4/20/2010, "Carbon offsets: How a Vatican forest failed to reduce global warming," CS Monitor, Doug Struck, Budapest, Hungary
|Vatican accepts CO2 certificate,7/5/07|
"From a scheme to create an algae bloom in the South Pacific to a Vatican forest in the plains of Hungary –
how one carbon offset developer's ideas failed to reduce global warming."
"Russ George described himself as a man of vision. He certainly envisioned making money.
The San Francisco promoter saw the profit of promising to remove carbon dioxide from the air and selling that promise as carbon offsets to polluters, a plan he touted in interviews, press releases, and even to a congressional committee.
He just needed seed money. Nelson Skalbania, a high-profile Canadian real estate trader who had spent a year wearing a court-supervised electronic bracelet for a conviction in Canada of misappropriating $100,000 in investor funds, was just the kind of “green angel” – as Mr. George called him – who would put up the money.
With Mr. Skalbania’s backing, George bought the 152-foot research vessel Weatherbird II, repainted it with his new company name – Planktos – and hired a crew to sail for the Galapagos Islands in summer 2007.
His plan was to enlist one of nature’s carbon sponges, algae. He’d scatter a fertilizer of iron dust on 2.4 million acres of the South Pacific, he announced. In three weeks, it would produce a massive bloom of phytoplankton algae, which would inhale carbon dioxide, then sink with the carbon. George would sell his estimate of the absorbed carbon as “carbon offsets” at $5 a ton and make millions.
The Weatherbird II was under sail preparing to scatter 50 to 100 tons of iron dust when an outcry stopped it. Scientists said there was no way to tell what the iron or algae would do to the ocean environment. Diplomats cited treaties against dumping at sea. The captain of a Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ship threatened to ram the vessel. The Weatherbird II diverted to the Atlantic.
But George already was working on another plan: to plant millions of trees in rural Hungary and sell the carbon dioxide those trees could be expected to absorb.
He formed a Hungarian company, KlimaFa – “Climate Trees.” His publicity strategy: Present the Vatican with carbon offsets to make the Holy See carbon neutral based on the trees he’d plant. The photo of George handing Cardinal Paul Poupard the offset certificates at the Vatican on July 5, 2007, went worldwide.
In the glow of that publicity coup, George offered offsets for sale on his Planktos website. There are no public records of how much he sold. But with the growing outcry over the sea-seeding scheme, Planktos abruptly closed in December 2007.
KlimaFa – and the Vatican’s still unfulfilled offsets – were left in the hands of a Budapest partner, David Gazdag. He blogged a few times about the project, occasionally stopped by government offices to talk, but planted no trees.
“This is a problem,” Gyorgy Dallos, a World Wildlife Federation official, said in Budapest. Carbon offsets create “false hope” if they’re not real. The Vatican’s emissions, he noted, are not neutralized.
Few of the players want to talk about that problem. Mr. Gazdag agreed to an interview in Budapest, then canceled. A Vatican spokesman says “the case is being studied to take legal action in order to defend the Vatican’s reputation.” The Hungarian government, once an enthusiastic supporter of the project, now wants no part of it. Erika Hasznos, Hungary’s chief climate policy officer, walked out of an interview when asked if KlimaFa had submitted applications for the project.
George created another website in 2008, announcing a new business, Planktos-Science. He did not agree to an interview. He replied by e-mail that this story seemed a “potentially hostile piece” and insisted his new company is “no longer affiliated with the now defunct” old company he ran.
In the impoverished village of Tiszakeszi, where KlimaFa trees were to be planted, Mayor Kiss Lajos looks forlornly over the empty space along the Tisza River where George had promised to plant “the Vatican Forest” and create hundreds of jobs.
“We felt honored because the Vatican chose our village,” he said. “Now we feel sorry.”"
Images: Top: "Cardinal Paul Poupard accepts a KlimaFa carbon offset certificate from Russ George in July 2007. The promise to plant a "Vatican forest" as a carbon offset for the Vatican's CO2 emissions, and thereby reduce global warming, was not fulfilled by KlimaFa." Business Wire
Second image: "In Tiszakeszi, Hungary, villagers push their bicycles loaded with firewood beside land where the "Vatican Forest" was supposed to be planted by KlimaFa. The company marketed carbon offsets as a way to neutralize CO2 emissions and lessen global warming." BelA Szandelszky
July 18, 2007: Shortly after his Vatican photo-op Russ George was giving alleged expert testimony to a US Congressional committee about carbon offsets and global warming. Text from You Tube video of Russ George before US Congress talking about CO2 and carbon offsets. Joe Romm was also a guest:
|Russ George in Congress, 7/18/07|
"Voluntary Carbon Offsets--Getting What You Pay For (Part 2 of 2) - Part 1 is presently missing. - Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming - 2007-07-18 - Eager to be part of the solution to global warming, many consumers, businesses and government agencies have turned to carbon pollution offsets to help reduce or eliminate their "carbon footprint." While these offsets represent a promising way to engage consumers in global warming solutions, there are many unanswered questions as to the efficacy and accounting of these unregulated commodities. On Wednesday, the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming will hold a hearing examining carbon offsets. Chairman Edward Markey (D-MA) will combine his extensive experience in consumer protection to explore the issues of transparency, effectiveness and other necessary questions to ensure carbon offsets can be a responsible way to address global warming on a consumer-based level. Witnesses: Derik Broekhoff, Senior Associate, World Resources Institute; Joseph Romm, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress; Thomas Boucher, President and Chief Executive Officer, NativeEnergy LLC; Russ George, President and Chief Executive Officer, Planktos, Inc.; Eric Blatchford, CEO, TerraPass. Video provided by the U.S. House of Representatives."
"Uploaded April 11, 2011"
In 2013 Russ George scammed a Canadian indigenous group out of its $2.5 million trust fund after promising the group would make millions from his carbon offset idea. George wouldn't reveal alleged "gold star scientists" who oversaw the project:
4/8/13, "U.S. Businessman Takes First Nation People for $2.5 Million," Steve Krivit, news.newenergytimes.net
Last year, George used his knowledge of science and his salesmanship to convince an indigenous community off the coast of Canada to part with its $2.5 million trust fund to fund George’s untested — at the time — and still unproven ocean-seeding concept.
Several years ago, George had tried to perform a similar large-scale ocean-seeding experiment to test whether plankton blooms, artificially enriched by iron dust, would capture and permanently sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
However, Paul Watson, founder and president of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and founding director of Greenpeace, chased George around the world and notified local environmental groups and governments wherever George went.
Those governments issued orders to George forbidding performance of his experiments. Environmental organizations issued new conventions to prevent such experiments.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warned George that he would be violating U.S. laws if he went through with his iron dumping plan. Eventually, George ran out of options and money and abandoned his plan and ship, the Weatherbird II.
Soon after, he found a First Nations community, the Old Massett Haida Gwaii village, and learned that its members were desperate for new economic development and a solution to return salmon levels to normal. George also learned that they had a $2.5 million trust fund.
George and John Disney, a local collaborator in the Old Massett village, formed a company called the Haida Salmon Restoration Corp. Together, they convinced the community that George’s untested plan would certainly a) capture carbon from the atmosphere, b) sequester carbon permanently, and c) provide marketable carbon credits to sell for several million dollars more than their initial investment.
George and Disney also told the community that the simple act of his iron dump in the ocean would bring salmon levels back. George had no direct scientific evidence to support his pitches. He took existing scientific data from other events and research and applied that to his sales pitch. He did the deed, and in fact a plankton bloom was observed during the period, but there is no direct evidence that the plankton bloom was caused by George’s dump.
More important, there is no evidence of any permanent carbon sequestration, and nobody is buying any carbon credits from George, his company or the village.
The chief of the community and owner of a coffee shop, Ken Rea, and Disney believed everything George told them. Rea said he learned new things about science, like the word “hypothesis.”
Gillian Findlay, the host for the program, sums up the program.
“In Old Masset,” Findlay said, “their $2.5 million is gone, there will be no carbon credit return, and as for the fish, even if there is another bumper harvest some year, who will ever be able to say it was because of the iron?”
Old Massett resident Gloria Tauber says that history may have repeated.
“When I saw that,” Tauber said, “I fully understood how our ancestors gave away our land for beads and blankets, because it was so easy to convince some of them.…I hope this goes somewhere, that something is done out of it to set a precedent that this is not acceptable and that people shouldn’t be blinded by greed.”
On March 29, when the show aired, CBC reported that the Canadian government issued search warrants for Russ George’s company. Dumping anything in the ocean is a violation of Canadian law. The loophole is that the law allows for scientific experiments.
George and his colleagues have declined to disclose their scientific methods, identify their panel of “gold-star scientists” who oversaw the project or release their data.
No aspect of George’s or his associates’ behavior is consistent with scientific protocol. George will also have difficulty proving this was a scientific experiment, considering that he pitched it as an investment opportunity to the local residents.
Journalist Steven B. Krivit provided background information and video footage of George to CBC and spoke on the show. George claims to be a scientist, however, Krivit learned that George did not obtain a degree in science and did not graduate from college although he attended the University of Utah for two years.
Krivit warned viewers that, if presented with scientific-sounding claims from George, they should demand to see the evidence."
Sept. 2007, NY Times reported above Vatican CO2 project with Klimafa as if it were legitimate: "The Vatican announced, it would become the world’s first carbon-neutral state." Unfortunately, as reported above, it quickly proved to be the opposite:
9/17/2007, "Vatican Penance: Forgive Us Our Carbon Output," NY Times, Elisabeth Rosenthal
"TISZAKESZI, Hungary — This summer the cardinals at the Vatican accepted an unusual donation from a Hungarian start-up called Klimafa: The company said it would plant trees to restore an ancient forest on a denuded stretch of land by the Tisza River to offset the Vatican’s carbon emissions.
The trees, on a 37-acre tract of land that will be renamed the Vatican climate forest, will in theory absorb as much carbon dioxide as the Vatican will produce in 2007: driving cars, heating offices, lighting St. Peter’s Basilica at night.
In so doing, the Vatican announced, it would become the world’s first carbon-neutral state.
“As the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, recently stated, the international community needs to respect and encourage a ‘green culture,’ ” said Cardinal Paul Poupard, leader of the Pontifical Council for Culture, who took part in a ceremony marking the event at the Vatican. “The Book of Genesis tells us of a beginning in which God placed man as guardian over the earth to make it fruitful.”
In many respects, the program seems like a win-win-win proposition. The Vatican, which has recently made an effort to go green on its own by installing solar panels, sought to set an example by offsetting its carbon emissions.
Hungary, whose government scientists are consulting on the project, will take over large swaths of environmentally degraded, abandoned land restored as a native forest. That will have a beneficial effect on the climate here, and provide jobs in an economically depressed area.
Klimafa, an 18-month-old company, gets the Vatican’s seal of approval and free publicity for its first project. In addition to the Vatican, several European governments, as well as Dell, the computer maker, have bought carbon offsets that will be backed by planting trees on the land.
“It seems so obvious, but no one was doing it,” said David Gazdag of Klimafa, who brokered the project with backing from his San Francisco parent company, Planktos International, which specializes in ecosystem restoration. But creating and selling carbon “offsets” or “credits” is still a novel idea for business and science, and much debate remains. The calculation for planting trees is especially complicated.
Planting forests is only “a partial solution, and a temporary one,” said Laszlo Galhidy, a forestry officer for the environmental group WWF Hungary, although he praised the project as useful. Young forests — dominated by growing trees — soak up a lot of carbon dioxide, but once the forests mature, they absorb far less, he said. Also, he said, there is no scientific system for predicting the exact carbon-absorbing capacity of a project like the Vatican forest, whose trajectory depends on rainfall, temperature and how fast the trees grow.
The Kyoto Protocol and the European Union’s cap and trade program set emissions targets for countries or large companies. Those that exceed their allowances by emitting too much carbon need to purchase carbon credits from countries or companies that do not need their allotment, or from companies like Klimafa that create credits through green projects like planting trees.
On the European Union market, carbon credits are trading at about $28, with one credit countering one ton of emitted carbon dioxide. Klimafa says its donation to the Vatican is worth about $130,000. The European Union program allows for a much-needed transfer of money from the more developed countries of Western Europe to the new economies of the East.
Countries and companies in the West tend to exceed their allowances, whereas Eastern countries tend to have excess credits to sell because so many polluting Communist-era factories have been shut.
Also, many of the former Eastern bloc countries had to decommission farmland to join the European Union in accordance with its agricultural policy. In Hungary, as in other new member states, huge tracts of marginal fields have been bought by the government from farmers and are available for reforesting.
The land that will hold Klimafa’s first eco-restoration project, originally called Forest Island, was cleared in the Middle Ages, though it is on a flood plain and has always been risky to farm.
The area is a mix of weeds, wetlands, a lake and a few fields of corn that farmers are planting illegally even though they no longer own the land. Much of the land is a jumble of goldenrod and amorpha fruticosa, a weed that grows like wildfire.
Gergely Torda, a plant biologist from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences who is consulting on the project, scans the land as a blank canvas, describing plans for what will be planted where. Later this year, Klimafa will begin clearing the weeds, using local labor, and then start environmentally sensitive planting of native saplings like willows, beeches, ash, certain poplars and oaks. The growing forest will absorb 10 times the carbon that the land currently absorbs, and will be self-sustaining, Mr. Torda said.
Klimafa has been given the right to restore the land by the Bukk National Park, which owns it; costs will be covered by carbon credit purchases. Mr. Torda said it would take 50 to 150 years to produce a mature forest.
After the Vatican agreement was announced, Msgr. Melchor Sánchez de Toca Alameda, an official at the Council for Culture at the Vatican, told the Catholic News Service that buying credits was like doing penance. “One can emit less CO2 by not using heating and not driving a car, or one can do penance by intervening to offset emissions, in this case by planting trees,” he said."
Ms. Erika Hasznos (Hungary), was a UN expert climate reviewer, per Dec. 8, 2009 UNFCCC report, p. 3, item 2