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Earth Science

Huge Geoengineering Project Violates UN Rules 319

Posted by Soulskill
from the what-could-possibly-go-wrong dept.
Baldrson writes "The Guardian reports that a massive geoengineering project has been detected off the west coast of Canada that violates UN regulations. An Amerindian tribe in the Pacific NW that depends on salmon teamed with an entrepreneur and a group of scientists to have 100 tons of iron sulphate spread across a huge area of the ocean in order to spur plankton growth. 'Satellite images appear to confirm the claim ... that the iron has spawned an artificial plankton bloom as large as 10,000 square kilometers. The intention is for the plankton to absorb carbon dioxide and then sink to the ocean bed – a geoengineering technique known as ocean fertilization that he hopes will net lucrative carbon credits.' The entrepreneur, Russ George, hopes to cash in on the carbon credits and the Amerindian tribe on an increased salmon harvest. The situation has sparked outcry from environmentalists and civil society groups. Oceanographer John Cullen said, 'It is difficult if not impossible to detect and describe important effects that we know might occur months or years later. 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.'"
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Huge Geoengineering Project Violates UN Rules

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Amerindian? That's the stupidiest fucking word I've heard in years.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @05:18PM (#41674163)

      No shit, talk about maladjusted... I read that to say Armenian and I was like WTF are those assholes doing in Canuckistan?

    • by eggstasy (458692)

      Has it ever occured to you that words along the lines of Amerindian are common in languages other than yours? :)
      Namely, Romance languages, such as French, which is an official language in Canada.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        In Canada, the Aboriginal peoples (or "natives") who are not Inuit or Métis are termed "First Nations". In Canadian French, the three groups collectively are "autochtones", and the First Nations are "Premières nations".

        See the third paragraph of http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/indian (and in the French version).

        Amerindian is just wrong, and especially wrong when referring to this group.

    • by lashi (822466)

      it's from shadowrun

  • by Vinegar Joe (998110) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @05:19PM (#41674167)

    Native Americans are so much more in tune with nature......

    • by tgd (2822)

      Native Americans are so much more in tune with nature......

      Sarcasm aside, its an interesting belief in the US that this is true. However, the megafauna and original growth forests of North American that were devastated over ten thousand years by the original humans living here tell a different story.

      Human beings, no matter when or where they're from, tend to make a giant mess of the environment. (To be fair, all life will do that -- we just happen to be pretty good at it. The Crown of Thorn starfish is doing a better job killing the Great Barrier Reef (which it dep

  • Environmentalists (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Always the buzzkills. There is no solution other than to eat tofu and walk everywhere in your hemp sandals. Any other solutions to 'climate change' are heresy.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by vlm (69642)

      They also always want everyone else to undergo population declines but never have the guts to say who and how.

      • They also always want everyone else to undergo population declines but never have the guts to say who and how.

        I believe the traditional answer is that as birth rates tend to decline with birth control and lower poverty, we pursue those as best we're able. It's not as satisfying as saying people you don't like are too cowardly to admit they want genocide, but them's the breaks.

      • by cdrguru (88047)

        A "sustainable" planet is going to require a lot more effort than simply "population decline". If humanity can get together and decide that we have to have a sustainable planet ecology, we need to have maybe 500 million people at the most. 200 is probably more realistic. At that level dumping our own waste products will have a chance to naturally be processed and not be a hazard. With 6 billion people we will be drowning in our own wastes unless we "do something" about the problem and even the US and We

        • by guises (2423402) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @07:48PM (#41675991)
          I feel like I link this article every time the issue of population comes up, but here we go:

          http://www.ecofuture.org/pop/rpts/mccluney_maxpop.html [ecofuture.org]

          Your apparently random guess of a maximum of 500 million only applies if we take a completely laissez-faire approach to environmental regulation. If we maintain even the fairly lax standards that we have right now in the United States the earth can sustainably support two billion people in a lifestyle similar to that of the average American. The earth can support considerably more if we're willing to put up with stronger environmental regulation and/or a less decadent lifestyle. (A whole lot more if we stop wasting so much - twenty billion people in a lifestyle similar to the average Mexican.)

          Aside from the difference in numbers, I can't say that I care for your conclusion. It's taken a hundred years to go from a population of two billion to a population of seven billion, it would be pretty naive to think that we could solve the problem in less time. But given a daunting task, your solution of throwing up our hands and waiting for Technology From The Future to save us is pretty ridiculous. And ridiculing people who haven't given up like you have? That's offensive.
        • by riverat1 (1048260)

          Sustainability will be accomplished at some point whether we get there by taking action ourselves or nature forces it on us. There is not other choice. Technology may put off the day of reckoning but it won't prevent it from happening if population continues to rise.

  • >> (whatever) has been detected off the west coast of Canada that violates UN regulations

    Is it Canada waters? Then WTF does anyone care what the UN papershufflers think?

    >> The entrepreneur, Russ George, hopes to cash in on the carbon credits

    Why not? Start treating silly little "carbon credits" like valuable pieces of paper, and they will become money.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by NicBenjamin (2124018)

      >> (whatever) has been detected off the west coast of Canada that violates UN regulations

      Is it Canada waters? Then WTF does anyone care what the UN papershufflers think?

      >> The entrepreneur, Russ George, hopes to cash in on the carbon credits

      Why not? Start treating silly little "carbon credits" like valuable pieces of paper, and they will become money.

      Canada signed both treaties in question, which makes them part of Canadian law.

      As for the "carbon credits" this guy wants, those are generally only available for people who get legal authorization to do what they want.

      What this guy did is analogous to the Army announcing it wants tanks, and some guy bolts a canon to his Humvee, drops it off at the local National Guard base, and waits for the check to arrive.

      • The treaties do not say what you think they do. There is a voluntary moratorium in place that might be violated by the experiment, but there are no national laws and no true enforceable bans in place yet. And the groups opposing it are of the kind that want environmental protection at all cost, and if that means we have to get rid of half the people in the world because we can't feed them without chemical fertilizers, tough luck for them. So I will wait for some more balanced report, maybe even hard scie
        • US Courts won't charge you with violating the London Convention, but they will nail you for the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act of 1972, which we passed as part of implementing the London Convention.

          I assume the Canadians have passed similar laws, but I can't tell you the exact names.

      • Seriously bad car analogy, dude.
        Coffee damaged keyboard over here.

  • So what happens... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bobcat7677 (561727) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @05:24PM (#41674241) Homepage
    So what happens if this little adventure is actually successful. Obviously there will be some side effects, but what if none of them are negative and the fish flourish and the evil carbon is inprisioned? Will they still seek to crucify this guy? Further, what "teeth" does an international "resolution" have to take legal action against him? he didn't break any actual laws.

    It seems like he is swimming in a big grey sea and knows it. And is willing as an entrepreneur to take the risks associated with that swim. Makes sense to me.
    • by BenJeremy (181303)

      The UN will draft a strongly worded memo and strike him with it.

      That will teach him to go and try and fix the environment without their approval!

      • by c0lo (1497653)

        The UN will draft a strongly worded memo and strike him with it.

        How thick/heavy?

        • by a1cypher (619776)
          Please estimate the size of the strongly worded memo in libraries of congress so that it makes sense to the lay person. Thank you.
      • by Githaron (2462596)

        The UN will draft a strongly worded memo and strike him with it.

        That will teach him to go and try and fix the environment without their approval!

        Ahhhh! Paper cuts! They burn!

      • Would this memo be on recycled paper?

      • <quote><p>The UN will draft a strongly worded memo and strike him with it.</p><p>That will teach him to go and try and fix the environment without their approval!</p></quote>

        Bullshit. No-one is going to die from this, nor is anyone starving. In fact, this issue is almost entirely irrelevant... therefor the UN will get involved with extreme prejudiced.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @05:30PM (#41674345)

      Not so much he is willing to take risks.

      more like heads he wins, tails we loose.

    • by NicBenjamin (2124018) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @05:35PM (#41674425)

      If the venture is successful it will be repeated. Just not by this guy.

      As for the possible consequences of his actions, that really depends on the exact laws Canada adopted when it signed these UN Conventions. Fines are a definite possibility. Getting carbon credits is not, because you don't get carbon credits for breaking the law. Otherwise you'd be able to get money for firebombing your neighbor's SUV.

      It's entirely possible this guy could go to prison for fraud, because he told the local Haida that a) this was totally legal, and b) there was no chance of environmental harm. Neither are true, and given that this guy has been banned from Peru and Spain for doing this exact thing before he can;t very well claim he didn't know.

    • by medv4380 (1604309) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @05:40PM (#41674483)
      What if there are unintended consequences? The reason for not allowing Geo Engineering is that you can set off an uncontrollable self feeding cycle. What if what he's doing sets off a cycle that prevents Global Warming and triggers an Ice Age instead? You really should figure out what the possible consequences are before you do something on a global scale. Which normally means more research. If you could stop a Hurricane from hitting Florida but as a consequence Mexico has a drought do you stop the Hurricane?
    • by countach (534280)

      While fiddling with the earth is always questionable, none of this seems worse than what people do on the land everyday. In fact, what with forest clearing and so on, it probably makes this little exercise pale in comparison.

      • I agree - it probably does pale in comparison.

        Trouble is, I don't know, and I haven't seen any studies that support or refute the claim.

        In the absence of evidence, isn't it prudent to follow Hippocrates, and do no harm?

        If this were intended as a practical experiment, there should be some method of collecting data built in, like how much CO2 is sequestered over time, but that doesn't appear to be the case, and some effects won't be measurable for many years.

        I support studying this approach on a relatively sm

        • by Tailhook (98486)

          The experiment has been done [ucsc.edu]. The result is massive phytoplankton bloom and carbon consumption.

          The grandparent is right. This is not fundamentally different than infusing millions of acres of land with nitrates, phosphates, etc. Farming, in other words.

    • by Nemyst (1383049) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @06:00PM (#41674693) Homepage

      If it works, he gets to profit from it.
      If it doesn't work, he walks away with the money given to him by the locals.
      If it causes issues, he can wash his hands and let the government take care of the fallout.

      I'm sorry, but that's not what I call taking risks, it's exploitation. He's gambling the ecosystem for profit.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by NeutronCowboy (896098)

      Can I sit this rod of plutonium next to your bed for the rest of week, just to test my theory that you may gain some super powers? No? Then why the fuck do you support something as untested as wholesale changes to global ecosystems, where we know a good chunk of the negative effects, and really aren't sure if the downsides outweigh the upsides? I'm going to guess because you have no idea how the downsides could possibly directly affect you.

  • by Dr. Spork (142693) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @05:26PM (#41674279)
    Insofar as realistic-scale research on any geoengineering processes are never going to be allowed, maybe this kinds of illegal stuff is the only way to find out what works and what won't. As the writeup correctly said, we just don't know what kind of effect this will have on oceanic oxygen levels. And for another thing, we don't really know what effect this will have on the salmon either. One thing that I'm happy about: Now we're at least about to find out! Since somebody did this, I hope that a flock of oceanologists flock to the site and measure the shit out of it. Yeah, it's not an experiment we wanted or approve of, but we might as well make a bit of lemonade out of these lemons!
    • I say sequester carbon in plankton. Then salmon can sequester the plankton. Then sequester that there salmon to my plate, forthwith!
    • Good point. However, what if the data unequivocally points to a large-scale and irreversible (at least on any scale that humans care about) negative change? Can we impose a sentence that is even remotely on the same scale as the crime?

      This is a situation where you carefully ramp up your testing, and not just blow shit sky-high, just to see what happens.

  • Aww common! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Billy the Mountain (225541) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @05:29PM (#41674317) Journal
    So spewing billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere is NOT against UN regulations? That, it seems to me, is the REAL geoengineering experiment. At least the fertilization team is going to learn something that might be useful.
    • by Rockoon (1252108)
      The real kicker are some of the quotes in the article..

      "Some possible effects, such as deep-water oxygen depletion and alteration of distant food webs, should rule out ocean manipulation"
      "Possible effects" should "rule out" .. very absolutist. Lets forget the fact that those "possible effects" may be imaginary, or even beneficial. Can't have any ocean manipulation, ever! its "ruled out!"
      • Re:Aww common! (Score:4, Informative)

        by Alef (605149) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @06:36PM (#41675177)
        This isn't exactly total guesswork. I live by the Baltic Sea, which for a long time has been over-fertilized by sewage treatment plants and agriculture in the surrounding countries, and vast areas of its bottom is today completely void of life due to oxygen depletion. I'm suspecting that by "possible" he means we have don't (yet) have any empirical evidence that it would also happen in that area of the ocean.
  • TFA says that it violates two UN rules/moratoria with mention of one that limits ocean fertilisation projects... and probably something about not doing this sort of thing for commercial gain.

    Can anyone else shed some light as to what was actually violated? Especially with the business man (George) in charge of the project claiming that such moratoria are "myths" and don't apply.
    • The UN’s convention on biological diversity (CBD), and the UN’s convention on biological diversity (CBD) and London convention on the dumping of wastes at sea.

      Canada is party to both agreements. The US is party to the London Convention. Russ George is an American, his company is American, and they were working for the Haida (a Canadian Aboriginal group) so they are in legal trouble if the Canadian Courts find either applies, or US Courts find the London Convention applies. The specific US Law he

      • by pthisis (27352)

        Canada is party to both agreements. The US is party to the London Convention. Russ George is an American, his company is American, and they were working for the Haida (a Canadian Aboriginal group) so they are in legal trouble if the Canadian Courts find either applies

        More accurately, they _might_ be in trouble if Canadian Courts find that either applies. It'll then depend on the ongoing mess of sovereignty issues with the Council of the Haida Nations--the Haida never signed any treaties with the Canadian g

        • That might actually hurt Russ George.

          If the Haida are sovereign then they are the ones who decide what their law is. They are apparently pretty pissed at Mr. George for telling them this was a great idea that everyone would love, when (in fact) it was a very risky idea that many people hated. If nothing else it's not hard to send a lawyer to the Federal Courthouse with a piece of paper that says "While we retain the right to assert our sovereignty in future cases of this nature, in this case we ask the Cour

  • Hard sci fi figured it all out a long time ago. Read KSR's red mars with special focus on the guerrilla geo/aero/engineering project. Given a lot of thought its all pretty predictable.

  • by gaelfx (1111115) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @05:34PM (#41674393)

    See, carbon credits are sooooooooooooo great y'all!

    This is the kind of problem that's created by adversarial politics, we almost always end up choosing a single bad guy to blame all the ills in the world on, but in the end, it's a systemic issue that creates these problems. We'll never find a metric that tells us what is right and wrong to do with regards to the environment, and any solution that seems to offer such a measurement is disingenuous at best.

    • by Rockoon (1252108)
      Market distortion at its finest. Before the government got involved, carbon sequestration was worth almost zero.. now its worth big bucks.
      • Which is to say... before the government got involved, there was no market which dealt with carbon sequestration. Before the government got involved the market thought it was a great thing to significantly shift the chemistry of our atmosphere by burning lots of crap and dumping it in the air for everyone to breath.
      • What? Did you expect Goldman Sachs to just go away after screwing the economy (housing bubble, oil futures, rigged bailout). This is their next chance to take the US tax payers for big buck (Cap-n-Trade is basically a way for Goldman to tax polluters with the money going to them instead of the public coffers).

        All the profits go to Goldman, all the risk goes to the tax payers.

        • by Rockoon (1252108)

          What? Did you expect Goldman Sachs to just go away after screwing the economy (housing bubble, oil futures, rigged bailout).

          I expect that at some point we might learn that the government distortions of markets is not something to be done so willy-nilly, regardless of the 'good intentions' its sold to us with. That housing bubble was also built on the good government intentions to help people at the very edge of affordable home ownership. The collapse was predicted years in advance, but the only members of government that recognized and wanted to do anything about it were shut out, such as Ron Paul in 2001 [youtube.com]

  • by gig (78408) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @05:36PM (#41674429)

    > Amerindians

    In Canada, they know where the fuck India is. The people you are referring to are called “First Nations” not Indians. Maybe you should look at a map also.

  • The important thing is that we live in a world where "rogue geoengineer" is a profession. I assume he's got an icecave where dude hangs out with Julian Assange and the rest of the League of Gray-hat Supervillians.

  • by msheekhah (903443) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @05:59PM (#41674683)
    oxygen production. plankton are the foundation of the ocean ecosystem. i'm a lefty, but this seems like a win win. change will happen. but no more than when we make hydroelectric dams that drastically change the water temperature so all of the indigenous fish die and have to be replaced with colder water species. and these types of changes are justified every day. I really don't see a problem with this. let's do a study to see what happens when we offer fish more food. you get more fish.
  • so... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by retchdog (1319261) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @06:02PM (#41674717) Journal

    since everyone is already bashing liberals and government regulations, let's look at it from the other side.

    what's the libertarian take on this, or, hypothetically, any project where the risks are in the $billions (ignoring effects on human life and welfare)? if things go wrong, then even if this guy goes into a private debtor's prison for life and somehow works at maximum capacity, there would be practically zero chance of him taking full responsibility for his harm. but the state shouldn't be able to stop him preemptively, so what's the deal? how will the open market take care of this (assuming for the moment that he has property licensed the property rights he needs to execute this project).

    i guess he could take an insurance policy in theory, but even if an insurer were willing to cover this, the premium if correctly computed would probably be more than he could afford, so he would just go ahead and do it anyway.

    what would happen in the real world is, of course, that private interests would have this guy arrested and maybe worse. but that's initiation of force (and libertarians would have to admit that private prisons would still exist in their paradise), so how do you solve the problem without initiating force?

    you could say that the entrepreneur is "initiating force" by doing something very risky, but that's a definition which would admit many of the government regulations we have today.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      A coalition of opposed citizens (or just one rich one) outfit a warship and blow him out of the ocean?

  • by JDG1980 (2438906) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @06:02PM (#41674719)

    The UN has made its decision; now let it enforce it.

    Seriously: there is nothing the UN can do about actions undertaken by private parties. They don't have any police force, much less an army. Now, if the actions violated Canadian law, that might be something that Mr. George actually has to worry about. But violating a resolution of the UN has no more effect than violating a resolution of your local university faculty senate. They are a talking shop, nothing more.

  • by viperidaenz (2515578) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @06:12PM (#41674875)
    How do you earn carbon credits by dumping iron sulphate in the ocean?.
    I find it hard to believe you'd get the by doing something against the rules.
    Can I claim carbon credits by killing someone? It means they'll produce less carbon dioxide.
  • The UN is not (yet) a world government. There is a voluntary moratorium on geoengineering among the small number of governments that could afford to attempt such a thing, but that hardly qualifies as "UN regulations". In any case, small-scale experiments such as this, no matter how ill-conceived, are not going to have any global impact and so do not qualify as geoengineering.

  • What a bunch of cry-babies. They cry about global warming and then when someone tries to do something about it, they cry about that. Either fish or cut bait. Whining is the wrong option.

    • Either fish or cut bait.

      Or you could put more consideration into planning the fishing trip so you don't end up tangled in the line.

  • by pla (258480)
    Dear UN:

    Go fuck yourself until you come up with your own plan. Difficulty - No "strongly worded letter"s.
  • I seem to be hearing the sound of UN flunkies screaming that this wasn't the way it was supposed to work? "AIIIIEEEEE!!! You can't just MANUFACTURE carbon credits!! That defeats the whole purpose of redistributing North American wealth!! Oh, wait, I wasn't supposed to tell anyone that. My bad."

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