A company called Planktos has taken some lumps on our site, so when their president, Russ George, sent this response along, I agreed to run it. (It ran originally in the Ottawa Citizen.) Your responses are welcome, but please, keep them civil.
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 ecorestoration 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.
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 manmade 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.