The ETC Group and sympathetic reporters from the Guardian newspaper have orchestrated a mini-scandal timed to coincide with deliberations about the CBD moratorium currently taking place at the eleventh Conference of the Parties (COP11) in Hyderabad, India. On Monday, the Guardian published a story alleging that Russ George, one-time head of disgraced ocean iron fertilization (OIF) company Planktos, tricked Canada's Haida tribe into supporting what it believed was a salmon restoration project, but was in reality an illegal scheme to generate offset credits for sale on the international carbon market. According to the story, George manipulated the native community on the island of Haida Gwaii, off the coast of British Columbia, into setting up the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC) and used tribal money to fund the release of 100 metric tons of iron sulphate in the northern Pacific last summer, designed to cause phytoplankton blooms over a 10,000-square kilometer area. The release is described as a "blatant violation" of both the CBD and LC/LP moratoriums. The Guardian credits ETC group with uncovering the scheme.
For the moment, it is unclear what actually happened. The fact that this story was published by the Guardian warrants skepticism about its accuracy, completeness, and fairness. The Guardian has earned a deserved reputation for biased, sloppy reporting on geoengineering that renders any story it publishes on the subject dubious (see More Questionable Reporting from the Guardian, 7/19). The Guardian alleges that George received assistance from NASA for his experiments, but there is no evidence of this. Nor is there evidence of any intent to convert Haida OIF activities into carbon credits, or indeed how this could be accomplished in the absence of any recognized international offset methodology. These assertions may turn out to be true, but the Guardian long ago lost the benefit of the doubt when it comes to reporting on geoengineering.
The prime source of information for this story appears to have been the ETC Group, which is unapologetic in its opposition to all forms of geoengineering. The ETC Group is present at COP11 and has even released its own program of action for the meeting (see ETC Group Lays Out Wish List for CBD COP11, 10/10). The publication of this story was clearly timed to advance the group's stated goals in Hyderabad by attempting to associate any geoengineering research with the questionable past and present activities of Russ George.
George has his own agenda too, although its content remains fuzzy. In a briefing attributed to HSRC, the project is described solely in terms of salmon restoration, with no mention of carbon sequestration or offset credits. But George's checkered past cannot be overlooked, and there is justified suspicion that these experiments are nothing more than OIF repackaged as fish restoration, purportedly intended to revitalize the cultural and economic life of an indigenous people. Just as the Guardian has forfeited any assumption of reliability when it comes to geoengineering, Russ George's earlier Planktos antics make any current claims of ethical, responsible behavior impossible to accept at face value.
With the facts unclear, it is also impossible to determine whether any "violations" of the CBD or LC/LP took place. As the ETC Group intended, the Haida controversy has quickly become a topic of conversation in Hyderabad. In all likelihood, the story will have little substantive impact on the outcome of the conference, as there does not appear to be a consensus in favor of tightening existing decisions. But such meetings have been known to take unexpected turns, and the ETC Group is unquestionably savvy at playing politics within the CBD.