line is that YES, a volcanic eruption in 2008 enhanced phytoplankton production in the subarctic Pacific that late summer/early fall, but there is NO evidence to support that this phytoplankton bloom in August 2008 resulted in the high salmon returns of 2010.

In fact, the non-scientist Russ George may have missed the target altogether on two counts. First of all, Hamme et al concluded from their study of the Alaskan volcanic eruption and plankton bloom of 2008, hardly any carbon dioxide was sequestered, "implying that even large-scale iron fertilization at an optimum time of year is not very efficient at sequestering atmospheric CO2.

Maite Maldonado adds other studies and citations showing the real cause of the sockeye salmon decline is still unknown to science. Their best guess does not focus on alleged starving salmon out at sea, but rather the growth conditions for juvenile salmon as they emerge from the coastal waters. There is plenty of plankton for them there Maldonado says, and real scientific studies indicate there must be other factors in that near-shore environment affecting longer term survival.

Maite writes: "Salmon survival has been linked to the quality of feeding and growing conditions during their early marine life (from smolt to adult), while the smolts are transitioning from the rivers to the open ocean. So the conditions in inlets and sounds are key."

As our guest Karen Wristen said earlier, this Haida Salmon Restoration project may only have provided a multi-million dollar lunch.

OK, it's time to play some Russ George reality, but as I hope I've shown, apply some healthy scientific doubt to everything.

Russ George is talking with Guardian newspaper journalist Martin Lukacs.

What was the rationality for secretly pouring iron into the ocean? George explains that to Lukacs, and I run part of the clip for you in this radio program.

Guardian journalist Martin Lukacs

Martin Lukacs broke this story in the Guardian about the Haida Salmon Restoration venture breaking UN rules.


How could a single Haida Village perform geoengineering without getting any government permits? They claim they are the government.

This is amazing. Essentially Old Massett declared itself to be the world's first sovereign village! Russ George tells Lukacs that due to a 2005 Supreme Court of Canada decision, the Haida have the same rights as the Government of Canada.

But the Haida Nation (which distanced themselves from this scheme) is like a federal government with two main provinces: the Village of Skidegate, and the Village of Old Massett. These two sub-groups apparently also consider themselves to be sovereign governments, Russ George told Martin Lucaks.

That was the rationale for Old Massett to write its own laws, and to ISSUE ITS OWN PERMITS for this Haida Salmon Restoration project. Russ George says "you choose your regulator". He chose the same group that were taking the loan, paying the bills, and running the whole experiment on the ocean. They didn't feel the need to apply to the Canadian Government, or the Province of British Columbia, for the environmental and other permits anyone else would need, for a ship leaving a Canadian port.

That explains a lot. When asked by reporter Lukacs where these self-issued permits are, George replies they are hanging on the wall of his Vancouver office.


The fishing vessel Ocean Pearl

Who were the scientists on board? I asked that question at the Press Conference. At first they dodged it, claiming privacy issues, and then gave me a very short list. Here is that exchange:

From the press conference transcript:

Joe Spears [lawyer for HSRC]: Alex Smith from CFRO Radio.

Alex Smith: Please name the scientists that were on board the Ocean Pearl for this project. You mentioned science.

Joe Spears: The question is: name the scientists on board the fishing vessel Ocean Pearl. John? Jason?

Jason is the Operations Officer and I know he spent many weeks at sea and it was really sunny once in the four weeks I think, and there was only a thirty foot groundswell happening. So Jason?

(talk among organizers, including Disney and Spears): "Russ for sure."

Jason McNamee: Hi. Yeah we had a number of scientists. We had a number of scientists on board. Uh, obviously Russ George was one or our scient... key scientists.

Other journalist: Could you also possibly include their training? What their scientific background is?

Jason: I don't have their CV's with me.

Joe Spears: I think there's a question of privacy of individuals. We'll get you that information and on the video that's on here, you'll see the deck hands and the technicians that are walking around trying to deploy equipment at sea. So there was lots of people. I think we can, we'll get that information. It's not a guess; we don't want to guess here.

(Jason starts to leave the microphone)

Alex Smith: So you are not answering the question?

Jason McNamee: Russ George was our Chief Scientist. Right. We've got Peter Gross who is our Senior Oceanographic Engineer. He also doubles as our Sonar expert.

We had a plankton biologist on board named Tegan Sime. The chemist on board... I did some of the chemistry work, and we had a number of technicians. A lot of our work was collaborative, and so a lot of the technical work was done on the ship.

Asked the same question by journalist Martin Lukacs, Russ George replied with a very short list, long on bafflegab.

All the crew were undergrads, with Russ George as the supposed Chief Scientist. They had minimal training in the high tech equipment on board, and at one point required direct coaching by satellite by Professor Doug Campbell at Mount Allison University. Several of the crew listed their qualifications as technical geeks in things like audio. Apparently, there was not a single doctorate level scientist on the ship.


Why does this matter? It all has to do with confidence in the gathering methods, and the chain of custody.

At the press conference, we were told Russ George was not present because he was too busy analyzing data. So Russ George, whose record we know too well, is in charge of all that data? John Disney told the press "some" of the data would be released for verification by independent parties. Will only supportive data be released? Who knows?

Russ George bragged to one reporter that 100 PhD dissertations would emerge out of the data he had collected. I doubt it. Who will trust it?


Russ George denies there is any Convention or even a moratorium against ocean fertilization.

May he's right. Maybe the holes in International Law are so big that every village encountering hard times around the world can start out to change the whole Earth to suit themselves.

This Haida Salmon Restoration project is a wake-up call to governments to act before it is too late. To at least regulate, with criminal penalties, rogue geoengineering. We manage to investigate and penalize many crimes, no matter where the act takes place, but not unilateral changes to species, the biosphere, or the ocean? We need real laws for the high seas.

Meanwhile, Russ George continues his pursuit of fame and recognition. In the Martin Lukacs interview George describes trips to the World Bank in Washington, and to the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. When asked if the HSRC was getting funding from the World Bank, George replied no, it cost "us" money to go there and make a presentation.

Who is paying for those travels? The poor of Old Massett Village, for the next ten years? These finances should be more transparent.


But don't worry. Russ George is 100% certain their experiment has disproven all scientific fears. He gives Lukacs a laundry list of past criticisms and scientific worries about plankton seeding - and says all of that is disproven by his new data.

There is no absolute certainty in science. But Russ George offers it to us, just as he offered absolution to the Vatican for their carbon sins. You can't make this stuff up in Hollywood.

Vatican presentation by Russ George on You tube here.

By the way, the Vatican's carbon emissions are still up there in the atmosphere, but the planned "Vatican Forest" in Hungary was never planted. Maybe the Vatican should repent and drastically slash their emissions instead. Maybe we all should do that.


I did say Russ was often also right. In a clip from the Lukacs interview, he tells us our personal carbon pollution is killing the ocean far more than overfishing.

George is also right to warn us the oceans are dying, and that climate change is the major cause.

But come clean about your science credentials George. You are a brilliant fast-learner, a self-taught man. That's a lot. You don't need the misleading labels.


Intelligent or not, I can't follow Russ George, or the Haida villagers, to their ultimate goal.

Saying the ocean is dying, George tells us humans must take over these last wild places on Earth. We'll convert the open ocean into "pastures" like agribusiness on the seas, farming plankton and the fish. We'll dump iron every year. I'm thinking maybe we'll introduce new genetically modified species, who knows? The dying ocean is ours to play with and command.

Russ George explains all that to Martin Lukacs in a clip in this Radio Ecoshock program.

Is that your vision? It's not mine.

I'm Alex Smith.

My thanks to Martin Lukacs of the Guardian for putting his reporter's audio notes into the public domain. Martin Lukacs of the Guardian, who broke this story with the ETC Group. Lukacs placed over an hour of that recording in the Public Domain at archive.org. Part 1 here. Part 2 here

Download this show as a free mp3 from our web site ecoshock.org

Thank you for listening, and join me next week.

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