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Yellow and brown colours show relatively high concentrations of chlorophyll off the coast of Haida Gwaii in August, 2012, after iron sulphate was dumped into the Pacific Ocean as part of a controversial geoengineering scheme. (Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center/NASA)
Yellow and brown colours show relatively high concentrations of chlorophyll off the coast of Haida Gwaii in August, 2012, after iron sulphate was dumped into the Pacific Ocean as part of a controversial geoengineering scheme. (Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center/NASA)

Designer of controversial ocean project tried similar experiment in the past Add to ...

Russ George, the designer of a controversial ocean-fertilization project that is under investigation by Environment Canada, has a history of working outside the boundaries of mainstream science, a former business associate says.

And his penchant for doing things his own way, without standard scientific controls, has brought an important area of research under a cloud of suspicion, says Dan Whaley, one of Mr. George’s former business associates in California.

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“It’s a complicated subject ... but I think there’s a few things that should be said. No. 1, I think it’s very unfortunate that Russ went about this the way that he did,” he said of Mr. George’s project, in which more than 100 tonnes of an iron substance was dumped into the ocean to stimulate plankton growth.

“It’s really dumb ... it was just a really stupid thing to do because it’s closing the door on the ability of scientists to do real science. I doubt it’s going to feed many salmon and it’s going to poison the environment, the political environment, as far as being able to go out and do things in a more appropriate way.”

The experiment, funded by a small, native village on Haida Gwaii, off the coast of British Columbia, was supposed to help restore salmon runs by boosting a baseline food source, while at the same time demonstrating how iron fertilization can create massive plankton blooms, that suck CO2 out of the atmosphere. The Old Massett Village Council, which invested $2.5-million in the project, was hoping to recover its money through harvesting increased salmon runs and by selling carbon credits.

But the experiment has drawn widespread condemnation from scientists, federal government officials and the United Nations, because it appears to have been done without official sanction and without the involvement of any recognized ocean scientists. A UN official has said the unsanctioned nature of the experiment appears to violate international agreements and Environment Canada has launched an investigation.

Mr. George refused comment and abruptly hung up the phone when contacted on Wednesday.

Mr. Whaley said he was stunned when he heard about the project, because it mirrored Mr. George’s approach to an earlier, failed experiment in the southern Pacific.

Mr. Whaley said he was asked by Mr. George several years ago to help him run the company, Planktos Inc., which was then planning to fertilize the ocean off the Galapagos Islands. That project was cancelled when funding dried up amidst widespread criticism.

“So all of a sudden someone sends me an e-mail and says ‘Check this out, Russ went and did it again.’ Which is astonishing ... [that he] would basically do exactly the same thing again and would create an even larger uproar.”

Mr. Whaley, an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, said Mr. George has long argued his ocean fertilization work could generate funds through carbon trading. But he doubts that will happen.

Asked if the Haida could recover their investment , Mr. Whaley said: “I’ll tell you exactly what the probability is: it is zero point zero. You just can’t go and do something and then go claim carbon credits for it. That’s just not the way the market works.”

Despite his criticisms, Mr. Whaley said he thin ks Mr. George has good intentions.

“Knowing Russ, you know he always seems to be chasing the carbon credits around, but I honestly don’t think he’s motivated by money. He is not a flashy kind of a guy. He’s kind of a frumpy, eco-guy. I think he wants to make impact. I think he wants to do something right. I think he does look at the world we live in now and is deeply troubled by the fix we’ve gotten ourselves in.”

He said Mr. George is probably dismayed by the negative reaction to his experiment, but that’s only because he couldn’t see the obvious criticism coming.

“Maybe he ought to have been born a whale, because he doesn’t seem to understand the human animal very well. I think that’s the problem,” Mr. Whaley said.

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