Questions, comments at ocean fertilization meetings in Skidegate, Masset

  • Mar. 8, 2013 6:00 p.m.

More than 100 islanders, hungry for more information about the startling ocean geo-engineering experiment conducted last summer by Old Massett, turned out to hear from an international expert at meetings in Skidegate and Masset March 5 and 6. Pat Mooney, the executive director of Ottawa-based ETC group, told islanders that his non-profit organization has been following climate change and other international environmental issues for many years. The idea of ocean fertilization – dumping iron into the ocean to stimulate plankton growth and get rid of carbon – has been around since about 1993, he said. It was billed as a quick fix for some of the problems created by climate change, but small-scale experiments had inconclusive results. In 2008, he said, governments around the world agreed to a moratorium on ocean fertilization experiments in international waters, due to the uncertainty about their results. An even stricter moratorium was agreed to in 2010. “We could be doing severe damage to the planet or we could be doing something good,” he told the 80 or so islanders who attended his presentation in Skidegate. “We just don’t know.” Mr. Mooney said he believed that ocean fertilization had dropped off the radar in recent years and was no longer an issue, because no government would fund these kind of experiments due to the international moratoriums, and no private company would be interested as there is no money to be made. So he was completely shocked when he heard about the Old Massett experiment, which saw 100 tons of pulverized iron dumped over 10,000 square kilometres of the north Pacific Ocean last summer. “It just didn’t make sense,” he said. “That just defied logic to us and the rest of the scientific community.” In response to questions from the audience, Mr. Mooney – who is not a scientist – said there’s no proof that ocean fertilization doesn’t work, but there’s also no proof that it does work. The concern of the international community about these kinds of experiments, he said, is the possibility that they could have unintended global effects. “We can’t trust anybody to play god, and these kind of experiments are playing god,” he said. “Who’s going to control the thermostat of the planet?” Cindy Boyko said as a Haida citizen she was raised to protect Haida Gwaii, and she feels extremely worried about the effect of the Old Massett experiment. She asked Mr. Mooney what results the experiment might have, and if there is anything that can be done to reverse it. “I feel sick about what’s happening here because we don’t have enough answers about what the results could be,” she said. “Is the best I can do just hope that it didn’t do damage?… Where do we go to get help to stop something like this from happening ever again?” Mr. Mooney responded that there is no need for anyone to feel badly. “A game got played that shouldn’t have been played,” he said. “But no scientist I’ve talked to says that what happened last summer will cause irreversible damage to the ocean.” Mr. Mooney said part of the concern about the Old Massett experiment is that it might be repeated or encourage others to undertake similar experiments. Haida Gwaii could do the world a favour, he said, if it came up with a clear statement about exactly what happened last summer. In response to another question, Mr. Mooney said islanders who are concerned about the experiment could take several courses of action. He suggested they ask the federal government to investigate and ask the government what it intends to do if the experiment is repeated. Islanders could also appeal to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal, asking that organization for scientific advice. Islanders should also ask those responsible for the experiment to provide actual names of scientists and organizations that support it, instead of making vague claims. Mr. Mooney told the public that the ETC group does not spend a lot of time on ocean fertilization, but mainly works on international agriculture and biodiversity issues. He came to Haida Gwaii, he said, because he was coming out to Vancouver anyway and decided to make the short trip north. “I’m here because given what happened here… the heartache it created, it seemed wrong not to come,” he said. In Masset Wednesday afternoon, Christopher Collison called the wording Mr. Mooney was using ‘semantics’. “All I have been hearing from you is ‘dump, dump, dump’. I really don’t think your organization is looking at this critically. From my point of view, you are a hired gun.” Another member of the audience said “when you are condemning carbon credits, you are just condemning. You are acting like a junk scientist, in my opinion.” The audience member (we didn’t get his name) then wondered aloud why anyone was attending the meeting, and walked out. Also in Masset, Keifer Collison asked Mr. Mooney what advice he had for Old Massett. “Haida Gwaii has a tremendous reputation around the world. Haida culture, Haida practices, Haida stewardship always comes up. There is a huge respect for how you live. You would do the world an enormous service if you simply report it. Write it up. Say ‘here’s what happened’. Share that with the rest of the world. Just don’t let it get swept under the carpet. We need these things discussed . The world could learn from you,” Mr. Mooney said.

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