Thursday, October 18, 2012

Rogue geoengineering and scrivener's error

A shadowy businessman from my state named Russ George has apparently dumped boatloads of iron into the Pacific off the Canadian coastline in an alleged carbon sequestration project.  I first thought he had hooked up with the Haida, a Canadian First Nations indigenous group, in order to get some political backing, but the link shows it may have been more involved:

The dump took place from a fishing boat in an eddy 200 nautical miles west of the islands of Haida Gwaii, one of the world's most celebrated, diverse ecosystems, where George convinced the local council of an indigenous village to establish the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation to channel more than $1m of its own funds into the project. 
The president of the Haida nation, Guujaaw, said the village was told the dump would environmentally benefit the ocean, which is crucial to their livelihood and culture.  
"The village people voted to support what they were told was a 'salmon enhancement project' and would not have agreed if they had been told of any potential negative effects or that it was in breach of an international convention," Guujaaw said.
One imagines they could have done better things with a million dollars than financing Mr. Ross.  He is of a certain infamy from his Planktos company's effort to do the same thing five years ago and sell carbon offsets certified AFAICT on the basis of their own say-so.

So now they seem to have legal trouble with international agreements that tried to regulate efforts such as those by George.  However, wherever you can find a dubious legal interpretation that could harm the environment, it seems one can find a connection to the recent Rabett favorite, David "Heartstrings" Schnare:
• The London Convention / London Protocol: You may fertilize if the intent is to grow fish but not if the intent is to dispose of carbon in the ocean. Hence, focus on “restoration”.
At the same link, Ken Caldeira writes:

It would be useful if any legal minds in the group would assess exactly the relevant language that Russ George has supposedly violated. 
I recall that in negotiations under the London Convention / London Protocol, there was concern not to impact fish farms which of course supply copious nutrients to surrounding waters. 
If my recollection was correct, somebody proposed an exception for mariculture. I piped up and said that all ocean fertilization could be considered mariculture and that the CO2 storage could be regarded as a co-benefit, achieved knowingly but not intentionally (just as when we drive a car we knowingly heat the planet although that is not our intent). 
My recollection was that in response to this comment, the word 'conventional' was added to the language, so that it now reads: 
"Ocean fertilization does not include conventional aquaculture, or mariculture, .. ". Resolution LC-LP.1(2008) - IMO 
Incidentally, it seems that they have a misplaced comma, as I believe the word 'conventional' was meant to apply to both 'aquaculture'' and 'mariculture', but with the placement of the comma, I read this as 'conventional aquaculture' or 'mariculture'. I am not enough of a lawyer to know whether the intended meaning or the literal meaning is the one likely to prevail under some sort of adjudication process.
The misplaced comma is what lawyers call scrivener's error, a great way to mess up legal documents and run up legal bills.  To broadly over-generalize, under US domestic law courts will correct scrivener's error when it leads to absurd results.  It strikes me as absurd to limit the regulatory exception to conventional aquaculture while expanding it to all mariculture.  The legal issue here isn't domestic law though, but international law as interpreted by domestic authorities, probably Canada in this case.  Hardly my field, but Article 79 of the UN Treaty on the Law of Treaties says if signatories agree there was a clerical error, you just go and fix it.  I think that's where we would stand now on the clerical error, but there are other reasons for thinking George is in legal trouble (comments of Jim Thomas) regardless of the misplaced comma.

23 comments:

david lewis said...

Caldeira commented further, saying this:

"It is interesting to see the level of interest that intentional ocean fertilization draws relative to, say, nutrients added to the ocean as a result of farm runoff or inadequately processed sewage. We are very sensitive to the intent with which actions are conducted, and are willing to overlook travesties caused in the normal course of business so that we can focus on physically insignificant acts where the presumed intentions do not meet our high ethical standards.

We do not choose to focus on problems based on an objective appraisal of threats posed, but rather largely based on which actions we find to be most ethically repugnant. Apparently, dumping raw sewage simply to save the cost of sewage processing is less repugnant than fertilizing the ocean in hopes of increasing fish yields. One suspects that the real ethical boundary that Russ George is inferred to have transgressed is the desire to personally profit from unconventional mariculture."

He supplied this document, i.e. Resolution LC-LP.1(2008) On The Regulation of Ocean Fertilization.

He suggested people look at this video which describes the 400 million cubic meters of polluted water, which includes 85% of the raw untreated sewage from the 9 million people who live in the City of Lima, Peru, that is piped annually directly into the Bay of Lima, i.e. the Pacific Ocean.

Russel Seitz noted, at the same Google Geoengineering Group, that he had published an E-Letter in Science late in 2007, i.e. Ocean Iron Fertilization, in which he pointed out that massive quantities ("literally megatons a year") of Fe, P, and N ended up in the global ocean in shipping lanes as a result of the Age of Steam in which the world's shipping was powered by primitive coal burning engines.

Brian said...

Agree on sewage, but welcome to grandfathering.

Also worth pointing out that sewage isn't attempted geoengineering with attendant risks. And that sewage is getting increasingly treated in developed and middle income countries.

Seitz' comment may be of some scientific interest, but not otherwise relevant.

William Connolley said...

> there are other reasons for thinking Ross is in legal trouble (comments of Jim Thomas)

You mean "COP 9 DECISION IX/16 4. Bearing in mind the ongoing scientific and legal analysis occurring under the auspices of the London Convention (1972) and the 1996 London Protocol, requests Parties and urges other Governments, in accordance with the precautionary approach, to ensure that ocean fertilization activities do not take place until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities..."

The key words in there must be "requests" and "urges". A request, or an urge, is not binding.

I still can't see where you've demonstrated that he's broken any law, comma or no.

William Connolley said...

Also, Nature says it isn't legally binding: http://www.nature.com/news/2010/101102/full/468013a.html

david lewis said...

Speaking of legal trouble, what about all the people who continue to emit CO2 notwithstanding that the countries they live in signed on to the 1992 UNFCCC, where the US and others committed to "stabilize the GHG concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system"?

What went into the atmosphere last year, 31 billion tonnes of CO2? Oh I see, no one INTENDED to alter the climate with that 31 billion tonnnes.

Its the few hundred tonnes of Fe that went into the ocean INTENDED, perhaps, if profit wasn't the only motive, to alter climate off Haida Gwai we need to worry about.

The mind boggles.

Jeffrey Davis said...

Scrivener's error? I'd prefer not.

Russell said...

An errant Scrivener in an Admiralty Court could turn an error into an earor and reignite the War Of Jenkins Ear.

As is, tortuous George stands accused of Carbon Offset Piracy

Holly Stick said...

Note it's Russ George, not George Ross. Local scientists who have some experience with such experiments were not consulted, it seems:

http://www.cbc.ca/player/Radio/Local+Shows/British+Columbia/ID/2293273264/?sort=MostRecent

We may have to wait a while to see if there are more salmon or if they have been killed off by this "experiment".

Holly Stick said...

Disagreement here from professor emeritus:

http://www.timescolonist.com/technology/Iron+dust+experiment+justification/7408414/story.html

Steve Bloom said...

Perhaps simple fraud under Canadian law for having obtained the million bucks under false pretenses.

Holly Stick said...

I think they were supposed to get a permit from Environment Canada and did not do so.

Anonymous said...

I'm Steve L. Parsons' support for the fertilization = salmon hypothesis is premature.

There was a huge bloom in 2008 as a result of the Kasatochi (Aleutian volcano) eruption -- winds distributed the ash about as perfectly as you could hope. The Fraser River sockeye salmon return in 2010 was huge; as babies they mostly went to sea in 2008 and the fertilization was timed well for their arrival in the Gulf of Alaska. So far so good. The other big return of Fraser River sockeye mentioned by Parsons occurred in 1958, and the eruption occurred in 1956 (Kamchatkan volcano Bezymianny) rather than 1958 as written by Parsons. So that's good too, but there is no knowledge of a plankton bloom all the way over in the Gulf of Alaska, there's no information on prevailing winds that year, and there's little support for the notion that Fraser River sockeye rear in the far west Pacific. There have been other eruptions in the intervening years that don't correlate to exceptional salmon years, so the reference to 1958 could be viewed as cherry-picking.

Overall I would view the above as supportive of Parsons' hypothesis. But when you look in detail, most of the Fraser sockeye in 1958 and 2010 were from one lake: Shuswap Lake. Every four years, Shuswap Lake sees a huge return of sockeye (tourists flock to the lower Adams River to see them). The returns of sockeye to lots of other Fraser River sockeye lakes were not exceptional in 2010; in addition the returns of sockeye to lots of other rivers in BC were worse than usual in 2010. Why wouldn't they all respond positively to the fertilization? Finally, when considering production of offspring compared to the parent year, there aren't really any exceptionally positive years. There are, however, two exceptionally poor years for Fraser River sockeye -- 2007 and 2009 (ocean entry years 2005 and 2007, respectively). Importantly, phytoplankton production in the North Pacific in 2007 wasn't anomalously low (and my recollection is that phytoplankton in 2005 wasn't very poor either).

Other less important arguments include the fact that fish weren't particularly large in 2009, which you'd expect if the fertilization had a pervasive effect. Lake fertilization experiments have produced higher fish numbers, but they have also produced lower fish numbers (especially when the wrong types of phytoplankton get grown, as in Quesnel Lake following large sockeye salmon returns early last decade). And initial ecological monitoring couldn't show the kinds of damage anticipated at this stage -- the bloom organisms have to die and settle to the bottom (thus creating an anoxic zone as the biomass decomposes). If they don't settle at the bottom, then the Carbon represented by the bloom hasn't been sequestered.

Brian said...

William - no, I was thinking of this from Jim: "The footnote is simply to
avoid an argument that feeding fish as part of aquaculture or mariculture is ocean fertilisation since it is inadvertently stimulating primary
productivity in the oceans."

IOW, he argues the footnote is a clarification, not an exception.

Regarding exactly what legal trouble George could be in, might depend on how Canada interprets it.

And now I'm really sinking in legal murkiness - it's within the 300 mile exclusive economic zone, but I'm not clear exactly what law applies if he was flying another nation's flag. Maritime law is way beyond me. Maybe Canadian authorities will clarify, although the current Canadian government is horrible on climate.

Holly - thanks, will fix the post!

Anonymous said...

Steve L here again. It will be difficult in 2 years to evaluate whether or not this 'experiment' had any positive effect on salmon production. As stated by Parsons (and in my comment above), there was a big return in 2010. There was a lot of spawning. If there are a lot of fish returning in 2014 it could be due to the huge number of eggs put on the spawning grounds in 2010, or due to the large numbers of juveniles overwhelming the predators. If there are few fish returning in 2014, it could be due to the huge numbers of juveniles (overgrazing phytoplankton in lakes or spreading disease, etc). It would have been more informative to try to fertilization on a different year.

Hank Roberts said...

Probably there's a detectable plume of various chemicals en route from Japan across the Pacific; presumably someone's bee watching for changes.

J Bowers said...

Canadian government ‘knew of plans to dump iron into the Pacific’

Russell said...

With creatures like Thiobacillis ferroxidans chewing merrily on the output of the black smokers along the Pacific ridge, I find it hard to get excited by an extra megamole of jarosite entering the system from the top.

In order to make the grade as a comic book villain, George needs to commision a Hindenburg replica and spray honest to gosh Geritol over the Golden Gate bridge.

Jim Eager said...

One of the concerns about geoengineering is the potential for nation states to act on their own, and the potential conflict that could generate. Well, never mind nation states, here we have a group of private individuals acting on their own. The hypothetical concern has already become reality.

Russell said...

O, the humanity!- how Jim must agonize over the megaton of iron meteorite dust falling unregulated into the ocean every year !

J Bowers said...

Russell, over the entire area of the oceans and over 365 days, could that be at similar concentration levels to a homeopathic remedy?

Jim Eager said...

Russel, obviously my point blew right past you.

I'm not very concerned about the 200 tonnes of iron sulphate deployed in this uncontrolled but rather small publicity stunt..., er..., experiment, but I am very concerned about the precedent it sets, by the deliberate steps taken to skirt around national laws and regulations and the flat out ignoring of international law and convention, and by the fraudulent misrepresentation to and manipulation of a First Nations band by a businessman pushing a flim-flam carbon credit scheme.

Would you be so sanguine if we were talking about a multinational fossil carbon fuel producer or power generating corporation lifting sulphate aerosols into the upper atmosphere by balloon from a ship in international waters to mask the CO2 forcing of their emissions?

Russell said...

Jim:

Yes.

Because

1. Even that scale is de minimis
2. The Law of the Sea treaty remains unratified as the Paris Convention of 1851, and despite the enthusiasm of their proponents, I owe no allegiance to the , pardon the expression, scivenings, to which you refer.

Garcia said...

I'm Steve L. Parsons' support for the fertilization = salmon hypothesis is premature. There was a huge bloom in 2008 as a result of the Kasatochi (Aleutian volcano) eruption -- winds distributed the ash about as perfectly as you could hope. The Fraser River sockeye salmon return in 2010 was huge; as babies they mostly went to sea in 2008 and the fertilization was timed well for their arrival in the Gulf of Alaska. So far so good. The other big return of Fraser River sockeye mentioned by Parsons occurred in 1958, and the eruption occurred in 1956 (Kamchatkan volcano Bezymianny) rather than 1958 as written by Parsons. So that's good too, but there is no knowledge of a plankton bloom all the way over in the Gulf of Alaska, there's no information on prevailing winds that year, and there's little support for the notion that Fraser River sockeye rear in the far west Pacific. There have been other eruptions in the intervening years that don't correlate to exceptional salmon years, so the reference to 1958 could be viewed as cherry-picking. Overall I would view the above as supportive of Parsons' hypothesis. But when you look in detail, most of the Fraser sockeye in 1958 and 2010 were from one lake: Shuswap Lake. Every four years, Shuswap Lake sees a huge return of sockeye (tourists flock to the lower Adams River to see them). The returns of sockeye to lots of other Fraser River sockeye lakes were not exceptional in 2010; in addition the returns of sockeye to lots of other rivers in BC were worse than usual in 2010. Why wouldn't they all respond positively to the fertilization? Finally, when considering production of offspring compared to the parent year, there aren't really any exceptionally positive years. There are, however, two exceptionally poor years for Fraser River sockeye -- 2007 and 2009 (ocean entry years 2005 and 2007, respectively). Importantly, phytoplankton production in the North Pacific in 2007 wasn't anomalously low (and my recollection is that phytoplankton in 2005 wasn't very poor either). Other less important arguments include the fact that fish weren't particularly large in 2009, which you'd expect if the fertilization had a pervasive effect. Lake fertilization experiments have produced higher fish numbers, but they have also produced lower fish numbers (especially when the wrong types of phytoplankton get grown, as in Quesnel Lake following large sockeye salmon returns early last decade). And initial ecological monitoring couldn't show the kinds of damage anticipated at this stage -- the bloom organisms have to die and settle to the bottom (thus creating an anoxic zone as the biomass decomposes). If they don't settle at the bottom, then the Carbon represented by the bloom hasn't been sequestered.