Russ George: Ocean Stewardship

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Russ George’s talk at the 2009 Seasteading Conference is now available online:

“The cure for environmental apocalypse does NOT require an economic apocalypse”

Russ George is trying to save the planet through phyto-synthesis. By iron-doping the ocean to produce phytoplankton blooms, George has been living the entrepreneurial life on the sea and fostering the spirit of ocean stewardship through his environmentally progressive company, Planktos Science.

The Kyoto Protocol, a series of international policy meetings beginning in 1997, established the convention of “carbon emission credits”. This structure created a system of economic exchanges, as heavy polluters unable to come below emissions allowances would be able to purchase pollution allotments from businesses well under their own scheduled allotments, or from third parties who produce carbon offsets.

George realized that if he could generate carbon offsets by actually pulling carbon out of the atmosphere, he could make saving the Earth a profitable proposition. But while there isn’t enough land on the earth to plant enough trees to even begin to compensate for the impact of modern civilization, there is potential in plankton. “Plankton in the ocean is essentially the ocean forest,” and the amount of carbon moderated by plankton is phenomenal, George says.

In the mid-1980s, a scientist by the name of John Martin posited that phytoplankton blooms could be triggered by seeding with iron. “Give me half a tanker of iron, and I’ll give you the next Ice Age,” Martin once playfully boasted. In 1993 and again in 1995, The Iron Hypothesis was tested and proved about 250 miles southwest of the Galapagos Islands: dropping a few thousand pounds of iron filings successfully produced a 30-fold increase in chlorophyll-loaded, carbon-consuming critters within the span of about a week.

Armed with this knowledge, Planktos Science has been putting a team of 30 to 40 scientists on the ocean to actively seed the sea, collecting data on their results. The Planktos Science website shows evidence of the success of several seeding projects around the world, representing thousands of tons of carbon dioxide shifted out of the atmosphere and into a biologically sequestered form in the sea.

Moving beyond the promotion of plankton, Russ George points out that we’ve been ignoring the ocean across the board, and much to our detriment. Since we’ve never taken the active role of stewardship of the areas of ocean one could call fish pasture, the Pacific salmon fisheries have collapsed as the North Pacific has lost 26% of its plankton which feeds baby fish. Indicative of our broad neglect of the sea, George mentions that there are more weather stations in the Bay Area than there are covering the entire world’s oceans.

Planktos Science represents an important step in the development of seasteading-viable business models. Coupled with a focus on conscious and pragmatic improvement of the planet, Planktos has the potential to become a role model for aspiring seastead-based businesses.

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