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Sunset in Haida Gwaii: In the Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo: Mark Unrau/All Canada Photos/Corbis)

Can Anyone Stop the Man Who Will Try Just About Anything to Put an End to Climate Change?

• May 05, 2014 • 6:00 AM

Sunset in Haida Gwaii: In the Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo: Mark Unrau/All Canada Photos/Corbis)

Most scientists oppose Russ George’s efforts to fix the world’s climate. But who’s going to do something about it?

In July 2012, a commercial fishing charter called Ocean Pearl motored through the frigid waters of the North Pacific. It carried 100 tons of iron dust and a crew of 11, led by a tall and heavyset 62-year-old American named Russ George. Passing beyond Canada’s territorial limit, the vessel arrived at an area of swirling currents known as the Haida eddies. There, in an eddy that had been chosen for the experiment, George and his crew mixed their cargo of iron with seawater and pumped it into the ocean through a hose, turning the waters a cloudy red. In early August, the ship returned to port, where the crew loaded an additional 20 tons of iron. They dumped it near the same Haida eddy a few weeks later, bringing to an end the most audacious and, before long, notorious attempt yet undertaken by man to modify Earth’s climate.

The expedition was grand in its aims and obscure in its patronage. Funding George’s voyage was a village of Haida Indians on Haida Gwaii, a remote Canadian archipelago about 500 miles northwest of Vancouver. George and his business partners had gained the town’s support for a project of dumping iron dust into the ocean to stimulate the growth of a plankton bloom. The plankton would help feed starving salmon, upon which the Haida had traditionally depended for their livelihood, and also remove a million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. (In algae form, plankton, like all plants, absorbs CO2 through photosynthesis.) The intended result: a replenished fish population—and millions of dollars’ worth of “carbon credits” that could be sold on the international market.

Back on land, in Vancouver, George and his associates drafted a report on the expedition. It claimed that Ocean Pearl had seeded more than 3,800 square miles of barren waters, leaving in its wake “a verdant emerald sea lush with the growth of a hundred million tonnes of plankton.” According to the account, fin, sperm, and sei whales, rarely seen in the region, appeared in large numbers, along with killer whales, dolphins, schools of albacore tuna, and armies of night-feeding squid. Albatross, storm petrels, sooty shearwaters, and other seabirds had circled above the ship, while flocks of Brant geese came to rest on the water and drifted with the bloom.

The few residents who would speak about the controversy told of a village racked with unease. Red tides—dense, crimson blooms of toxic phytoplankton that deplete the oxygen in seawater—had come in greater number than anyone could remember.

But George did little to publicize these findings. Instead, he set about compiling the data in private, telling people that he intended to produce a precise estimate of the CO2 he had removed from the atmosphere and then invite an independent auditor to certify his claims.

If that was the plan, it quickly fell apart. In October 2012, the Guardian of London broke the news of George’s expedition, saying it “contravenes two UN conventions” against large-scale ocean fertilization experiments. Numerous media outlets followed up with alarmed, often savage, reports, some of which went so far as to label George a “rogue geoengineer” or “eco-terrorist.” Amid the uproar, Canadian environment minister Peter Kent accused George of “rogue science” and promised that any violation of the country’s environmental law would be “prosecuted to the full extent.”

George, for his part, spoke of media misrepresentation, and he stressed that he was engaged in cautious research. Amid the controversy, in an interview with Scientific American, he was asked whether his iron fertilization had worked. “We don’t know,” he answered. “The correct attitude is: ‘Data, speak to me.’ Do the work, get the data, let it speak to you and tell you what the facts might be.” While most commenters seemed to think George had gone too far, some expressed sympathy—or at least puzzled ambivalence. A Salon headline the following summer asked, “Does Russ George Deserve a Nobel Prize or a Prison Sentence?

GEORGE’S EFFORTS PLACE HIM in the company of a small but growing group of people convinced that global warming can be halted only with the aid of dramatic intervention in our planet’s natural processes, an approach known as geoengineering. The fixes envisioned by geoengineers range from the seemingly trivial, like painting roads and roofs white to reflect solar radiation, to the extraterrestrial, like a proposal by one Indian physicist to use the explosive power of nuclear fusion to elongate Earth’s orbit by one or two percent, thus reducing solar intensity. (It would also add 5.5 days to the year.)

Because its methods tend to be both ambitious and untested, geoengineering is closely tied to the dynamics of alarm—feeding on it and causing it in equal measure. According to the International Energy Agency, if global CO2 emissions continue to increase, Earth’s temperature could rise 3.6 degrees Celsius in the next hundred years, leaving the planet warmer than it has been since the Miocene Epoch, 15 million years ago. For this reason, supporters of geoengineering view it as a risk that must be taken. Several U.S. federal agencies, including the CIA, have come together to fund a National Academy of Sciences study that will investigate a range of proposed geoengineering techniques.

But the notion of dramatic intervention in Earth’s climate has naturally generated its own fair share of anxiety. Because a change of climate in one location tends to have effects—for good or ill—in other parts of the world, skeptics view geoengineering with a wary eye to its unintended consequences. A 2013 study by the British government’s Meteorological Office, for example, found that volcanic eruptions in the northern hemisphere are strongly correlated with droughts in the Sahel region of Africa. Many scientists fear geoengineering would be no more equitable in allocating gains and losses.

George’s contribution to the debate over geoengineering (a term he considers to be unfairly maligned) has focused on the potential of what he and others call “iron fertilization.” It involves seeding the ocean with iron dust in order to stimulate the growth of phytoplankton, the first link in the oceanic food chain. The principle is simple: Phytoplankton absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere during photosynthesis, and as the creatures that feed on it defecate and die, organic matter slowly descends to the ocean floor, carrying with it millions of tons of carbon. Over time, the planet cools.

How can the world protect itself from the experiments of a climate engineer with the banking of just one government—or of just one impoverished village?

As elegant as this theory is, many oceanographers and climate scientists reject it and warn of possible side effects— among them dead zones, red tides, and toxic fish. Over the past two decades, over a dozen research expeditions have undertaken small-scale fertilization experiments, and results have been mixed. Even among scientists eager to study the idea further, the consensus is that before we allow the oceans to be seeded with additional tons of iron, more research is required. George objects. In a “Plankton Manifesto” published on his website, russgeorge.net, in March 2013, he condemned “those opposing our replenishment and restoration with cries of, ‘no geo-engineering,’ ‘don’t touch the oceans,’ and ‘beware the precautionary principle.’” The reason, George wrote, is that “Doing nothing amid a tragedy is in itself an act of grave direct consequence as you should have learned by now in Auschwitz, Rwanda, and more recently on Wall and High Streets and in the dominion of the Euro.”

FOR MOST, PERHAPS ALL, of his life, Russ George has been on a peripatetic quest, as he often says, to “save the world, make a little money on the side.” (His website calls the phrase his “mantra.”) George never agreed to talk on the record for this article, but interviews with his acquaintances reveal a story of frequent relocations and ambitious, often short-lived, commercial ventures. He was born in suburban Boston, where his father was a chemist for the Atomic Energy Agency, but the family moved several times, and George went to high school in Salt Lake City. He matriculated at the University of Utah but left before receiving a degree. By 1971, George had trekked deep into the Canadian wilderness, where he climbed mountains, paddled rivers, and sailed up the Pacific coast.

Several years later, when George was working briefly for British Columbia’s mining ministry, he became involved with a young woman from Toronto named Maggie Norris. The couple moved in together, married, and settled in Vancouver. Meanwhile, Norris recalls, George launched a series of businesses. One involved growing shiitake mushrooms in alder logs; another the farming of sablefish; and yet another the creation of a self-repairing breakwater. Eventually, he began doing some work with Greenpeace, but he nursed hopes of grander things.

In 1988, George was a year shy of 40 and the father of two daughters. “Russ was obviously a capable person and a hardworking and ambitious person, but just wasn’t getting any traction in Vancouver,” said Norris, who is now divorced from George. But “there was a place where people without formal education but just a lot of smarts and a lot of moxie and good ideas were making it big. And that place was called Silicon Valley.” George moved his family to a modest two-bedroom apartment in Palo Alto, California, and set up a telephone and a fax machine, hoping to launch a new business.

Shortly after his arrival, in March 1989, George learned that scientists at the University of Utah were claiming to have achieved a sustained nuclear reaction at room temperature, a phenomenon that came to be known as “cold fusion.” For a moment, the world seemed to be on the brink of colossal change.

Unfortunately, subsequent researchers were unable to reproduce the initial results, and mainstream scientific interest in the report quickly burned out. But the lure of cold fusion—the belief that with some adjustments it still could be made to happen—proved decisive for Russ George. Cold fusion would occupy more than a decade of his life.

battlefield-earth-1Iron Man: Russ George has steadfastly pursued his efforts to fertilize the ocean, regardless of outside opprobrium. (Photo: CBC)

GEORGE HAD FEW RELEVANT credentials when he decided to throw himself into the world of nuclear physics, so he spent the early 1990s educating himself and establishing contacts with cold fusion researchers. Among them was Roger Stringham, an experimenter with an interest in sonofusion, a nuclear reaction hypothesized to result from the collapse of cavitation bubbles. The two met over lunch in 1992, and, according to Stringham, George “was willing to drop everything and do anything, anything possible to continue our relationship.”

Stringham says he brought George aboard as a business partner at E-Quest Sciences, a company Stringham had set up in a rented warehouse space in nearby Mountain View, and set about creating an alternative energy device based on sonofusion. Stringham, the introvert, did the science; George, the go-getter, handled business development and PR. While George could come across as awkward, talking a little too fast and rarely looking people in the eye, he could also be a persuasive salesman. Even his hurried manner of speaking worked in his favor. “It’s like his brain is working faster than his mouth,” remembered Stringham’s wife, Julie Wallace.

But the partnership at E-Quest deteriorated. “He actually was claiming that the work I did was the work he did,” Stringham recalled, adding that George eventually pulled the E-Quest sign from the lab’s front window and replaced it with one for a new company that he said he was starting on his own. Stringham ended the partnership, but George kept showing up at the worksite. “He was a very hard person to get rid of,” said Stringham.

On the home front, as well, things were going downhill, according to Norris. In 1998, she and George split up, and within a few years, George moved into a ferro-cement boat that he docked in Half Moon Bay, California.

By then, cold fusion research was a field abandoned by the mainstream but still ardently pursued by a cadre of increasingly isolated believers. George nevertheless persisted for several more years, launching a string of ventures, including one called D2Fusion, which billed itself as a company “focused on developing and delivering low-cost, clean, waste-free, practical nuclear energy.” He also identified himself as “Doctor” and began presenting research papers at international cold fusion conferences. But despite his dedication, George could see that opportunities in cold fusion were on the wane. If he wanted to achieve a breakthrough, it would have to be in another field.

IN 1997, WORLD LEADERS gathered in Japan to produce what became known as the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement by 191 nations to set limits on the emission of several kinds of greenhouse gases, including CO2. The treaty led to the creation of a complex system of international exchanges on which companies can buy or sell “carbon credits,” essentially allowances to emit a certain amount of CO2. Each credit is equal to a metric ton of CO2, and the more you buy, the more CO2 you can emit. Entities can also earn carbon credits by doing things to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, such as planting trees. A half-dozen regulated carbon exchanges, including the Chicago Climate Exchange, were established as publicly traded companies in the United States and Europe, dealing exclusively in carbon credits that had been certified by independent auditors.

At the same time, a parallel network of unregulated, voluntary markets emerged on the Internet. It was in these that George began to take part (even as he continued to pursue his dreams of cold fusion). He formed a company called Planktos and sold carbon credits on its website. For $10, you could purchase a signed certificate guaranteeing that a ton of CO2 would be absorbed from the atmosphere and, according to the company website, “permanently retired from the Planktos inventory in your name.”

In a “Plankton Manifesto” published on his website, Russ George condemned “those opposing our replenishment and restoration with cries of ‘no geo-engineering.'”

Even in a new field, George had a knack for persuasion. In June 2002, when a historic 80-foot schooner named W.N. Ragland, owned by rock star Neil Young, was docked in Half Moon Bay, George, whose ferro-cement boat occupied a nearby slip, managed to strike up conversation with either Young or one of his employees (accounts differ) and get the loan of the vessel and its crew for six weeks. The yacht set sail for Hawaii on a clear day in June and arrived about 500 miles east of the Big Island three weeks later. On deck were several plastic tubs filled with a solution of iron oxide and seawater, which George and the crew piped over the side using bilge pumps.

The expedition earned George a write-up in the journal Nature, complete with a photograph of him posing at the helm of Ragland with an American flag fluttering behind him. It was a skeptical but respectful account of the voyage. With his profile heightened, George began to cast about for investors.

GEORGE’S FIRST BIG INVESTMENT came from a Vancouver-based engineer and real estate tycoon named Nelson Skalbania, who agreed to put up $4 million for George’s work. George purchased a retired, 110-foot research vessel called Weatherbird II and moved the headquarters of Planktos from his boat to an office in Foster City, California. There, George began to organize his next project: a sea voyage to the Galapagos Islands to seed the waters with 45 tons of pulverized iron ore. It was intended to be the first of six iron-fertilization missions.

In March 2007, for a promotional event covered by the Discovery Channel, George brought Weatherbird up the Potomac River to Washington D.C., where the crew, mostly recent college graduates, gave tours of the ship. George also spoke at the National Press Club and, in July, returned to provide expert testimony on the carbon market to the House Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. That same month, he traveled to Rome to present a framed carbon certificate to a cardinal at a solemn ceremony in the Vatican, promising, on behalf of a Europe-based affiliate of Planktos, to plant a forest in Hungary that would make the Vatican the world’s first carbon-neutral state.

But while George saw his star continue to rise, even participating that September in a TED salon, “Hot Science: Radical Ideas to Combat the Climate Crisis,” sponsored by BMW and Condé Nast, his plans were unraveling. Governments and environmentalists, some of whom were even threatening physical sabotage, had mobilized to put a stop to his expedition to the Galapagos. In November, when Weatherbird finally got underway, it avoided the Galapagos altogether and set course for the Canary Islands, where the crew expected to take aboard a load of iron and dump it somewhere in the Atlantic. But as the ship neared port, the Spanish coast guard blocked the way. After some drifting, Weatherbird ceased its voyage.

Skalbania did not blame George for the mission’s failures. (He still speaks highly of George, saying, “I lost all the money, but I have no regrets.”) But he saw little promise in further funding. In February 2008, Planktos announced that it would suspend operations indefinitely. The staff was let go, the office shuttered, and Weatherbird sold to an oil-exploration firm. A press release blamed the company’s demise on “a highly effective disinformation campaign waged by anti-offset crusaders.”

THE GALAPAGOS EPISODE HAD earned George a whole new level of attention, much of it hostile, and he became increasingly distrustful of the press and government authorities. That made his next partner, a German businessman named Alexander Schoppmann, curiously fitting. A self-described “free thinker,” Schoppmann believes that the notion of anthropogenic climate change is a hoax. (He also considers the health risks of smoking to be exaggerated, possibly even non-existent and, a few years ago, sought bank financing—unsuccessfully—for a luxury airline that would have allowed its passengers to smoke, drink, and gamble at altitude.) When I reached Schoppmann in Switzerland, he first asked me what I knew about the New World Order.

battlefield-earth-2I asked him what he meant.

“Kleptocrats and technocrats leading the pack, democracy going down the tubes, the U.N. leading the world. That’s the way it is, that’s the way it’s planned.”

I said yes, I knew the conspiracy theories.

“This is no conspiracy theory!” he said. “It is a conspiracy!” Had I heard of Agenda 21, the U.N.’s plan for genocide? What about the Bilderberg Group? The Georgia Guidestones? Y2K? The Patriot Act? SOPA? “See it in a bigger picture, step out of the Matrix,” he suggested. “Clean your head of all this silly gump which we are bombarded with every day.” Schoppmann spent over an hour on his explanation, which he said was required knowledge if I hoped to understand iron fertilization in its proper context.

I asked Schoppmann why, given his views, he would want to fund a plan intended to alleviate global warming. “I was using the system to implode it,” he said. Schoppmann explained that he wanted to assemble a fleet of 10 ships that would dump untold tons of iron into the ocean year-round, producing billions of carbon credits with which he would flood the market and drive carbon-offset prices into the ground.

Was George on board with the plan?

“Oh, he loved it,” Schoppmann said with a laugh, “because we would have earned a couple of billion dollars in the process!”

But it was not to be. In July 2010, the carbon exchange in Chicago, one of the world’s largest, revealed that it was planning to lay off half its staff. Carbon prices were collapsing without Schoppmann’s help, and credits were selling for a few pennies, down from a high of over seven dollars. By year’s end, the exchange stopped trading in carbon altogether. Schoppmann lost interest and decided to move on. Once again, George was on his own, barring some stroke of luck.

THAT STROKE CAME IN 2010, when British Columbia’s Fraser River experienced its largest run of sockeye salmon in almost a century. Decades of decline had preceded this surge; the previous year’s sockeye run had reached a disastrous low of just 1.7 million. But in 2010, an estimated 34 million fish returned inland to spawn, a bonanza that puzzled scientists, who continue to debate its cause. One school of thought tied it to the 2008 eruption of a long-dormant volcano in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. According to this theory, the volcano’s expulsion of an iron-rich plume of ash had precipitated a giant plankton bloom. The idea did not escape George’s notice.

Even before 2010, George had been in contact with the Haida Indians of an impoverished town called Old Massett, population 750, located on the northernmost shore of Haida Gwaii. In the Planktos days, George had selected the Haida eddies as one of his six experimental sites. Now, with Planktos effectively out of the picture, he aimed to get funding from Old Massett instead. Representing the town was a man named John Disney, an English transplant who had become its economic development officer. George and Disney saw in ocean fertilization the potential to make Old Massett rich in both fish and carbon credits.

In September 2010, Disney and George established an entity called the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation. Funding an ocean expedition would require a $2.5 million investment. Despite the miserable state of the carbon market, the company estimated that it stood to make as much as $35 million dollars in its first year, amounting to a nearly 1,300-percent return.

The following March, in 2011, Disney held three public meetings in advance of a village-wide vote on funding for iron fertilization. Few people turned out—just 13 in one case, according to Gloria Tauber, a Haida woman who attended the meetings. “Very little was spoken about fish,” said a Haida artist named April White. The emphasis was instead on the potential return on investment. In the end, 111 tribe members voted yes to putting up the money; 57 voted no. On behalf of Old Massett, Disney applied to a local credit union and obtained a $2.5 million loan, secured with money from the tribal trust and village reserve fund.

The fixes envisioned by geoengineers range from the seemingly trivial, like painting roofs white to reflect solar radiation, to the extraterrestrial, like a proposal by one Indian physicist to use the explosive power of nuclear fusion to elongate Earth’s orbit, thus reducing solar intensity.

During the preparations for the iron-seeding expedition, George and his partners avoided interference from Canadian government officials. Because the Haida of Old Massett have limited political independence from the rest of Canada, the iron-laden Ocean Pearl set out not under the flag of Canada but that of the Old Massett Village Council. (Jason McNamee, operations officer of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, disputes this and states that the Ocean Pearl sailed as a “Canadian vessel.”)

After the Guardian broke the story of George’s actions, the controversy seemed to spiral out of control, and representatives from the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation scheduled a press conference at the Vancouver Aquarium. Several of Old Massett’s leaders flew down for the event, including Disney and the tribe’s chief councilor, a man named Ken Rea. George did not attend. With Rea standing soberly by the podium in a Haida ceremonial headdress, Disney took to the microphone and defended the company’s chief scientist. “Russ George did not, I say did not, come to us to dupe us or sell us a bill of goods,” he said. “I’ve known Russ for over 10 years, and I’ll tell you something that is very rare: He’s never once lied to me. He’s only told me the truth.”

AS THE HUBBUB OVER George’ mission began to fade, I contacted him to ask if he would meet with me. A protracted off-the-record negotiation over the terms of a potential interview ensued, mostly over the phone, with George speaking quickly and nervously in a high tenor. Still, after many exchanges with me, George agreed to talk on the record, and I booked a flight for Vancouver.

Then, on March 27, 2013, just two days before I was due to meet to George in person, black-uniformed agents from Environment Canada, the environmental department of Canada’s government, arrived and executed a search warrant on the Vancouver offices of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation. Amid an array of computers and laboratory equipment, they found several people, including George, and corralled them into a cubicle in the basement. For the next 22 hours, the officers questioned each of them and scoured their workstations for evidence.

Unaware of the raid, I tried to reach George from my Vancouver hotel, eventually hearing back from him via email. Our meeting was off, he informed me. When I asked him to reconsider, he indicated that I was no longer to be trusted. Taking to his website, George called the raid “the largest assault/raid in Environment Canada’s history” and pointed out “the fact that this RAID was two days before a CBC NEWS television special hatchet job on me and the village project.”

The closest I got to George in Vancouver was a meeting I had with Jenny Arntzen, a doctoral student in the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy at the University of British Columbia, who was helping George to scrutinize press coverage. She told me that journalists, scientists, environmental groups, the Canadian government, and even the United Nations were working together to assassinate George’s character. But, she said, Russ George was not even the main story. To understand what was really going on, I would have to visit the Haida of Old Massett.

OLD MASSETT IS NARROWLY laid out along a coastal road. For most of the year, skies are overcast, rain frequent, winds sudden and strong. The area is rugged and forbidding and might be beautiful but for the village itself. Small, weather-beaten houses with chipping paint and shorn-off siding stand one after another on streets strewn with garbage. You can drive through town in a minute or two.

When I arrived there in April 2013, tensions were high. The director of a Canadian anti-geoengineering organization called the ETC Group had recently attacked iron fertilization at a pair of public meetings in Old Massett and Skidegate, a neighboring Haida reservation to the south. Meanwhile, Disney, the Old Massett economic development officer, vowed that the work would continue and “lead to everything that we promised would happen.”

For most, perhaps all, of his life, Russ George has been on a peripatetic quest to “save the world, make a little money on the side.”

The few residents of Old Massett who would speak openly about the controversy told of a village racked with unease. Red tides—dense, crimson blooms of toxic phytoplankton that deplete the oxygen in seawater—had come earlier and in greater number than anyone could remember, and Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans had declared local shellfish unsafe to eat. This was consistent with warnings from some environmental scientists that iron fertilization could trigger algal toxicity. It wasn’t just scientists who were worried. “Everybody’s thinking, holy shit, maybe the iron did this!” said Elvis Davis, a portly Haida man known as Skinny. “And then we’ve seen two dead sea lions.”

I found the village’s chief councilor, Ken Rea, at the Haida Rose Café, a coffee shop that he owns. It was a Saturday morning, and Rea was alone. He wore a black turtleneck tucked into stonewashed jeans, and his face looked youthful despite his graying hair. “If you’re doing a story on Russ George, I’m not going to help you,” he said, handing me a cup of coffee. “That’s not the story as far as we’re concerned.”

Rea preferred instead to talk about what he had been working on as Old Massett’s chief, a role he had had for just a year and half. Like most Old Massett men of a certain age, Rea was once a fisherman, but, he told me, the village was plunged into poverty in the 1990s when sport-fishing lodges “owned by millionaires in Vancouver” lobbied successfully to close salmon-rich areas to local Haida fishermen. Now unemployment was rampant. (Canada’s 2011 national household survey placed it at 19 percent.) Iron fertilization, Rea explained, was just one of several opportunities Old Massett was pursuing. Other projects included a fishing lodge and a logging company.

I asked if Rea regretted backing the Ocean Pearl expedition. “If I knew it was going to blow up like this, sure, I would have reevaluated,” he said, but he added that the media coverage had been a “hatchet job,” and he stood by Old Massett’s decision to work with George. “Holy Christ, I feel bad for Russ! He’s been destroyed!” Rea told me. “He does care. I genuinely believe that. Otherwise I wouldn’t be working with him.”

REA’S WORDS STAYED WITH me, because I, too, had been impressed by George’s intelligence and sense of conviction during our many on-again, off-again interactions. George’s pursuit of solutions to problems of energy and the environment has clearly been unwavering, and even detractors concede he is very smart. After every conversation I had with him, I hung up the phone convinced that he was right. But then I would speak with university scientists, who expressed incredulity that anyone could find George’s arguments persuasive. Such is the danger when it comes to something as arcane and intricate as climate science or iron fertilization. Many of us are too easily swayed by whatever argument we last heard.

After the Environment Canada raid on its Vancouver headquarters, the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation filed a motion (later denied) with British Columbia’s Supreme Court demanding that the Canadian government drop its investigation and return the company’s research materials. It was also moving ahead with plans for a second round of iron fertilization. But then, on May 23, 2013, it issued a press release announcing that George had been terminated, effective immediately. The company’s lawyer, Jay Straith, told me that George and the Haida had reached an impasse. The leaders of Old Massett wanted to limit the company’s activities to the North Pacific, while George envisioned a global operation. The argument had continued for several weeks, until late one night, according to Straith, George paid a visit to the office and walked out with the company’s computer server. “The server!” Straith said, laughing. “There’s nothing subtle about that!”

This January, George filed an application in the British Columbia Supreme Court arguing that he owns a 48-percent stake in the company and was wrongly removed from the venture. In a testament to the complexity of the business arrangements, George named seven defendants, including Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, Old Massett Development Company, an entity called Blue Carbon Solutions, and two John Does. The response filed by Haida Salmon Restoration alleged that George had behaved in a manner that was “irrational, unprofessional, and offensive” and had “engaged in a physical assault upon the project leader.”

Lost amid the charges and countercharges was another statistic: The 2013 run of pink salmon in Canadian and Alaskan rivers had topped 200 million.

Of course, barring thousands of tons of additional iron dumping, we are unlikely to know what role, if any, George’s expedition played in this, and most scientists and nations would prefer to keep it that way. But George’s actions have made clear how hard it is to enforce such preferences. The United Nations has offered little more than a loosely worded resolution that “ocean fertilization activities other than legitimate scientific research should not be allowed.” How can the world protect itself from the experiments of a climate engineer with the backing of just one government—or of just one impoverished village?

Today, George is a stage performer. He and some friends put together 40 Million Salmon Can’t Be Wrong, billed as a “musical stage show and tour to bring back the fish,” with a rock band and speeches from “science communicator” Russ George. The debut performance took place last October at Blue Frog Studios in White Rock, British Columbia. “People have asked me whether those are my fish from the plankton bloom,” he told his audience. “I say, ‘Well, it seems likely. Nothing else happened out there that changed the world.’”

The Haida, having staked millions of dollars on George’s promise of fish and carbon credits, hope he’s right, but seem increasingly fearful that he is not. The court filing of Haida Salmon Restoration alleged that George “simply did not possess the technology and know-how that [he] had previously represented.” But George, with the contents of the company’s server in hand, gives every indication that his stint in show business will be short-lived, a time to regroup before his return to international waters, perhaps with the support of another unlikely patron. The reminder is on his website: “It only takes a village to bring back the fish.”


This post originally appeared in the May/June 2014 issue of Pacific Standard as “Battlefield Earth.” For more, subscribe to our print magazine.

Bruce Falconer
Bruce Falconer is the senior editor of The American Scholar.

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That Catcalling Video Is a Reminder of Why Research Methods Are So Important

If your methods aren’t sound then neither are your findings.


November 24 • 12:00 PM

Yes, Republicans Can Still Win the White House

If the economy in 2016 is where it was in 2012 or better, Democrats will likely retain the White House. If not, well….


November 24 • 11:36 AM

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it’s relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.


November 24 • 10:00 AM

Why Are Patients Drawn to Certain Doctors?

We look for an emotional fit between our physicians and ourselves—and right now, that’s the best we can do.


November 24 • 8:00 AM

Why Do We Elect Corrupt Politicians?

Voters, it seems, are willing to forgive—over and over again—dishonest yet beloved politicians if they think the job is still getting done.



November 24 • 6:00 AM

They Steal Babies, Don’t They?

Ethiopia, the Hague, and the rise and fall of international adoption. An exclusive investigation of internal U.S. State Department documents describing how humanitarian adoptions metastasized into a mini-industry shot through with fraud, becoming a source of income for unscrupulous orphanages, government officials, and shady operators—and was then reined back in through diplomacy, regulation, and a brand-new federal law.


November 24 • 4:00 AM

Nudging Drivers, and Pedestrians, Into Better Behavior

Daniel Pink’s new series, Crowd Control, premieres tonight on the National Geographic Channel.


November 21 • 4:00 PM

Why Are America’s Poorest Toddlers Being Over-Prescribed ADHD Drugs?

Against all medical guidelines, children who are two and three years old are getting diagnosed with ADHD and treated with Adderall and other stimulants. It may be shocking, but it’s perfectly legal.



November 21 • 2:00 PM

The Best Moms Let Mess Happen

That’s the message of a Bounty commercial that reminds this sociologist of Sharon Hays’ work on “the ideology of intensive motherhood.”


November 21 • 12:00 PM

Eating Disorders Are Not Just for Women

Men, like women, are affected by our cultural preoccupation with thinness. And refusing to recognize that only makes things worse.


Follow us


Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it's relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn't vanish as we age—it just moves.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

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