Protesters denounce GE trees at a meeting of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative in 2011 (image by Anne Petermann/Global Justice Ecology Project)
The Global Justice Ecology Project’s Executive Director Anne Peterman was interviewed by Joan Brunwasser on OpEdNews yesterday on the dangers and drawbacks of the GE American chestnut tree being developed by researchers at SUNY Syracuse.
Interview by Joan Brunwasser, OpEdNews. 5 January 2015
JB: You’re up in arms against the humble chestnut tree. You recently wrote This Holiday Season say NO to GMO Chestnuts , a strong OpEd piece against it. I admit that I don’t know much about this subject and many of our readers are probably in the same boat. Would you educate us on the subject, please?
AP: Let me be clear first that my background is in forest protection. I have been working to protect the forests of the Northeast US and the world for the last 25 years. I started working on the threats posed by GE trees in 1999 because I worried about their impact on forests. The further I dug, the more concerned I became. So when we talk about the American chestnut tree, we need to understand that this tree was once a key part of the forest ecosystem in the Eastern US. There is an understandably strong desire to return it to that ecosystem. However, I do not agree with replacing wild American chestnut trees with genetically engineered facsimiles.
The reasons for concern about the GE chestnut are many, but one of the main problems is that the GE chestnut has been engineered with foreign DNA from wheat, a process which damages the genome and leads to numerous mutations. This means the engineered tree will likely have unanticipated and unpredictable consequences when released into a forest ecosystem. As we’ve seen time and again with GMO crops, these unanticipated consequences can be very damaging to biodiversity and wildlife, not to mention people. Just take a look at the iconic Monarch butterfly–it’s population is crashing due to the chemicals applied in abundance to herbicide resistant GMO crops. These herbicides are killing off the main food of the butterflies.
During the holidays, a time of the iconic roasting of chestnuts, scientists and activists are raising alarms about these efforts to genetically engineer and widely release GE American chestnuts into U.S. forests. Syracuse.com recently reported in “Breakthrough at SUNY-ESF” that researchers at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry are growing 10,000 genetically engineered (GE) American chestnut trees to be distributed widely when approved.
The GMO chestnuts produced by these trees would be a new GMO food when concerns about GMOs and labeling are mounting.
Ada from the Solomon Islands. If biomass energy is not stopped, her islands will continue to drown. Photo credit: GJEP-GFC
In this week’s Earth Minute, Anne Petermann reports from Asunción, Paraguay, where she participated in a series of meetings put together by Global Forest Coalition to discuss deforestation and its underlying drivers, including biofuels and wood-based bioenergy (which will some day include genetically engineered trees, if Brazil has its way), and all over the continent, but especially here in Paraguay, cattle ranching and the livestock industry.
GJEP partners with the Sojourner Truth show on KPFK Los Angeles for weekly Earth Minutes on Tuesday and Earth Watch interviews on Thursday.
By Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project, 20 November 2014
Global Justice Ecology Project is in Paraguay for two weeks of meetings to strategize means to address the impacts of wood-based bioenergy, genetically engineered trees and livestock on deforestation levels, and the solutions to the climate change and deforestation crisis provided by local communities maintaining and caring for their traditional lands.
Aydah from the Solomon Islands speaks at the meeting. If biomass energy is not stopped, her islands will continue to drown. Photo credit: GJEP-GFC
Today’s meetings included the participation of activists from throughout Africa, Asia, the South Pacific, North and South America and Eastern and Western Europe. The topic at hand was the problem of wood-based bioenergy–specifically electricity derived from cutting down forests, destroying biodiversity, polluting the atmosphere and displacing forest-based Indigenous and local communities.
Biomass also comes with an enormous cost in waste. In the Drax UK biomass plant, Biofuelwatch has calculated that of every three trees burned, two are wasted as heat. Half of one UK power station takes more wood than the entire UK produces every year and supplies only 4.6% of the country’s electricity demand. These power stations require co-generation with coal, so increased use of biomass = increased use of coal. Without the biomass conversion, this Drax plant would have had to close by 2016. The conversion to co-generation with biomass is allowing it to stay open, enabling continued and increased use of coal.
By Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project
Ayoreo family in the Gran Chaco in Paraguay. This family and their community were relocated from their homeland by groups who want to exploit the Chaco. Photolangelle.org
Global Justice Ecology Project just arrived in Paraguay for two weeks of meetings on the themes of wood-based bioenergy, genetically engineered trees, the impacts of livestock and GMO soy production on global deforestation levels, and the solutions to climate change and deforestation provided by local communities maintaining and caring for their traditional lands.
Looking out of the Asunción hotel room at the wide majestic Paraguay river, and the expanse of forest on the other side, feeling the tropical humidity and listening to the rumble of distant thunder, it is hard to imagine that yesterday my GJEP colleague and I woke up in the midst of a major snowstorm in Buffalo, NY.
Smolker’s piece continues to build on and share her extensive knowledge and critique of bionenergy strategies touted by industry as “climate solutions.” Smolker makes a clear case that these strategies are false solutions to climate change and that environmental thinkers should not naively buy into these strategies.
The Washington Geoengineering Consortium is an initiative of the Global Environmental Politics program in the School of International Service at American University in Washington, DC. They are concerned with the social, political, and legal implications of geoengineering technologies.
By Rachel Smolker, Biofuelwatch, 10 November 2014.
In 2012, Biofuelwatch published a report titled “Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage: Climate savior or dangerous hype?” We had long been working to reveal and oppose large scale industrial and commercial scale bioenergy in various forms ranging from ethanol refineries to soy and palm oil biodiesel to coal plants converting over to burn wood. We had argued that corn ethanol would drive biodiversity loss, cause food prices to rise and contribute to chronic hunger, while failing to reduce emissions, as it has in fact done. We argued that burning wood as a substitute for coal would create a new driver of deforestation, even as protecting forests and ecosystems was recognized as a “best line of defense” against climate change. We pointed out that large scale bioenergy was incompatible with the simultaneous push to quantify, commodify and protect land based carbon sinks and their “services” (often for the dubious purpose of providing offsets to polluters…). We highlighted the human rights impacts, as land grabs for bioenergy escalated in Africa and elsewhere. And we argued over and over that the carbon consequences of bioenergy were far from “climate friendly” or “carbon neutral,” a myth that has been perpetuated by industry proponents and even parroted by many naive environmentalists.
Washington Geoengineering Consortium definitions of geoengineering here.
With the Right to Know labeling movement in full swing, GMOs are making headlines in every major website and newspaper in the U.S. However, genetically engineering food isn’t the only way that industry is trying to sneak their modified plants into our lives.
Companies like ArborGen, jointly owned by International Paper and MeadWestvaco among others, are pressuring congress and the USDA to give them permission to release billions of GE eucalyptus seedlings in vast plantations across the U.S. Teamed up with another false solution to climate change, bioenergy, these GE trees, also called GM trees or GMO trees, could invade our natural forests, altering them forever. Not to mention drying up ground water and causing massive firestorms. It is time to say no to corporate greenwashing and no to genetically engineered trees.
GE ecualyptus farms are a growing threat to biodiversity. This is a eucalyptus greenhouse in Brazil. Photo: Anne Petermann/GJEP
To prevent GE trees from contaminating natural forests, the Campaign to STOP GE Trees is circulating a petition demanding the USDA ban ArborGen and other entities from selling/distributing GE trees and creating “frankentree” planations across the U.S. The USDA is set to make a draft decision any day now. The more signatures the Campaign gets, the greater the chance we have to stop GE trees.
To Whom It May Concern, I demand that all petitions by GE tree company ArborGen to plant or sell their genetically engineered eucalyptus trees be rejected. In addition, I demand that all petitions to release dangerous GE trees into the environment be rejected as they are inherently destructive and the full extent of their social and ecological risks has not been assessed. Further, I demand the USDA ban planting GE trees and all such plantings of GE trees be banned outright.
This press release was sent on Oct. 22, 2014, from Biofuelwatch, Dogwood Alliance, Energy Justice Network, Partnership for Policy Integrity, Save America’s Forests, and Global Justice Ecology Project.
Groups across the country denounce “National Bioenergy Day” as a dirty sham
Groups around the country denounce the Biomass Power Association, Biomass Thermal Energy Council and their industry partners’ designation of this date as “National Bioenergy Day.” Pointing to growing opposition to bioenergy facilities around the nation and the world, they say burning trees, contaminated wastes, and garbage is grossly and dangerously misrepresented by industry advocates as “clean, green, and carbon neutral.” The groups point out that biomass power pumps more CO2 into the atmosphere than even coal, along with comparable amounts of toxic air pollution, while also posing new threats to forests, ecosystems, and our health.
Rachel Smolker, Ph.D., co-director of Biofuelwatch, states: “The biomass industry has perpetrated a series of dangerous myths that they just keep repeating to ensure ongoing subsidies and supports. The Biomass Power Association website, for example, is rife with misleading statements, for example proclaiming to ‘Light America with clean, green biomass power—a natural solution to energy independence.’ This is utter nonsense as we would need several planets worth of biomass to provide any significant portion of overall US energy demand from biomass.” (1)