Tag Archives: biofuels

Turning the Lacandon Jungle Over to the Carbon Market

Cross-Posted from Z Magazine

By Jeff Conant

All Photos by Orin Langelle/ GJEP-GFC

In A Land to Plant Dreams, historian Yan de Vos describes the history of the Lacandon jungle of Chiapasas a series of dreams that have obsessed and overtaken those who come upon this remote mountain rainforest in the southeastern corner of Mexico. A jungle so dense and mysterious only a century ago that it was named “the Desert of Solitude,” de Vos declares that “the Lacandon is not a single reality, but a mosaic of multiple Lacandonas conceived and made concrete by many and varied interests.”

The Lacandon’s dreamers include the commercial interests that, for centuries, have extracted mahogany, rubber, minerals, petroleum, and genetic material, leaving about 30 percent of the original forest, of which only 12 percent is said to retain its ecological integrity. Then there are the diverse communities who live there—Mestizo settlers along with Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Tojolabal, Ch’ol, and Mam indigenous farmers, some who originated there and many others who arrived over the course of centuries, escaping forced labor on the fincas or war in neighboring Guatemala, seeking a plot of land to cultivate.

Then there is the group that has been given title to the largest swath of jungle—a small tribe called the Caribes whose ancestors migrated from nearby Campeche two centuries ago and who, through a complex history involving European anthropologists, American missionaries, and Mexican government officials, became known as the Lacandones. In direct conflict with the Lacandones, and with transnational capital, are the jungle’s best-known dreamers, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, who, beginning in the 1990s, occupied vast portions of the jungle and declared it autonomous territory.

Now, after centuries defined by its potential for producing goods, the Lacandon has entered the 21st century where it is being dreamed anew as “the lungs of the earth.” This jungle’s new dreamers include the state of California, market-oriented “environmental” groups like Conservation International, and the United Nations. Their dream is to harness the power of the burgeoning carbon market to preserve the Lacandon—the container for one-fifth of the biodiversity of all of Mexico—by turning it into a virtual carbon sink.

Enter the Governor of California

In 2006, the state of California passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32), which mandates that the state reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. The law was hailed as landmark environmental legislation for its aggressive action to reduce global warming emissions while “generating jobs, and promoting a growing, clean-energy economy and a healthy environment for California at the same time.”

Under the implementation plan for AB32, which was approved by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in December 2010, but held up in court three months later, up to 20 percent of the state’s total mandated emissions reductions would be achieved through carbon trading, rather than through actual cuts in industrial pollution at the source. This means that industries would be permitted to delay efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions—along with the associated toxic co-pollutants—by purchasing carbon allowances from outside California. As one of his last acts in office, just a week before the UN Framework Convention on Climate in Cancún, Mexico last November, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a carbon-trading agreement with the state of Chiapas as part of AB32. The agreement is predicated on an emerging global policy mechanism known as “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation” or REDD.

Mary Nichols, the chairperson of CARB, announced California’s initiative at a high-level event in Cancún where pilot REDD projects were hailed by a gamut of global figures, including primatologist Jane Goodall, World Bank President Robert Zoellick, and Sam Walton, the CEO of Walmart. Nichols called the plan “a way for California to help the developing world by investing in forests. Saving our forests is good not only for the atmosphere,” she said, “It’s also good for indigenous peoples.” But many in Chiapas disagree. Gustavo Castro, Coordinator of Otros Mundos, a small NGO based in Chiapas, sees this as the leading edge of a new onslaught of forest carbon offsets and part of a broader trend of privatization of territories and natural resources. “Enter the governor of California, saying, ‘We’re going to approve a law in which California, the fifth largest economy in the world, is obliged to reduce its CO2, so we need to buy the fresh air from the forests of the South.’ When a natural function like forest respiration becomes a product with a price, it’s easy to see who’s going to end up with control of the forests.”

The law has also stirred up controversy in California where environmental justice advocates charge that such carbon trading schemes—reducing emissions on paper only—leaves lower-income communities of color to continue bearing the brunt of industrial pollution. Alegria de la Cruz, one of the lead attorneys for San Francisco’s Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment (CRPE), whose lawsuit has successfully challenged the cap and trade component of the bill, says that, “The overarching goal of a pollution trading system has serious implications for fence-line communities.” Her co-counsel, Brent Newell, is more explicit: “Poor people are getting screwed on both sides of the transaction,” he said. “Only the polluters are benefiting.”

In late May, a ruling by the San Francisco superior court forced the California Air Resources Board to bring its cap and trade plan back to the drawing board in order to review alternatives. But as the spearhead of efforts to forge a pathway for carbon markets, the dream of converting the Lacandon into international carbon currency will not be disrupted so easily. “Our goal,” says Chiapas Governor Juan Sabines “is that the entirety of the surface of Chiapas will enter into the market for carbon credits and methane credits, beginning through agreements with polluting sub-national states, like California.”

 Selling the Forest for the Trees

REDD projects are being piloted in many countries under the auspices of the United Nations REDD Program, the World Bank Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and other global bodies. The California project is one of a small handful of REDD agreements between sub-national entities. The armature of REDD is still very much in development, but in broad strokes it works like this: because trees capture and store CO2, maintaining intact forests is essential to mitigating the impacts of climate change. Under REDD, those who protect forests can earn carbon credits—financial rewards based on an assessment of the amount of CO2 a forest can store and a market-derived price per ton of carbon. They can then trade these credits to industrial polluters in order to generate revenue that, in theory, gives developing world countries and the forest-dwelling communities in those countries an incentive not to cut down trees.

Policymakers at the global level see REDD as offering a viable chance—“perhaps the last chance,” says World Bank President Robert Zoellick—to save the world’s forests, while simultaneously addressing the climate crisis, without jeopardizing economic growth. The major multilateral institutions support REDD and its growing list of spin-offs with dizzying acronyms, such as REDD+ and REDD++, which allow the policy to include aspects such as reforestation with exotic species, and offset credits for biodiversity. But many forest-dependent communities, environmental justice advocates, indigenous peoples’ organizations, and global South social movements oppose it. “It comes to seem very amiable for the governments and corporations of the North to say, ‘We’re going to pay you not to deforest,’ Gustavo Castro argues. “But in reality they’re saying. ‘We’re going to pay you so we can continue polluting’.” Tom Goldtooth, director of the Indigenous Environmental Network has called REDD “a violation of the sacred, and potentially the biggest landgrab of all time.”

 To read the rest of the article, please go to Z Magazine

Comments Off on Turning the Lacandon Jungle Over to the Carbon Market

Filed under Biodiversity, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Carbon Trading, Chiapas, Climate Justice, False Solutions to Climate Change, Greenwashing, Indigenous Peoples, Latin America-Caribbean, Photo Essays by Orin Langelle, Pollution, REDD

This Week’s Earth Minute: Indigenous Resistance in Guatemala

To listen to this week’s Earth Minute, written and recorded by Global Justice Ecology Project and aired on the Sojourner Truth show on KPFK Los Angeles, go to minute 40:24 at:


This week’s Earth Minute talks about the resistance of Indigenous Q’eqchi People in Guatemala against plans to take their lands to grow feedstocks for agrofuels (industrial-scale biofuels).







Comments Off on This Week’s Earth Minute: Indigenous Resistance in Guatemala

Filed under Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Earth Minute, Energy, False Solutions to Climate Change, Indigenous Peoples, Land Grabs

GE Trees for Biofuels: Risk Assessment Lacking

NOTE: In the two articles below, we find the same old propaganda we’ve heard about GM trees (also called GE trees or GMO trees) since the late 1990s.  In the first article about GM poplars, there is once again there is no attention paid to the ecological impacts of the inevitable and irreversible genetic contamination of native poplar trees with the engineered traits from these “successful” GE poplars.  They are low-lignin, meaning they have been genetically engineered to supress natural lignin production.  So?  Well, no problem, except that lignin is what protects trees from disease, insect infestation, animal browsing, wind, etc.  Will these trees have so-called “stacked” genetic traits that also make them resistant to disease or insects?  If so, these trees could have a host of unpredictable effects, even on human health.  The health impact of inhaling pollen from trees genetically engineered to produce insecticide in every one of their cells has not been adequately studied.  Preliminary findings, however, reveal potentially serious problems.

Article two trumpets about the promise of GE eucalyptus for biofuels.  Again, no attention paid to the ecological impacts of releasing an invasive, flammable and water-sucking tree into the environment by the millions.

These “scientists” are very good at playing up the successes, but so very bad at assessing the risks–both ecological and social.

–Anne Petermann for the GJEP Team

From GENET News


SOURCE:  Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie, Belgium (VIB) http://www.vib.be/en/news/Pages/Initial-field-test-results-GM-poplars-bioethanol-yield-almost-doubled.aspx

DATE:    19.05.2011

SUMMARY: “The yield of bio-ethanol from the wood of GM poplar trees from a VIB field trial is up to 81% higher than non-modified poplars VIB-UGent researcher Wout Boerjan presented these results at the international conference “Bioenergy Trees” in Nancy, France. “This is just the beginning. The results of the field test confirm that we are on the right track. Further research will allow us to select poplar varieties that are even better suited for bio-ethanol production,‰ said Wout Boerjan from VIB and Ghent University.”


Nancy, France, May 19, 2011 – The yield of bio-ethanol from the wood of GM poplar trees from a VIB field trial is up to 81% higher than non-modified poplars VIB-UGent researcher Wout Boerjan presented these results at the international conference “Bioenergy Trees” in Nancy, France.

“This is just the beginning. The results of the field test confirm that we are on the right track. Further research will allow us to select poplar varieties that are even better suited for bio-ethanol production,” said Wout Boerjan from VIB and Ghent University.

To read the entire post, go to: http://globaljusticeecology.org/stopgetrees.php?tabs=2&ID=558

Comments Off on GE Trees for Biofuels: Risk Assessment Lacking

Filed under Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Change, False Solutions to Climate Change, GE Trees

Genetically Engineered Trees (GE Trees) for Agrofuels: The Controvery Intensifies

by Anne Petermann

In the past two days, two conflicting articles have addressed the use of trees, and especially GE trees, for the production of liquid agrofuels (cellulosic ethanol).

The first article Range Fuels Closing Cellulosic Ethanol Plant announced that Range Fuels is shutting down its Georgia-based cellulosic ethanol plant after completing only one batch of cellulosic ethanol (also known as second generation ethanol).  The company cited the financial crisis and technological hurdles as the reason for shutting down despite $300 million in state, federal and private investments.

The second article, Court challenges stall new biofuel crops from the DesMoines Register, trumpets the advantages of trees for making second generation cellulosic fuels, but notes that restrictions on the use of genetically engineered trees is hampering their use.

One particularly interesting quote comes from John Heissenbuttel, co-director of the so-called Council for Sustainable Biomass Production, who states, “I do not see how we’re going to make the advancements that we need to make without biotechnology.”

To read Anne Petermann’s entire article, click here.

Comments Off on Genetically Engineered Trees (GE Trees) for Agrofuels: The Controvery Intensifies

Filed under Bioenergy / Agrofuels, GE Trees

Photo Essay: Moon Palace Occupation

Global Justice Ecology Project staged an occupation of the Moon Palace today in protest of the unjust UN climate negotiations going on there.  We protested the UN’s crushing of dissent and the marginalization of the voices of women, Indigenous Peoples, developing countries, small island nations, small farmers and environmental groups inside its fenced off grounds.  A GJEP statement about the protest will follow.

All photos by Orin Langelle/ Global Justice Ecology Project-Global Forest Coalition

The day began with Diana Pei Wu, a member of the GJEP delegation, being ejected from the climate negotiations for filming a youth protest earlier in the week. Democracy Now! filmed the incident.

At the occupation, GJEP Executive Director denounces the exclusion of indigenous peoples’ voices at the UN Climate talks

GJEP Board member Hiroshi Kanno is manhandled by security during the occupation as part of the effort to make the protesters move

Youth  took part in the occupation to protest the exclusion of youth voices in decisions about their future

Protesters held strong in the face of UN security intimidation

Deepak Rughani, of BiofuelWatch speaks out against false solutions to climate change

Comments Off on Photo Essay: Moon Palace Occupation

Filed under Actions / Protest, Climate Justice, Photo Essays by Orin Langelle, UNFCCC

Bioenergy: Bad for Forests, Climate, Biodiversity and Communities

New Study Warns Use of Trees for Bioenergy Production Will Worsen Climate Change

by Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project

The U.S. Social Forum in Detroit last week ended with an action challenging the world’s largest trash incinerator–located in the heart of one of Detroit’s poorest neighborhoods.

While the toxic legacy of incinerating trash is coming under intensifying scrutiny, however, plans are ramping up across the US and Europe to incinerate trees for so-called “bioenergy” production.  This practice of turning standing forests and living trees into electricity, which also pollutes communities in the vicinity of the incinerator, is also being challenged by groups that foresee the impacts of exponentially increasing the global demand for wood for bioenergy production.

A new report was released today by Birdlife International, European Environmental Bureau and Transport and Environment titled “Bioenergy: A Carbon Accounting Time Bomb”.  This report’s summary explains, “The carbon debt created when woody biomass is burned takes centuries to pay off.  The result is that biomass can be more harmful to the climate than the fossil fuels it replaces.”

It continues, “While recovering waste biomass can have short term emission reduction benefits, increasing the harvesting of standing forests will mostly lead to worsening of the climate crisis–and that is before even starting to look at other impacts such as biodiversity loss or increased erosion.”

The report also warns about the impacts of converting forests to biofuel crops, “Growing biofuels on agricultural land results in the conversion of forests and other natural areas into cropland to replace those agricultural lands lost to biofuel production.  This results in related emissions that can completely negate any climate benefits.”

The summary of this report can be downloaded by clicking here.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government is rushing headlong into support for production of bioenergy from trees with financial subsidies–awarding $4.2 million to various projects that will harvest wood for bioenergy production from U.S. national forest lands.  This continues the trend of the U.S. Forest Service which has historically subsidized logging operations and timber harvests from our public forest lands.  Since its founding in 2005, the Forest Service Woody Biomass Utilization grant program has awarded a total of $30.6 for biomass projects.

The World Economic Forum is also not surprisingly singing the praises of bioenergy.  The WEF is promoting the myth that biorefineries have a major role to play in tackling climate change, in their new report “The Future of Industrial Biorefineries” that was launched today. The report was produced in collaboration with Royal DSM N.V., Novozymes, DuPont and Braskem.  You can find the WEF release by clicking here.

Comments Off on Bioenergy: Bad for Forests, Climate, Biodiversity and Communities

Filed under Posts from Anne Petermann

Anne Petermann Reporting from Amsterdam and The Hague

Camila Moreno from Brazil, speaks to the crowd about the dangers of agro-energy in The Hague. Photo: Petermann, GJEP/GFC

By Anne Petermann

(The first section is from Tuesday, May 25th, the second section from earlier today)

Ah, the red eye flight on a standing room only plane.  There’s nothing like it…

Upon emerging from the jam packed metal tube full of people where the other occupants and I had been collectively attempting (mostly futilely) to catch a few hours of sleep, and trudging through the cold hard terminal, I stepped into the cool sunshine of Amsterdam and breathed a sigh of relief.

Into the taxi and straight to the lunch organized for the participants of the annual Board meeting of the Global Forest Coalition at their International office.  Always good to see old friends and colleagues—Camila from Brazil, Fiu from Samoa, Simone from Paraguay, Yolanda from Amsterdam, Estebancio from Panama.  While the board meeting was tacked relatively last minute on to take advantage of so many people from GFC being in the same place, the real purpose of the congregation of people was to take part in a tour designed to inform decision-makers and various organizations around the EU about the dangers of genetically engineered trees (also called GM trees or transgenic trees) and wood-based agro-energy.

My job at the GFC board meeting was to represent the decisions of the GFC Coordinating Group, of which Global Justice Ecology Project is a part, that were made at the annual Monitoring, Evaluation and Planning meeting of GFC in Panama in late-January.  This was where Orin (co-Director/ Strategist of GJEP) and I had last seen many of these friends—on the island of El Porvenir in Kuna Yala, on the Caribbean coast.

Kuna Yala is the independent territory of the Kuna people, won from Panama in the early 1900s.  The ride from the airport in Panama City across Panama and over the mountains that separate Panama from Kuna Yala was simply spectacular.  Tropical forest dotted occasionally by small homesteads as far as the eye can see.

One of the major themes of the Kuna Yala meeting was the issue of REDD (the UN and World Bank scheme to supposedly reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation).  REDD has, of necessity, been a major focus of forest dependent peoples and their allies since it was announced in Bali at the UN Climate summit in 2007.  When  the World Bank held their press conference to announce their Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (their precursor to REDD) it was greeted by loud and raucous protest.Panama has already been experiencing the impacts of the implementation of REDD, and Kuna activists such as Marcial Arias, the Spanish Speaking Focal Point for Indigenous Peoples for GFC, have been very eloquent and passionate in exposing the destructive impacts REDD has had on Indigenous communities in Panama and elsewhere.

Land grabbing, “protection” of forests through the exclusion or eviction of forest dependent communities, expansion of monoculture tree plantations and massive new profits for the timber industry are just a few of the lovely side effects of REDD.

Another little known effect is the promotion of genetically engineered trees under the auspices of REDD.  In 2003, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change decided that GE trees could be used in forestry projects designed to store carbon. In addition, because the UN definition of forests is incomprehensibly unscientific, REDD projects supposedly designed to protect forests (or at least their carbon) can include transgenic trees.  The irony of allowing a forest protection scheme to include trees that will destroy biodiversity and contaminate forests with engineered traits, is yet one more reason why REDD is being rejected by peoples and organizations around the world.

Another nail in the coffin of REDD for me was my experience at the World Forestry Congress in Buenos Aires last October.  This conference—which only occurs once every six years—was a revelation.  The doublespeak of the forestry companies, World Bank personnel and their co-conspirators at the big Green groups was amazing.  Their logic revolved around the best ways to profit from the implementation of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation scheme while simultaneously profiting from increased deforestation for the large-scale use of wood to produce energy (electricity, heat and liquid transport fuels)—and how to sell both as solutions to the climate crisis.  It doesn’t get much more opportunistic than that.

It is for this reason that Global Justice Ecology Project joined forces with Global Forest Coalition, BiofuelWatch and Friends of the Earth International for this GE Trees and Agro-energy tour.  Europe is galloping ahead with plans to use biomass (woodchip derived electricity) and agrofuels (large-scale unsustainable liquid biofuels) to meet their target of 20% of their energy being “renewable” by 2020.  This tour is designed to inform European decision-makers and other NGOs that we cannot look to trees to replace fossil fuels.  Projections from industry indicate that use of wood for energy production will double or even triple the demand for wood globally in the coming decades.  Being that the demand for wood is already unsustainable, how can anyone possibly suggest that we can use wood for energy production sustainably—or more ridiculously—as part of climate mitigation?

This is one false solution that must be nipped in the bud.  And that is exactly what this tour is designed to do.

From Wednesday, May 26th

The tour today stopped at The Hague in the Netherlands to speak to a room packed with Dutch Parliamentarians, other environmental and social justice organizations and even a few industry representatives.

Fiu Mataese Elisara from Samoa chaired the meeting and emphasized the importance of getting to the bottom of the concerns about wood-based agro-energy because of the critical need to find real solutions to the climate crisis and to not get bogged down in the false solutions.  Being from Samoa, he knows what he is talking about.  His is from one of the small island nations threatened with total oblivion from rising sea levels due to climate change.  Fiu is a very articulate and passionate representative of the Indigenous Peoples of the Pacific.  He is also one of our New Voices on Climate Change speakers.  You can learn more about Fiu by going to his bio on our website.

Camila Moreno did the first presentation of the day, that set the tone for the event.  Camila is Global Justice Ecology Project’s representative in Brazil and also one of our New Voices On Climate Change speakers. Her presentation on the impacts of wood-based agro-energy on Brazil was extremely powerful.  She spoke not only about the impacts of monocultures in Brazil (sugarcane, soy, eucalyptus) for energy and paper, but also about the intense resistance going on in Brazil against the eucalyptus plantations, which they call Green Deserts.  She got a lot of questions from the participants about the outright rejection of certification schemes by Brazilian movements.  But as Camila, and later Deepak Rughani from BiofuelWatch, pointed out, certification legitimizes whatever is being certified.  And for the movements in Brazil, the monocultures cannot be legitimate.

Next came Dorette Corbey, of the Biomass Commission of the Dutch Parliament.  She spoke about the need for sustainability criteria, not only for so-called “renewable” energies like biomass and agrofuels, but also for all energies—including oil, natural gas and coal.  Her presentation following Camila’s set off a strong debate about sustainability criteria and certification schemes and whether or not they can be helpful or are innately harmful.

Unfortunately, following this presentation and debate Camila had to leave to catch a plane to a conference on REDD being put on by the Norwegian government in Oslo.  She and Estebancio Castro, of the Kuna Nation in Kuna Yala are both participating in this event to try to highlight the social and ecological costs of REDD and to encourage the Norwegian government to stop promoting it.  In 2007 the Norwegian government pledged $5 million to the World Bank for their Forest Carbon Partnership Facility during the World Bank’s press conference in Bali—ignoring the passionate cries of the protesters outside that this scheme was going to cause irreparable harm to peoples and ecosystems.

Deepak went next and provided a very detailed and statistics-rich presentation about the future forecasts of the amount of wood that will be needed to meet the projected growing demand for wood-based agro-energy.  It was a frightening presentation.   Think about the demand for wood doubling or tripling from its current level.  We are already losing the last of the primeval biodiversity-rich forests because current demand can’t be sustainably met.  The wood-based bioenergy path is one to certain planetary suicide.

My presentation came next and I focused on the implications of the commercialization of genetically engineered trees specifically designed to provide the products that fossil fuels do today—such as liquid fuels, jet fuel, chemicals, plastics, electricity and heat.  As fossil fuels become scarcer and harder to access—and with backlash from catastrophes like the BP-Haliburton disaster in the Gulf—fuels derived from plants are rising in importance.  But there is no way to engineer trees or anything else to take the place of fossil fuels.  There is simply not enough land to do it.  Craig Venter—the mad scientist who seeks to create new life forms—recently announced that he had succeeded in his mad objective.  He had successfully created the first fully synthetic living organism.  The purpose for these organisms?  To manufacture life forms that create “designer” enzymes that can be used to transform cellulose (from trees or other plants) into plastics, chemicals or fuel.

Of course there have been no risk assessments and this mad science is so new it is basically unregulated. Once again humans are barreling ahead without pausing to consider the possible consequences.  It is the same for GE trees.  Risk assessments have not been done.  What will be the long-term impact of ArborGen’s cold-tolerant eucalyptus trees escaping into native forest ecosystems in the U.S. South?  We do not know.  Decision-makers are not asking that question and scientists are forbidden from seeking the answer—unless they get prior permission from ArborGen.

Which brings me to the day’s last presentation, which was by Mary Lou Malig, the Trade Campaigner for Focus on the Global South who brought the whole wood-based agro-energy question back to the global trade in forest products and who is going to profit from this nightmare.

And at the end of the day, that is what it ultimately comes down to.  Who is going to profit from these potentially disastrous schemes—and who is going to stop them…

Tomorrow:  London

Comments Off on Anne Petermann Reporting from Amsterdam and The Hague

Filed under GE Trees, Posts from Anne Petermann