Over the past several months, while most of the political world has been focused on the election and the ensuing struggle over the fiscal cliff, a little story appeared that is worthy of much more attention.
It concerns the efforts of the British Columbia–based Haida native-American tribe to restore the salmon fishery that has provided much of their livelihood for centuries. Acting collectively, the Haida voted to form the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, financed it with $2.5 million of their own savings, and used it to support the efforts of American scientist-entrepreneur Russ George to demonstrate the feasibility of open-sea mariculture through the distribution of 120 tons of iron sulfate into the northeast Pacific to stimulate a phytoplankton bloom.
While massive amounts of data collected from this extraordinary experiment have yet to be analyzed and published, the first indications are that it may have been successful. NASA satellite images taken from orbit show a powerful growth of phytoplankton in the waters that received the Haida’s iron. It is hoped that these will serve as a food source for zooplankton, which in turn will provide nourishment for multitudes of young salmon, thereby restoring the depleted fishery and providing abundant food for larger fish and sea mammals as well. Furthermore, those diatoms not eaten will sink to the bottom, sequestering large amounts of carbon dioxide in their calcium-carbonate shells.
Native Americans, bringing back the salmon, preserving their way of life, while combating global warming: One would think the environmentalists would be very pleased. One would be very wrong. Far from receiving applause for their initiative, the Haida and Mr. George have become the target of rage drawn from every corner of the community of those seeking to use global warming as a pretext for curtailing human freedom.
“It appears to be a blatant violation of two international resolutions,” Kristina Gjerde, a senior high-seas adviser for the International Union for Conservation of Nature told the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper. “Even the placement of iron particles into the ocean, whether for carbon sequestration or fish replenishment, should not take place, unless it is assessed and found to be legitimate scientific research without commercial motivation. This does not appear to even have had the guise of legitimate scientific research.”
Silvia Ribeiro, of the international anti-technology watchdog ETC group, also voiced her horror at any development that might allow humanity to escape from the need for carbon rationing. “It is now more urgent than ever that governments unequivocally ban such open-air geoengineering experiments. They are a dangerous distraction providing governments and industry with an excuse to avoid reducing fossil-fuel emissions.”
Writing in the New York Times, Naomi Klein, the author of an upcoming book on “how the climate crisis can spur economic and political transformation,” made clear the antihuman bias underlying the Haida’s critics. Klein reports that while recently vacationing on the British Columbia coast, in a place she had visited for the past 20 years, she was thrilled by the unprecedented sighting of a group of orcas. At first, “it felt like a miracle.” But then she was struck by a disturbing thought:
If Mr. George’s account of the mission is to believed, his actions created an algae bloom in an area half of the size of Massachusetts that attracted a huge array of aquatic life, including whales that could be “counted by the score.” . . . I began to wonder: Could it be that the orcas I saw were on the way to the all-you-can-eat seafood buffet that had descended on Mr. George’s bloom? The possibility . . . provides a glimpse into the disturbing repercussions of geoengineering: Once we start deliberately interfering with the earth’s climate systems — whether by dimming the sun or fertilizing the seas — all natural events can begin to take on an unnatural tinge. . . . A presence that felt like a miraculous gift suddenly feels sinister, as if all of nature were being manipulated behind the scenes.
This is a remarkable passage. Previously, environmentalists objected to human actions that harmed whales. But now, human actions that help whales also evoke horror. So clearly, it’s not about whales at all. It’s about prohibiting human activity, which is seen as intrinsically evil and therefore in need of constraint, regardless of its nature.