It's Never Too Late To Call Off The Circular Firing Squad

On occasion, denizens of the green movement have been known to slip into "holier than thou" mode, behaviors that Think Tank experts unfailingly generalize from - to the universe of all greens past present and to come. The non-sequitor attacks do begin from a valid a point, however, as anybody can can over-blow a problem, or waste time going after convenient targets while missing the real bad actors. (Favorite recent example: Greenpeace attacking Apple mainly for using a few cm of vinyl wire in each PC.)

With the risk of climate catastrophe looming, and nascent activist and communications strategies being tested, contemporary green movements are, like the heritage green activists of the 1960's, at risk of facing circular firing squads of their own making - pivoting towards political self destruction by playing into the hands of a wide range of opponents. Just one small example: recently the climate restoration services company Planktos took some hits from green NGO's. Here's a link to a published accusation that an experimental "iron seeding" of marine plankton hundreds of miles west of Galapagos Islands, performed to test the effectiveness of a method to restore natural carbon sequestration over large barren areas of the mid-Pacific, would provoke ecosystem collapse. See explanation of satellite image of upwelling around Galapagos [pictured] after the fold. Also after the fold, see letter to editor of Ottawa Citzen submitted by Russ George, President and CEO of Planktos. Update: see recent press release from Planktos called "Planktos Calls for "All Hands on Deck" Emergency Response to Prevent Massive Plant Life Extinction in the World's Seas"If you're into the circular firing squad thing, add your voice. However, you might first want to have a look at the natural marine algae blooms caused by ocean upwelling of naturally occurring nutrients in the immediate area of the Galapagos Islands.

Quick tutorial on upwelling:
- An easterly wind piles up water above mean datum in the west. Water seeks its own level, and wide-scale equilibrium is achieved as cold deep waters from the westerly direction return flow, eastward. When the east flowing deep, nutrient-rich waters hit an island or continental shoal they "upwell" providing a rich nutrient broth that supports a commensurately rich ecosystem.

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Waters off Peru (left) and northwest Africa (right) are among the most productive in the global ocean. The Peru/Pacific composite covers 16-26 January 1980; the Africa/Atlantic composite 16 - 22 December 1979. Nutrients injected by wind-driven coastal upwelling result in high phytoplankton biomass and productivity; this supports some of the world's richest fisheries. The upwelling is reflected here as 100-km-wide chlorophyll-rich bands along both coasts, and plumes of productive waters extending 500 to 1,000 km offshore. Island-induced upwelling generates highly productive regions around the Galapagos Archipelago (left, center).


In the above-pictured image the effect is shown as the deep westerly flows that run up on the Galapagos Island shoals. The green movement doesn't need 30 years and an half hour to Google NASA to learn about their mistakes. Just mix up a double scotch tonight and go sit out under the stars: listen to the trees when the wind blows across the meadow.

Image credit: NASA

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The following is a letter submitted to the Ottawa Citizen newspaper by Russ George, President and CEO of Planktos, Inc. Republished here with permission.

When environmentalists eat their young, a view from a neighboring nest.

The environmentalists attacking the Planktos plan to restore and revive the ocean via carbon-sequestering ocean plankton should understand that we are both on the same side.

Russ George - President Planktos

As someone who has committed most of my waking life to caring for the planet, recent misleading reports on the foundations and future of my current company's work have led me to reflect on some large and important questions.

Let me start with a bit of personal history to provide some context. My career on behalf of the planet began with my education as a biologist and in post-university life with the tree-planting company I founded (Coast Range) in British Columbia in 1972. Along with planting and caring for scores of millions of trees in Canada, I also helped in many volunteer roles on behalf of the environment, including standing night watch at sea on the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior. I worked for government and industry as an environmental manager, crafting and enforcing environmental regulations and prescribing remedies to mitigate harm being done to the environment. I was also a writer, producer and director in the late '80s of the award-winning documentary films The Wild Pacific Salmon and The New Environmentalists.

In more recent years, since 1997, my work has focused substantially on developing and delivering programs to accomplish eco-restoration of the trees and seas as a means to help cure some of the damage done by the ravages of fossil fuel carbon dioxide and to curtail further damage. In this latter work I've been developing Canada's first major eco-restoration climate forest company, HaidaClimate, in partnership with the native peoples of the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii). In partnership with the government of Hungary through our Planktos subsidiary company KlimaFa, we are now beginning to grow vast new forests within the national park system of Europe. I have also been an adviser to governments in Central America and Asia on eco-restoration strategies in the world of the Kyoto Protocol and climate change.

Planktos's boat the Weatherbird II sets sail on its mission to dump iron dust into the Pacific.

Combining all of this has resulted in the creation of the public company called Planktos, which was founded with multiple purposes, two of which are to address the most critical problems of our small blue planet: global warming and the ecological collapse it is forcing upon ocean and terrestrial plant life.

And yes, we do this for profit and expect to earn good returns for those who invest in our public company stock.

After all of this work, I was shocked when Planktos came under attack from fringe environmentalists, who were later joined by a few other organizations and scientists with unfounded reservations about Planktos' methods.

Since the attacks refer to our ocean work, it's important to describe that work. Following 20 years and $100 million worth of international spending on pure academic science studies of the ocean crisis and possible solution(s), it is clear the single most critical ocean issue is the decline of available iron, which comes primarily from dust in the wind. In our work we will mimic natural processes and use natural iron ore, red hematite, to replenish missing iron and "fertilize" modest, forest-sized patches of ocean, restoring plankton growth (and aquatic life) and effectively sequestering fossil carbon for millennia.

This is a way to safely store the excess carbon each of us adds to our atmosphere every day. In fact, it may be the most efficient route we have. It is likely the most useful means to help the planet, as the healthy green plants that grow in plankton blooms are the most critical part of the planetary ecology that is impacted most when we produce excess CO2 in the atmosphere. Excess CO2 leads to global warming, ocean acidification, and loss of ocean plant life.

My expectation has been that many groups would call for increased research, which, as a scientist, I have demonstrably committed my life to doing. Others would call for caps and regulations on when and if the method comes into the carbon markets fully fledged, which I am also fully aligned with. But to come under such an extreme attack, in a way that misrepresents both our intent and our actions, skews our research, and impugns our motives in quite dramatic ways is another story.

Why, in a time when our beloved planet is in dire straits, would environmentalists turn on their own? Why is the suspicion and cynicism so deep that it would lead to falsified and emotionally charged mudslinging in press releases and letters to the editor? Why the refusal by some to discuss our approach in more accurate detail and to report on those accurate details? And why the refusal by media and others to consider the possibility that their opening volley was misaligned?

Perhaps it is a kind of fundamentalism that drives this, where all for-profit companies are intrinsically evil, all interventions -- even restorative ones -- a form of desecration. 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. I have a hard time understanding what their motives might be.

It seems all is fair game once the enemy is identified. But what if the company or person in the sights is not actually an enemy? What if that company and its people are deeply aligned with the same principles, and our snap judgments have led us to see them with dark red glasses?

In a time of dire straits, we really need all hands on deck, working together to find solutions. We are not yet sure of exactly how effective iron fertilization is as a method to restore oceans and alleviate global warming. Our best estimates are that one-half of global carbon excess could be turned into a revived plankton forest, and in the bargain restore ocean fisheries if we just restore the ocean plants to the state of health they had in 1970. That's why we need good science, creativity, and collaboration: to find out exactly what role iron replenishment can play in the solution to this catastrophic man made problem.

Verbal mudslinging serves only to degrade our collective green cause and postpone possible solutions. Instead of leading us to come together and collaborate far more extensively than ever before, it leads to factionalism, suspicion, and infighting. It obscures the noble quest for truth. That's why it is so damaging and unfortunate.

What I most dearly hope is that we can all move beyond infighting and into solidarity in finding, researching, and providing true solutions to the perils ahead.


Russ George is founder, president and CEO of Planktos, KlimaFa and HaidaClimate.

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