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Modified Stands: Will genetically engineered trees help save the climate or will they alter forests forever?

Note: Global Justice Ecology Project coordinates the International Campaign to STOP Genetically Engineered (GE) Trees.  To support GJEP’s ongoing efforts to build resistance to the GE tree industry in the southeastern US, check out this short campaign video: http://bit.ly/stop-ge-trees

-The GJEP Team

By Maureen Nandini Mitra, September 3, 2013. Source: Earth Island Journal

Image: Lilli Keinaenen

Image: Lilli Keinaenen

In late May, forest biologists, geneticists, and forestry industry officials from across the world gathered at the Marriott Renaissance Hotel in Asheville, North Carolina to discuss ongoing research in tree genetics. One of the key sessions at the weeklong “Tree Biotechnology 2013 Conference” dealt with the “different aspects of the use of transgenics, including gains in productivity, gene flow, and societal acceptance.” The last point, it turned out, would be the attendees’ biggest hurdle.

As convention participants sat in the four-star hotel’s conference rooms discussing how genetically engineered (GE) trees could meet the growing demand for “sustainable, renewable sources of biomass, in the face of climate change,” several hundred demonstrators gathered on the streets outside in one of the largest protests ever organized against genetically engineered trees. Anne Petermann, coordinator of the “Campaign to STOP GE Trees,” says their message to the tree biotech industry and its investors was simple: Expect resistance.

The protestors had converged in Asheville for their own weeklong “counter-conference.” Their key intention was to highlight concerns over the United States government’s pending approval of a genetically modified eucalyptus tree. The proposal, by the South Carolina-based company ArborGen, is currently being considered by the US Department of Agriculture. If approved, it would be the first time a transgenic tree is authorized for commercial production in the country.
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Filed under Actions / Protest, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Change, False Solutions to Climate Change, Forests, GE Trees, Genetic Engineering

Rio Earth Summit: tragedy, farce, and distraction

By Anne Petermann, September 2012.  Source: Z Magazine

As I flew to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on June 12 for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20)—the 20-year anniversary of the historic “Rio Earth Summit”—I read an article in the Financial Times titled “Showdown Looms at OPEC After Saudi Arabia Urges Higher Output.” The article explained that Saudi Arabia was urging OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) to increase their output of oil in order to ensure that the global price of oil would not exceed $100 per barrel in order to “mitigate the risks that high oil prices pose to the global economy.”

The article pointed out that ensuring the health of the global economy requires expanding oil production. This, as we know, will worsen the climate crisis. The takeaway message of the article, therefore, is that the global economy will only thrive by destroying the life support systems of the planet.

At the Rio Earth Summit, this was also the underlying logic of the so-called “green economy” proposals that have polarized and paralyzed the talks since the first preparatory meeting for Rio+20 in May 2010.

According to Jim Thomas of the ETC Group, who wrote about the Rio+20 summit’s preparatory meetings for the Guardian back in March 2011, “Far from cooking up a plan to save the Earth, what may come out of the summit could instead be a deal to surrender the living world to a small cabal of bankers and engineers. Tensions are already rising between northern countries and southern countries…and suspicions are running high that the…‘green economy’ is more likely to deliver a greenwash economy or the same old, same old ‘greed’ economy.”

At the Rio+20 summit, industrialized countries and multinational corporations, accompanied by institutions like the IMF and World Bank, led the push for development of the green economy—that is, to use the very ecological devastation caused by global capitalism to create markets in so-called “environmental services” by turning them into tradable commodities. These new markets would help prop up the global economy in a greenwashed version of business as usual.

“Environmental services,” provided by intact natural ecosystems—which include such things as the storage of carbon, the purification of air and water, and the maintenance of biodiversity—would be given a monetary value in the market, enabling them to be purchased and supposedly protected. In reality, however, it would allow companies to destroy a biodiverse ecosystem in one area, by purchasing the protection of an equivalent ecosystem.

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Filed under Climate Change, Corporate Globalization, Ending the Era of Extreme Energy, Events, False Solutions to Climate Change, Green Economy, Greenwashing, Land Grabs, Posts from Anne Petermann, REDD, Rights, Resilience, and Restoration, Rio+20

GMO trees and the green economy: Green deserts for all?

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil–In advance of the UN’s Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, the international STOP GE Trees Campaign is demanding a global ban on the release of destructive and dangerous genetically engineered trees (also called GE trees, GMO trees or GM trees) into the environment.

A major focus of the UN summit is so-called “renewable” or “sustainable” energy, and Ban Ki Moon, Executive Secretary of the UN has launched a highly controversial “Sustainable Energy for All” (SEFA) Initiative. This initiative includes use of trees to produce electricity or liquid agrofuels and there is an emphasis by industry to genetically engineer trees as feedstocks for this bioenegy production, and Brazil is one of the most active countries promoting this.

“Much of the research on GE trees in Brazil is focused on eucalyptus trees, which are being engineered for faster growth, and for modified wood qualities–such as increased cellulose and decreased lignin content.  These engineered traits will facilitate the production of wood-based bioenergy,” stated Isis Alvarez of Global Forest Coalition.

“The dramatic and dangerous impacts of non-GMO industrial eucalyptus plantations are well documented and include invasiveness, desertification of soils, depletion of water, increased threat of wildfire and loss of biodiversity,” stated Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project and Coordinator of the STOP GE Trees Campaign.  “Eucalyptus trees are not native to the Americas and they inhibit the growth of native vegetation.  In Brazil, these plantations are called Green Deserts because nothing can grow in them.  Now they want to engineer them, which will make them even more destructive,” she added.
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Filed under Biodiversity, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Change, Ending the Era of Extreme Energy, False Solutions to Climate Change, GE Trees, Genetic Engineering, Green Economy, Rio+20

This Week’s Earth Minute: Chevron Executives Charged Over Oil Spill in Brazil

Global Justice Ecology Project partners with Margaret Prescod’s Sojourner Truth show on KPFK–Pacifica Los Angeles radio show for a weekly Earth Minute on Tuesdays and a weekly 12 minute Environment Segment every Thursday.

Go to the link below and scroll to minute 38:42 to listen to this week’s Earth Minute:

KPFK Earth Minute Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Text from this week’s Earth Minute:

On March 10th, Members of the Stop Suncor and Tar Sands Coalition, including the American Indian Movement and other groups, occupied the site of a Suncor Energy oil spill on the shore of Colorado’s Sand Creek.

Suncor Energy boasts of being the first corporation to begin extracting the tar sands in Athabasca, leading to the deforestation of thousands of square miles of Boreal forest and the destruction of First Nations cultures. Suncor produces more than 90,000 barrels of oil per day at its refinery in Commerce City, Colorado.

Tessa McLean of the American Indian Movement said, “the oil that’s being spilled here came from Athabasca, a First Nations community. My people up are suffering there because of the oil we’re refining here.”

Deanna Meyer of Deep Green Resistance Colorado added, “Suncor has so poisoned this land that oil is bubbling up through numerous burst sub-surface pipelines.  Benzene levels in this water—that fish, ducks, geese, beavers and other beings depend on—are 100 times the safety limit.”

While the spill was first reported last November 27th, it is believed to have begun in February 2011.

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Filed under Climate Change, Earth Minute, Energy, Oil, Pollution, Posts from Anne Petermann, Water

Photo Essay: UN Climate COP: Corporate Exhibitionism (parting shots)

Note:  Anne Petermann and I went to our first UNFCCC COP (Conference of the Polluters) in 2004 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  One  of my first observations was that this was a bizarre trade show–from ‘clean coal’ to ‘clean nuclear’ to a clean way to get fucked.  Smile.  I was not impressed.  Well,  going into the exhibition center was more exciting than the plenaries packed with, for the most part,  suited charlatans. Fast forward to Montreal, Nairobi, Bali, Poznan, Copenhagen, Cancún and now all the way  to Durban, South Africa; and guess what?–the 1% have been and still are in control (for now). But one of the good things that has happened over these years is that the resistance has risen from a couple of handfuls of us to thousands.  It is evident to GJEP that the COP process is nothing more than the rich figuring out how to make more money off Mother Earth and her inhabitants under the guise of addressing climate change.  So this photo essay, with text by Anne Petermann, is my parting shot to this entire unjust, racist, classist, land-grabbing COP crap.  No to the next meeting in Dubai and yes to mobilization for the Peoples Summit during Rio +20.  GJEP will continue to support the social movements, Indigenous Peoples and those who struggle for justice. Please enjoy the trade show photos and note that the last two photos in this series show the discrepancy between the 1% and the 99%.  Orin Langelle for the GJEP Team.

All photos:  Langelle/GJEP       Captions:  Anne Petermann

The Road to Rio.  “Wait, I think we spelled that wrong–isn’t it supposed to be “Greed Economy”?

“Ohm…no Fukushimi…Ohm…no Fukushima…”

” Look into the blank screen… You are feeling sleepy…Join us…join us…join us…repeat after me…I believe in the green economy…Robert Zoellick is a nice guy…REDD will save the forests…The World Bank’s mission is poverty alleviation…”

What the World Bank said…

“Carbon bubble, what carbon bubble?  A ton of carbon is supposed to be cheaper than a pizza.  Isn’t a pizza made of carbon?  It all makes sense to me!”
“With the Green Economy we can even make fabrics out of tree pulp!  Fabulous Fashions From Foliage!  Yummy Eucalyptus unitards! Perky Plantation Pant Suits!  Thank God for the Green Economy!”
“We help cool down climate change by logging tropical forests…What, you gotta problem with that?”

“We magically transform ancient tropical forests into biodiesel plantations!.  Birds love ‘em!  (F*#k the orangutans).”

” Oooo…that panda makes me so hot…”

People need nature to thrive–which is why we have to protect nature from them!

“These charts clearly show that it’s the NGOs that are responsible for carbon emissions.  That’s why we have to ban NGOs from the climate talks; if there were no NGOs there would be no climate change.  Listen to me.  I’m a white guy and I know.”

“Screw you anti-capitalist NGO bastards. Market-based schemes like the CDM are the best solution to climate change!  So what if they don’t reduce carbon emissions.  Piss off.”

How the 1% live.  The pretentious Southern Sun Elangeni Hotel in Durban was host to the World Climate Summit, 3-4 December, which was a high-level and high-security event where business, finance and government leaders met to celebrate the glory of their green-ness with events like “The Gigatonne Award” for whatever company’s PR campaign was the biggest pile of “green” manure.

 The following week the corporate conference sponsors offered side events for UN government delegates on the theme of “Advancing Public-Private Partnerships for REDD+ and Green Growth” i.e. how to ensure profit-making as usual in the face of ecological collapse and rising public outrage.

How the 99% live.  This tent was where the delegation met that came to Durban with La Via Campesina, the world’s largest peasant organization.  Their slogan, Small Farmers Cool the Planet, confronts the myth that governments and the UN will take care of climate change for us and promotes the idea that bottom up, small scale, community-controlled and bioregionally appropriate solutions are what is needed. The building behind the tent was where La Via slept and ate meals–not as pretentious as the Southern Sun Elangeni Hotel, but the people were real.

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Filed under Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Carbon Trading, Climate Change, Climate Justice, Corporate Globalization, Energy, False Solutions to Climate Change, Geoengineering, Land Grabs, Nuclear power, Photo Essays by Orin Langelle, REDD, UNFCCC

The Unconquered, in search of the Amazon’s last uncontacted tribes-A Review

Review by Orin Langelle for GJEP

Note: Global Justice Ecology Project’s Anne Petermann and I went to Washington, DC last month to meet with friends and colleagues who were in town for the fall meetings of the infamous World Bank.  We arrived in Union Station and hopped on the Metro to Dupont Circle where we met Janet Redman, from the Institute for Policy Studies, at a local restaurant.

We were there to meet Scott Wallace who recently sent me a pre-release copy of THE UNCONQUERED–In Search of the Amazon’s last Uncontacted Tribes.  It was the first time I had met Wallace and I had just started reading his book.  From the beginning I found the book hard to put down.  At the restaurant, I learned a good deal about Scott.  Prior to his book, he had written articles for National Geographic.  But before that, amongst other assignments, he was a journalist in Central America, who reported on the wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador. One thing that I didn’t find out until later, towards the end of the book, was that, thanks to Wallace, there were now only two degrees of separation between Osama bin-Laden and myself.  (More on that later…)

But before the review—below–is a trailer that sets the stage for the book. The grey bearded gentleman in the trailer is Sydney Possuelo and the writer, of course, is Wallace.  Possuello is the main character documented by Wallace in The Unconquered.  But in all fairness it could be said that the main characters of this book are the ones not seen.  The undocumented indigenous tribes of the Amazon jungle.

I’ve worked full-time for social justice for the past four decades, but the last thing I want to do, after my work day is done, is bring home more reality.

For this reason, over the past ten years I’ve read more fiction than non–just because fiction is an escape from dealing with the harsh political and ecological realities of our world today.

So when author Scott Wallace sent me THE UNCONQUERED –In Search of the Amazon’s last Uncontacted Tribes, I said “shit,” more reality to deal with.  After reading a few pages, though, I realized that Wallace had set the hook and was reeling me in to a world that most people will never experience or even think about–and that his way of story telling was something special.  This is not just a book of nonfiction, nor is it an adventure novel.  Wallace has made it both—and fascinating. Hopefully, THE UNCONQUERED will capture the imagination of anyone who reads it, and encourage him or her, while enjoying a lively narrative, to understand the injustices indigenous peoples’ experience, from the past until this day.

THE UNCONQUERED documents Sydney Possuelo’s effort to protect, from his point of view, uncontacted indigenous tribes in the Amazon from the onslaught of civilization.  It is also a story of Scott Wallace, who left his family, relationship and everyday life, to set off on a journey into one of the most isolated spots of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.  Through the eyes of Wallace, the book also tells the story of the indigenous people of the region.  A people who have chosen to live in their territory, in their ancient culture, and to avoid the death trap of the White Man, that in the Americas can be traced back over 500 years.

Possuelo was the head of Brazil’s FUNAI’s (National Indian Foundation) Department of Isolated Indians.  He led thirty-four people in a grueling three month expedition into the depths of Javarí Valley Indigenous Land in a seemingly conflicted effort to consciously not contact or study the isolated inhabitants of The People of the Arrow (flecheiros), but to explore the proximity of their territory—in an effort to document their territory in order to keep intruders out of their territory, to protect their way of life from outside invasion.

The richness of the Amazon brings all types of fortune hunters, from gold diggers to rubber barons to illegal loggers.  They set upon the Amazon with a vengeance, pilfering what the Amazon offers. With their invasion come diseases that, along with outright murder, decimate the indigenous populations.

Prior to Possuelo’s involvement in FUNAI, the agency did not have a good reputation when it came to helping indigenous peoples.  FUNAI’s idea was to make contact with the natives, pacify and then assimilate them, in order to move them out of the way and open up their lands to development and exploitation.

When Possuelo became the head of the FUNAI’s Department of Isolated Indians, Wallace writes:

“Though not explicitly articulated at the time, Possuelo’s new policy had the immediate effect of sequestering millions of acres of the most species-rich, biodiverse lands on the planet, placing them, at least theoretically, beyond the reach of those looking to exploit their riches.  The survival of isolated tribes depended…on intact forests that could provide the Indians with all their necessities: food, water, shelter, security.”

Needless to say all those who sought to make profit from indigenous lands reviled Possuelo—and the missionaries didn’t like him either.

The main purpose of Possuelo’s no contact policy, was to protect the Indians from disease, due to their extreme vulnerability to foreign contagions.  One needs only to look at history for proof.  Wallace relates that Christopher Columbus’ contact with the Taino people resulted in their extinction within sixty years.  Modern demographic studies indicate their population could have been as high as eight million at the time.

More death from disease came to South America with Pizarro (small pox) and subsequent invasions by Europeans. The isolated tribes that still exist are just as vulnerable as ever.

In writing about the details of the expedition, Wallace doesn’t gloss over the tensions between those on the journey and Possuelo—tensions that could have easily led to rebellion–nor does he leave out his own sometimes-painful feelings and actions. It’s quite revealing of who Scott Wallace is.

Wallace’s candid, yet evocative style projects a vivid imagery for the reader and allows a deeper insight into the characters and the situations they encounter. On first view of the expedition participants, Wallace describes them as resembling “a war party returning from a raid:  Apocalypse Now meets The Last of the Mohicans.”

On Possuelo:

“He seemed oblivious of the preposterous figure he posed, clad only in his floppy hat and a skimpy Speedo, over which his ample gut spilled.”  He then quotes Possuelo arguing that one of the reasons the rainforest was still intact was because, “the Indians formidable reputation had served as a powerful deterrent for decades, perhaps even centuries. ‘Personally I like them like this—violent,’ Posseulo said.”

And on himself, as drops of psychedelic buchité were administered to his eyes:

“I let out a roar.  It felt like my eyes were scorched with sulfuric acid.  Everyone howled with laughter.  It took several minutes for the burning to subside.  I opened my eyes and looked around…I beheld a different forest than the one I’ve been marching through for the past four days.  It was no longer a two-dimensional, monochromatic screen of dull browns and greens.  Everything stood out in sharp, almost psychedelic relief…The colors seemed to vibrate…I wasn’t hallucinating exactly; it was more like looking at the jungle through a 3-D View-Master.”

But Wallace is not merely an adventure junky–far from it. Wallace discusses his fears, his missteps and falls in the jungle, and other personal details that reveal a man who has fortitude but is also frightened in an enormous rainforest, isolated, surrounded by unfriendly creatures from anacondas to jaguars to devouring ants to crocodiles—not to mention the potential contact with The Arrow People and a possible shower of poisonous arrows raining down on the expedition.  One small mistake could have been his last.

Critics ask Possuelo if he thought he was depriving indigenous peoples of civilization.  Possuelo asserts that if any of them really wanted to make contact, all they had to do was come downriver.

Other critics are sure to say that here is another white man thinking he can save the indigenous peoples because of his feelings of superiority—or guilt.  This thought did bother me a bit, but then I recalled a situation where indigenous friends and colleagues asked me to please talk to another white person who said some things they found disrespectful.  They impressed upon me that white people should take care of their own when they fuck up.  So it could be said that Possuelo was taking care of the whites that were trying to get into the jungle to exploit its riches.  But it’s really not my role to judge.

Possuelo had no fondness for the white invaders.  Even though law protected the Javarí Valley Indigenous Land he and others fought for, Possuelo knew that laws and land could be over-ruled by a change of government in Brasilia.  Maybe he had no right, but he told the contacted indigenous people of the Javarí Valley:

You must say NO to the white man!  Tell him:  We don’t want loggers, we don’t want fisherman, we don’t want hunters here! The fish are here for us to eat!  For us—the Matis, The Marubo, the Kanamari, the Korubu, and yes, the Arrow People, too!  The monkeys are for us. The boar, the tapir, the turkeys—they are for us!  Tell the white man to stay out!  Tell him:  We don’t want you here anymore!

In my opinion, if humans are to have a future on this planet and if the Amazon basin is to remain the lungs of the earth and if the indigenous peoples have crucial knowledge most people in the rest of the world don’t, then the capitalist exploiters looking for the last tree to cut down, the last gold to mine to dig, or the last fish to catch, would be well advised to stay out of the Amazon.  And just about everywhere else.

So back to the question about Osama bin-Laden’s relation to me.  In The Unconquered, Wallace mentions the idea of the six degrees of separation that connect us all in some special way.  But what of The Arrow People and other uncontacted—are they somehow connected to the rest of us conquered by civilization?  As for the two degrees of separation between bin-Laden and myself, Wallace had a close friend who interviewed bin-Laden in an Afghan cave in 1996, making Wallace one degree separated and now since I’ve met the author only two degrees of separation.  Strange things to contemplate in this day and age.

Orin Langelle is the Co-director/Strategist for Global Justice Ecology Project.  He is a contributor to many publications, including recent work for Z Magazine, Race, Poverty and the Environment, Earth Island Journal and others.  He is currently compiling four decades of his concerned photography for publication and is a member of the National Writers Union and the International Federation of Journalists.

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Filed under Actions / Protest, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Indigenous Peoples, Latin America-Caribbean

Forest Cover: The Official Newsletter of Global Forest Coalition

CONTENTS OF THIS ISSUE (Download the 10 Page PDF by clicking here)

From standing trees to boiled, bleached pulp in one day. Photo: Petermann/GJEP-GFC

Rio+20 must Recognize the Role of Civil Society

by Fiu Mataese Elisara/ Chair of the Board, Global Forest Coalition

REDD and the Feeling of Standing Barefoot in a Peatswamp By Simone Lovera, Sobrevivencia, Paraguay

San Mariano Biofuel Project Should be Rejected as CDM Project By Feny Cosico, Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM), the Philippines

Genetically Engineered Tree Developments: GE Cold Tolerant Eucalyptus in the US By Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project; North American Focal Point, Global Forest Coalition

African Faith Leaders get Organized for Durban COP17 By Nigel Crawhall, Director of the Secretariat of the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC) and member of the Western Cape Provincial Religious Leaders Forum

Calendar of Forest-related meetings

About Forest Cover

Welcome to the thirty-eighth issue of Forest Cover, newsletter of the Global Forest Coalition (GFC). GFC is a world- wide coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Indigenous Peoples Organizations (IPOs). GFC promotes rights-based, socially just and effective forest policies at international and national level, including through building the capacity of NGOs and IPOs in all regions to influence global forest policy.

Forest Cover is published four times a year. It features reports on important intergovernmental meetings by different NGOs and IPOs and a calendar of future meetings. The views expressed in this newsletter do not necessarily reflect the views of

the Global Forest Coalition, its donors or the editors.

For free subscriptions, please contact Yolanda Sikking at: Yolanda.sikking@globalforestcoalition.org

Global Justice Ecology Project is the North American Focal Point of the Global Forest Coalition

 

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Filed under Biodiversity, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Justice, Corporate Globalization, False Solutions to Climate Change, GE Trees, Indigenous Peoples, Land Grabs, Latin America-Caribbean, REDD, UNFCCC

Tree Biotechnology Conference Wrap Up Blog Post Part II

Arraial d’Ajuda, Bahia, Brazil (Part II of II)

By Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project

I will start off this post with a few juicy quotes:

From Ron Sederoff, considered the “father of forest biotechnology:”

• On Synthetic Biology (that is, developing completely synthetic life forms): “If we think we know how something works, we should be able to build it.”

Dude, seriously?  Life forms?  Build them?

• On the use of biocontrols: “We can use genetic engineering to conserve endangered species through biocontrols.  Like the mosquitoes, for example, that are being genetically engineered to fight malaria.”

Oh yeah, nothing could EVER go wrong with that…

• On where to plant GE trees: “just as the timber industry has done, in a large-scale on non-agricultural land.”

Non-agricultural land?  In the Lumaco District of Chile, the standard for tree plantations has been putting them on the agricultural lands of Indigenous Mapuche communities by using financial incentives that force small farmers to grow trees instead of food—leading to 60% of Mapuche families in the region living in poverty, with 33% in extreme poverty.

 

Next a little analysis from the other very interesting presentations; one on GE poplar field trials in Belgium, and one by an ArborGen bigwig on their plans to commerically sell GE eucalyptus trees for plantations across the southern U.S.

“Science, Society and Biosafety of a field trial of transgenic biofuel poplars”  by Wout Boergan –University of Ghent—Belgium

Wout gave a fascinating talk on Belgium’s attempts to create GMO low-lignin poplar trees for agrofuel (large-scale unsustainable biofuel) production.

He started by mocking Greenpeace for organizing protests against them.  Then showed a photograph from another protest by Indigenous Peoples against Belgium’s GE tree test plots that occurred during a meeting of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York City.  It is worth noting that the photograph he used was taken by Global Justice Ecology Project Co-Director/ Strategist Orin Langelle…

IP Protest at the Belgian Mission in New York. Photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC

As a result of these protests: the Belgian Minister decided not to allow the field trials to proceed.  The reasons he gave for denying the permit:

• The use of antibiotic resistance markers in the GE trees;

• The lack of protocols for studying the impacts on soils;

• The lack of protocols for studying the impacts of the genetic modification on the trees themselves;

• 40 reactions from the public against GE trees.

Howeveer, Wout was proud to add that “we went to a higher court and got the decision reversed.  We now have the most protected forest in the world.”

Their strategy for winning public acceptance of GE trees:

• Start with easy field trials

• Highlight the benefits we’ve seen from biotech crops

• Invite Opponents for Discussion

However, when GMO potatoes were brought in, the field trial was attacked in a public protest on May 29, 2011 (which destroyed 15% of the field trial), but according to Wout the protest backfired and there was a big backlash against the protesters.  His reaction to film footage he showed of the public protest with the demonstrators getting savagely beaten by the police was, “the Police didn’t hit hard enough,” and called the activist group, “one of the most hated groups.”  He concluded that the public protest against the GMO potato worked to the benefit of the GMO industry.

 

 “Making Biotech Purpose-Grown Trees a Reality” by Maude Hinchee of ArborGen

 

(Hinchee, by the way, previously spent 18 years with Monsanto).

Here is a snapshot of her talk:

ArborGen is in the process of “developing commercially in the US” GE cold-tolerant eucalyptus trees.

GE eucalyptus are needed, she argued, because “the hardwood inventory is going down, and the natural regenerated stands are harder to access and more expensive. As a result, we have to import hardwood for pulp.”

Ah ha, so too much forest has been destroyed, and it grows too slowly anyway, so let’s create millions of acres of GE eucalyptus plantations across the US South—good plan…

“And now we are facing competitors for the feedstock–for electricity, biofuels, wood pellets–which is driving a 33% increase in hardwood demand in the US.  Therefore we need trees that provide improved growth, processing, wood quality and shorter rotations.”

Yes, trees are being looked at to provide basically everything that fossil fuels are currently providing, causing a massive increase in demand for wood.  But I’ve got news for you, the exponentially increasing demand for wood cannot be sustainably met.  We have to DECREASE the demand—not increase it.  And we need to ensure that the communities that depend on the world’s remaining forests are the ones that govern them—not the state or corporations or the World Bank.  They have proven themselves wildly incompetant at protecting forests.  Genetically engineered tree plantations will only make the matter worse for forests.

But Maude had other ideas.  “For this reason, she said, referring to the lack of hardwoods, “ArborGen is developing freeze tolerant eucalyptus trees for use across the southern US” ArborGen’s eucalyptus plantation map on her powerpoint showed GE eucalyptus plantations growing from Texas to Florida and north to Arkansas and South Carolina.

ArborGen, she pointed out, is also involved in testing of non-GMO Urograndis eucalyptus hybrids in southern Florida. “But the pulp mills are not located in southern Florida, so we need cold-tolerant eucalyptus for other regions,” she insisted.

ArborGen, she said,  is having some success with freeze tolerant eucalyptus down to 16°F (-8 to -9°C).  At 48 months, these eucs also grew to 56 feet with 6.4 inch biomass yield.  The GE eucalyptus trees in Alabama performed well.  “We have submitted a petition for deregulation.”

And, why does Maude believe GE eucalyptus trees the best thing since sliced bread?  Well according to her (and flying in the face of numeorus studies on eucalyptus from regions all over the world):

“Gene flow from biotech eucalyptus trees is unlikely” because of:

• Limited natural reproduction;

• Poor seed production (low seed set and viability of seeds);

• no natural vegetative propogation;

• no sexually competitive native species.

(Well, eucalyptus grandis trees are actually listed as an invasive pest in Florida and eucalyptus globulus are a major invasive problem in California, where they contribute to wildfires.)

As to where these will be grown, she replied: “the plantations will replace pine plantations and pasture land.”

Really?  Tthe timber industry says they need to keep the pine plantations too.  International Paper was quoted as saying the GE eucalyptus plantations would double the acreage covered in plantations in the Southern US from 42 to 84 million acres.  And I’m afraid there is no way they will be able to accomplish this without wiping out more of the amazing biodiverse native hardwood forests in the south.

Let’s see, what other PR greenwash arguments for GE eucalyptus did she trot out?

• They use less water ‘per unit of biomass’ than other crops.  “We anticipate they will need no irrigation.”

Actually, one of the states where ArborGen is testing their GE eucalyptus is Texas, which is under extreme drought conditions.  Eucalyptus trees have a very deep tap root which allows them to access hard to reach ground water.  Unfortunately, this trait means  they can worsen droughts by drying up that ground water.

• They are very good for wildlife

Oh yes, non-native invasive, flammable vegetation is always good for native wildlife.

• They require less fertilization

Mature in under 7 years, yet don’t deplete soils?

• They require less herbicide application

I swear these points must have been written by ArborGen’s public relations department.  They are totally contradictory to the documented impacts of eucalyptus plantations.

 

But not to worry.  The Institute for Forest Biotechnology (IFB) is on the case, fervently developing voluntary standards for industry to enable them to certify GE tree plantations as sustainable.  Currently neither of the global certification schemes will certify GE trees.

On this point, Adam Costanza of the Institute of Forest Biotechnology argued, “We need to fight for what is right, good and responsible” and “ultimately, we want to see biotech trees used responsibly.”  (Good thing his presentation was listed under the Biosafety section…)

The IFB has even developed a book of “responsible use principles.”  It is amazing how they have determined how to “responsibly use” GE trees, even though almost no risk assessments have been done.  Their partners can be found at forestbiotech.org/partners.html.

Over all, biosafety concerns were largely ignored at this conference.  There were only four presentations on the topic (and only four people applied for it), and two of those presentations were basically about how to get around biosafety concerns so GE trees can get out there and commercialized.

(sigh…)

The good news is that the next IUFRO Tree Biotechnology Conference is scheduled to take place in 2013 in Asheville, NC.  THAT should be a fun one!

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Filed under Climate Change, False Solutions to Climate Change, GE Trees, Genetic Engineering, Greenwashing, Indigenous Peoples, Posts from Anne Petermann