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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.


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

Wrap Up Blog Post from IUFRO Tree Biotechnology 2011 Conference

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

by Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project

In this blog post and it’s follow up part two, I discuss the main presentations of IUFRO’s Tree Biotechnology Conference which occurred in the final stretch of the conference.  Steve Strauss, tree geneticist and industry proponent, gave two presentations during this time, which I describe below.  They provide an excellent substrate for developing the analysis as to why genetically engineered trees (GE trees) are a bad idea.

Steve Strauss Defends GE Trees at the UN CBD in Rome. Photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC

Steve Strauss Presentation #1: “Field Trials of GM trees in the US and a Peek at Global Regulatory Burdens (“in the eyes of scientists”)

Strauss started this presentation on regulation of GM trees by stating that regulation in the US is problematic because there are no laws specifically governing GM trees.

He then provided a little background on GE tree field trials in the US:

Over 1995-1999 there were 100 field trials in the US

Over 2000-2004, there were 200

Over 2005-2009, there were 300

From 2010-now, there are 50 (so far—on track with previous rates)

In 2007 there were 60 GE poplar field trials, 40 GE eucalyptus and 60 pine

In 2011, poplar and eucalyptus are the leaders

The average size of the the field trials in the US:

GE poplar: 15 acres

GE eucalyptus: 30 acres

He explained why the GE eucalyptus test plots are so much larger by pointing out that “the GE eucalyptus are pre-commercial, which is why ArborGen is taking a careful look at them in large plots.”

He further explained, “In the US, once it [a GE tree] is deregulated [commercially released], its not tracked any further, unlike Europe.”

Which is one of the reasons that Global Justice Ecology Project and the STOP GE Trees Campaign are working so hard to stop the deregulation of GE trees in the US—because any social or ecological impacts of the large-scale release of these non-native genetically engineered tree clones would be tracked only by industry—if at all.  The impacts of opening Pandora’s Box would be unmonitored.

Strauss’s next presentation happened during the section of the conference dealing with biosafety, oddly enough.  It was called, Transgenic Biotechnology in Forestry: What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been (I think Jerry Garcia would be rolling over in his grave…)

Here are a few select tidbits from Steve’s opening remarks:

1) The problem of gene flow is a huge problem. 

Yes, right.  Got that.

2)  Scientists are giving out too much information for the public to understand/digest it.

Really?  The whole notion of “Confidential Business Information” when it comes to companies manufacturing GMOs, is that they don’t have to publicly disclose much information for fear someone might steal it or use it in some way that is detrimental to the interests of the corporation.  Too LITTLE information is the problem.

3) There is no real difference between GMO and non-GMO.  Its about the technique, not the transgenic aspect of the process.

Ummm…  Huh?  As renowned geneticist David Suzuki points out in the film A Silent Forest: The Growing Threat, Genetically Engineered Trees,  “If we take a gene out of one species and put it into an entirely unrelated species—we’ve never done that before and it’s absolutely bad science to say that we can use [traditional breeding] to predict what will happen with [genetic engineering], it’s just lousy science.”

Strauss went on to describe why genetic engineering makes him happy:

• The history of GE crops has been very positive–except for maybe a little too much RoundUp.

A little too much RoundUp?  Try herbicide resistant weeds taking over and forcing farmers to rely on increasingly toxic weed killers.  Oh, and the productivity levels touted by corporations like Monsanto about their GE crops haven’t panned out either…

• Virus resistant papaya in Hawaii has been a huge success.  “GM papaya has made it easy to be an organic papaya farmer in Hawaii, but I haven’t seen any thanks from them yet.” 

Whoa…  Maybe this is because organic papaya farmers in Hawaii were virtually wiped out by GMO papaya, which contaminated over 50% of non-GMO papaya on the big island of Hawaii.  In addition, while the transgenic trait was successful at knocking down the ringspot virus (at least for now), it also had the unanticipated consequence of making the GMO papayas susceptible to black spot fungus requiring applications of fungicide.

• We have seen unexpected mutants, but the occurrence has been low.

Oh, good.  Only a few unexpected mutants.  I feel SO much better…

• RoundUp ready trees grow 20% faster

Didn’t we just discuss the whole thing about too much RoundUp not being a good idea?

He next described the anti-GMO movement starting in the 1990s, and explained that it was disruptive to society.  (He lost me on that one…)

In this vein, he suggested reading the paper by Ron Herring called “Persistent Global Cognitive Rift on Biotechnology.”  (Sounds like someone has large word envy…)

He went on to call the anti-biotech movement “crazy” with “no credibility”.

Following that, he recited the history of eco-vandalism against GE tree research which started 1999 with the destruction of low-lignin GE poplars in England, which was the same year that IUFRO had a forest biotechnology conference in Oxford.  There was a newspaper article published at the time called “Frankenstein’s Forest.”  He then discussed the vandalism against the field trials and labs in the pacific northwest in 2001, and the public protest we did against GE trees at a conference on the topic at Skamania Lodge in Washington state.  He claims anti-GMO activists were invited to participate but declined.  I don’t remember getting an invitation…

He next complained that the regulatory system is a jungle, and is keeping a lot of research down.  He accompanied this point with a slide of his “Forest Biotechnology: Strangled at Birth” article that he wrote following the 2008 UN Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Bonn in which he complains about the success of Global Justice Ecology Project winning a decision by the UN body cautioning countries about use of GE trees.  He said these international regulations [which are strictly voluntary, by the way] are making national regulations harder.

Then he mentioned an action alert that had been sent out on Tuesday July 1st which caused him to get, “hundreds of spam emails jamming up his in box” and put a quote from it up on the screen:

“There is the real possibility that new genes spliced into GE trees will irreversibly contaminate forests, or that the trees themselves will invade wild forests. Forests on private land, national forests or national parks, will be changed forever.”

“Gene flow,” he reiterated, “is a big problem.  Genes will get out.  There is no question, pollen moves far.”

Alright then, if that’s the case, shouldn’t GE trees NOT be released into the environment, because they will irreversibly contaminate forests with unpredictable impacts?

Wrong.  Strauss continued, “we need to engineer genetic containment to deal with it.”  Then he asked, “is imperfect sterility useful?”  And answered his question by saying, “we can reasonably safely deploy imperfectly sterile trees, even if the trees have been engineered with traits that make them more competitive than native trees.” He conceded, however that, “Ultimately, we will need  a failsafe containment system, but this will take time.”

Right.  But in the meantime, let’s barrel ahead with commercial large-scale release of these impossible to contain GMO trees, pretending we know what the [bleep] we’re doing.

Then he made a brief reference to the GMO rice legal outcome (see our blog post on the topic), and said that the threat of contamination will lead to lawsuits that will stop development.

One would hope so…

He then gave his interpretation of the way the GMO issue plays out in the mind of the public:

Anti-GMO vs. GMO corporations =

• Left/ socialist vs. Right/ Capitalist

• Transparency & Openness vs. Secrecy & Competition

• Open Source/ Sharing vs. Patents and Private Property

• Non-profit vs. Corporate/ profit-making

• Natural vs. Techno.

“The common message is: ‘I don’t like Monsanto,’” he said, to big audience laughter.

But, he said, this perception is wrong.  Science is not a capitalist, closed model, it is a social and democratic model.

Yeah, right.  Unfortunately, what he failed to mention is that science is often bought and paid for by corporations that plan to use it to make lots of profits, and that this science tends to say whatever that corporation wants it to.  As one graduate student from the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul explained, “[Our] working hypothesis is that GMO and non-GMO eucalyptus trees are exactly the same except for the GMO traits.”

And guess what?  All of his slides had the name and logo for “Futuragene” on them…

Finally Strauss concluded with “In a nutshell, it’s a religious/ideological issue,”  showing an issue of the publication ECO that Global Justice Ecology Project had co-produced with the CBD Alliance at the 2008 UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Bonn calling for the total ban on genetically engineered trees globally.

He then segued into the Forest Stewardship Council’s refusal to certify GE trees because there is not enough science.

He used these two points to illustrate his disdain for the ‘precautionary principle’ [that is, the principle that a product or a technology should not be deployed until proved safe]. He said, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” And, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

Stay tuned for IUFRO Tree Biotechnology 2011 Wrap Up II Coming Soon to a blog near you.

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Blog Post for Friday: Eucalyptus Time!

From the Tree Biotechnology 2011 Conference in Arraial d’Ajuda, Bahia, Brazil 

Eucalyptus plantation. Photo: Petermann/ GJEP-GFC

By Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project

This morning was devoted to eucalyptus.  Hybrid eucalyptus followed by genetically engineered eucalyptus.  There was an interesting tension between researchers working with non-GMO clonal hybridization techniques of eucalyptus—such as we saw on our Veracel field trip on Wednesday—and those using transgenics; in other words, inserting genes from other species into the eucalyptus to try to get it to express very specific traits more quickly.

The second speaker of the day was from Brazil and explained in great detail the history of eucalyptus hybridization in Brazil, toward greater production.  This process had begun in the 60s, he explained, when they were getting 6 tons of pulp per hectare per year; to the projected production for 2015 when they expect to get 16 tons of pulp per hectare per year.

But in addition to increasing production, they are also altering wood quality and wood density, and even breeding for freeze tolerance.  The speaker, Teotonio de Assis seemed quite proud of the achievements made with these hybridization techniques over the past decades.  Indeed, a full-grown tree in seven years is something (something very destructive, but we’ll get into that later).

But then came Ziv Shani of Futuragene Ltd.  Futuragene is based in Brazil and Israel.

His presentation was called Eucalyptus Time! and emphasized why NOW is the time for genetically engineered eucalyptus.

First he started with the statistics.  There are currently 19.6 million hectares of eucalyptus plantations worldwide.  Brazil leads the pack with 4.7 million of those hectares, followed by India with 4.3, China with 2.6, South Africa with .58 and Thailand with .5 million hectares.

And because industry has perfected the standardization of the production methods for propogating clones of eucalyptus, now it is the time to genetically engineer them.  “The time is ripe!” he said enthusiastically.

And in this way, he expounded, eucalyptus can be developed for specific “off-takes.”  By this he meant different products such as ethanol, bioenergy, bioproducts, etc.

Then he showed two slides, one, a quaint pastoral painting depicting some people lying around in a field, which was supposed to represent organic farming practices.  The other was serious, mechanized, industrious and represented “modern” industrial agriculture.  In 2011, he argued, we have 7 billion people on the planet.  “We need industry.  We need large scale agriculture; AND we need to keep living on this planet.”

We need, he said, “to enhance the product while preserving today’s resource for tomorrow.”

He apparently has not seen the analysis of the long-term downward impacts on productivity of the so-called “green revolution” and the use of biotechnology in agriculture.  Or about the “new menace” of herbicide tolerant weeds, resulting from the repeated heavy applications of Monsanto’s RoundUp on their roundup ready GMO crops—now requiring farmers to use even larger amounts of more toxic herbicides (just as was predicted by silly anti-GMO naysayers like us fifteen or twenty years ago…).

La Via Campesina has done some excellent work pointing out that small-scale organic and natural farming methods can feed a lot more people than the worn out soils of the GMO and industrial monocultures which require heavy inputs of petroleum-based fertilizers (which also contribute to climate change, by the way) and other chemicals.

But he had not heard of any of this, or if he had, he was keeping it to himself, so he continued, this time dragging out some of the tired old arguments about GMO trees that we have been countering for a decade.

1)    Increasing the productivity of eucalyptus trees will grow more wood on less land (ArborGen’s motto) and therefore protect native forests.  No it won’t.  It will mean that eucalyptus is even more profitable, creating increased incentives for landowners to convert their forests to eucalyptus.  Plantations grow where native ecosystems once stood—whether forest or grassland.  As demand for wood increases (like for the ethanol, bioenergy and bioproducts he mentioned earlier), the forests will be cut down and replaced with “high productivity” plantations.

2)    GMO trees can reduce the need for chemicals.  Sure.  You don’t need to apply insecticides to insect-resistant GMO trees, because the entire tree is a pesticide.  Every bit of it, from the leaves to the roots to the pollen.  Oh yeah, and the insecticide then enters and wreaks havoc in the soils, gets into the water, and blows around in the wind in the pollen, so that wildlife and people can inhale it and have the pesticide directly enter their bloodstream by way of their lungs.  Good plan.

3)    GMO trees will help us with climate adaptation.  Nothing will help our forests with climate adaptation except halting climate disruption by curtailing the emission of greenhouse gases.  And ensuring that native forests are maintained in large interconnected tracts so that species can migrate and adapt as needed to the changing climate.  Plantations are not in the equation.  In fact, plantations store only about ¼ the carbon of native forests, so expanding plantations actually worsens climate change.

But as our intrepid tree engineer pointed out, “Industrial production cannot wait 100 years for evolution.”

And just so you don’t worry, Futuragene is working in partnership with the “Tree Biosafety and Genomics Research Cooperative” at Oregon State University.  Well, if its got “biosafety” in the title, it must be okay, right?


The word “biosafety” was added to assuage public criticism and after several GMO tree trials in the Pacific Northwest were vandalized.  It used to be just the plain old “Tree Genetic Engineering Research Cooperative”  Or ‘Tree Jerk,’ as it was affectionately called.

The leader of this enterprise will be presenting tonight and tomorrow, so I will wait to tell you more about the history of Tree Jerk.

Back to Mr. Futuragene.  One interesting factoid that he pulled out was that the entire research process just to identify and perfect one GMO tree trait is around $20-$40 million.  And for this reason, he explained, “partnering” with academia (i.e. using unpaid or poorly paid graduate students) to make the venture more economical is critical.

And his final bold assertion: “The future sustainable forest will be a biotech forest!”

Wanna bet…

This was when there were rumblings in the crowd from the non-GMO eucalyptus breeders who took offense to his casual dismissal of their craft.

Kinda like watching the right wing Republicans argue with the leaders of the Tea Party…

Whether GMO or not, eucalyptus plantations are destructive.  But rapidly increasing their productivity (and hence their need for fertilizers, ground water, herbicides, etc) will cause even more severe impacts.  And engineering them to be cold tolerant (such as they are attempting in the US) will enable their production in new regions meaning the loss of even more forests at exactly the time when we need our forests more than ever.

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Photo Essay from the Tree Biotechnology 2011 Conference Field Trip Hosted by Veracel

On Wednesday, July 29th, around 200 participants divided into 4 groups toured various facilities owned by pulp company Veracel.  This photo essay explains what we learned on the field trip.

Photos and commentary by Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project (Exception: the last two photos are by GJEP Co-Director/Strategist Orin Langelle)

First Stop: Veracel Forest Preserve where children and visitors are “educated” about the importance of eucalyptus pulp and the “greenness” of Veracel.  Note that the human figure in the poster is exhibiting total dominance over the trees.

On the way into the forest preserve, children and visitors are presented with a native forest monster and representations of some of the scary wildlife that live in forests.

Veracel forest monster

Scary forest raptor

On the way through the 6,000 hectare forest preserve (80% of which is forested), a mixture of formerly logged lands and primary forest, participants were treated to a canopy rope bridge and photo shoots with 4 large trees we encountered on the path.  Most of the forest contained very young trees.

canopy rope bridge

one of the four big trees

The primary Mata Atlantica forest once stretched over much of the eastern edge of Brazil.  Large swaths of it have been eliminated and replaced with eucalyptus plantations.  Veracel took us next to the tree nursery where they propogate the 17 million eucalyptus clones they produce annually.  Henry Ford would have been proud.  The nursery was a very efficient assembly line operation.

Taking Cuttings to propagate new clones

"Clonal Garden"

Assembly line for clones 1

Assembly line for clones 2

Assembly line for clones 3

All the happy clones together

The next step for these clones, of course, is to be transformed into large-scale monoculture eucalyptus plantations.  Veracel harvests 11,000 of these 7 year old eucalyptus trees every day for their pulp mill.  Virtually the entire timbering operation is heavily mechanized to employ the fewest people possible, and uses an assortment of chemicals, from a petroleum-based hydrophilic polymer that is planted with the seedlings, to glyphosate-based herbicides that are applied to keep out competition plants, to the insecticides used to control “pests.”  In this way, Veracel can maximize its potential for profits.

The eucalyptus plantation

The mechanical harvester rapidly gobbles up the trees

The jaws of the harvester up close and personal

This employee, clearly bored, awaits his cue to show the visitors how the mechanized planter works

After a couple of tries, they were finally successful in showing how the mechanized planter works

The result. Note the petroleum-based polymer gel at the base of the seedling

Despite several quotes from Rachel Carson, John Muir, Emerson and other naturalists posted at the nature preserve, the plantations rely heavily on chemical applications.  The guide informed me that the trees get three applications of toxic herbicide over their 7 year life span.  As a result, the plantations of non-native trees are devoid of understory plants or biodiversity.  Social movements in Brazil call them “green deserts” for this reason.

the ground beneath the plantation is barren of other life forms

Rachel Carson quote in the Veracel forest preserve. Too bad they don't listen to her.

The ultimate purpose for the clones:

massive pile of eucalyptus chips at the Veracel pulp mill

From standing trees to boiled, bleached pulp in one day

The reason Veracel needs to greenwash their image: their giant stinking, polluting pulp mill

The stench of the pulp mill. "It smells like money".

Veracel's vision for the future: Make more money!

One of the obstacles, according to Veracel, of their achieving maximum productivity, is people breaking into their plantations.  On the way to the plantation, we passed what appeared to be an MST (Landless Workers’ Movement) encampment–black plastic shelters with a red MST flag flying high over them.  Indeed, elsewhere in Brazil, the MST as well as indigenous Tupinikim and Guarani populations, have taken over eucalyptus plantations and found better uses for the land.  In the case of the MST, as encampments for landless peasants.  In the case of the Indigenous Peoples, as a retaking of their ancestral lands from which they were forcibly removed when the timber company was given the land for plantations.  The cases we had previously documented were on Aracruz Cellulose land in Espirito Santo, but it seems to be occuring here in Bahia as well.  Below are photos from the encampments in Esprito Santo:

MST encampment in former eucalyptus plantation. The sign says "Eucalyptus plantations are not forests". Photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC

Indigenous community re-takes traditional lands, removes eucalyptus plantation. Photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC

Eucalyptus plantations have been such a smashing success in other parts of the world, that now GE tree company ArborGen is trying to engineer them to be cold-tolerant so that the joy of eucalyptus plantations can be spread to new and untrammeled lands.  In the United States they hope to sell half a billion GE cold tolerant eucalyptus trees annually for plantations from Texas to Florida.  They’re invasive? Flammable?  Dry up ground water and worsen droughts?  So?  What’s your point.  They will make a lot of money for a few powerful people.

To learn more or to sign our petition to the US Department of Agriculture opposing GE eucalyptus in the US, click here

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Wednesday Blog Post from the Tree Biotechnology 2011 Conference: Which Side Are You On?

By Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project

Today was the conference field trip sponsored by Veracel—the pulp giant of Bahia, Brazil.  Over the course of the 11 hour field trip I snapped about 350 photos—of everything from their greenwash “forest preserve” to their stinking smoking pulp mill, to their eucalyptus nursery assembly line, to their endless eucalyptus plantations and everything in between.  They were just as friendly as can be…

Now, However, it is going on 8:30pm.  So I will save my blog post and photo essay from this little treasure trove until tomorrow.  For now, some thoughts that demanded to be written down on Monday night—2 nights ago.  I hope you enjoy this little rant of mine.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Thoughts have been pouring through my head this evening, and so I decided to try a little “Breakfast of Champions” Vonnegut-style stream of consciousness writing.  Course it won’t have his cool pictures.  Though I can at least draw an asshole *.  But its hard to write stream of consciousness with this new computer whose keyboard is ever so slightly smaller than the one I am used to—which had a problem with the key with ? and / on it.  It kept falling out at the most inopportune moments.  One doesn’t realize how much one counts on the ? and / key until it falls out.

So I am here in this little “hippy” tourist town of Arraial d’Ajuda (don’t ask me to pronounce it) on the coast of Bahia, Brazil.  I am here to monitor and learn from a conference of tree geneticists, tree engineers and foresters gathered from the far reaches of the planet—many to practice their English, as they listen to highly technical presentations by native English speakers reciting their powerpoints as though they were a sports announcer describing a horserace.

The one thing I have most enjoyed about this place is the nights when I can enjoy the dark and secret hammock of my balcony next to the beach resort where the conference is being held.

It is peaceful out there on the terrace and the wind makes light ruffling noises with the palm fronds that reminds me of the sound of rain dripping from maple leaves after a downpour.

The simple things are what thrill me now.  The quiet secret escapes.  At one time travel was thrilling—the newness of it all, the adventure of not knowing what came next.  Well, that wore off a LOOONNGGG time ago.  Now the idea of sitting in stale overcrowded airports or big surreal metal tubes that hurtle through the sky at some ridiculous velocity is just not something I look forward to anymore.

And this is my…hmmm…fourth, fifth time to Brazil? Which is all well and good but truth be told I’d rather be in Chile.  Even though I barely understand a word of the heavily accented Spanish there and the taxicab drivers are most unpleasant, the people there—the Mapuche people—are amazing.  We went there after our first trip to the bizarre and incomprehensible world of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) in Buenos Aires—where we first made the argument to UN delegates that GE trees should be banned globally.  We brought over a Mapuche representative named Lorena to testify to the delegates about the impacts that tree plantations and their associated toxins were having on rural Mapuche communities—and how this would only worsen with GE trees.  And we formed a partnership with them to stop GE trees.  But we haven’t been back in a while.  Too long.

But that trip to Buenos Aires was when we got a real taste for how the UN actually works.  The reason that GE trees were permitted in carbon offset forestry projects, we found out, was because Norway had tried to get them banned.  Brazil and China objected strenuously, and hence, since they could not be banned, they were de facto allowed.  Welcome to the UN FCCC, boys and girls.

We then brought our demand to ban GE trees globally to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP-8) in Curitba, Brazil in 2006.

The demand got surprisingly far considering it was our first time there.  We caught the industry off-guard.  They would not allow that to happen again.  When we confronted them a second time at the next CBD in Bonn (COP-9) in 2008, they would be there with their hench men, the PRRI—pro-industry scientists posing as public interest researchers—who would present intervention after intervention about why GE trees were the best thing since sliced bread and would surely be the salvation of the world’s forests (despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary).

Industry even wheedled their way into the delegations of governments.  GE tree company ArborGen got themselves on the official delegation of Brazil.  As these UN meetings are based on consensus decision-making (or so they say), when Canada, New Zealand and Brazil formed a block to reject any decision to restrict GE trees, the best we could get was a reaffirmation of language from the previous COP warning of the dangers of GE trees and urging countries to adopt precautionary measures regarding GE trees.

But because the decisions of the CBD are all voluntary in their complicity and the number one driver of GE trees—the US—isn’t even signed onto the CBD (just as they are the number one producer of greenhouse gas emissions but are not signed onto the Kyoto Protocol climate agreement; and just as they are the biggest consumer of all things crap on the planet yet will not sign on to commitments to end child labor, or landmines, or basically anything that doesn’t totally suck…) Wonderous place this ole U S of A.

And all so the rich can get richer and the poor poorer, the planet and all of its inhabitants continue to suffer. Meanwhile so-called “scientists” natter on endlessly about their findings on how the now believe they now have evidence that environmental conditions and/or environmental changes contribute to genetic changes in various lifeforms.  Holy crap.  Ecosystems, web of life, hello?  Oh, but the web of life was covered on the first night by the main speaker.  He presented it as a paradox.  He said,

1) we all know everything is connected to everything else.

2) If this were true, evolution would be impossible

3) Therefore we need to understand genetic interactions.

What the…

I have to admit that he lost me on that one.  From an ecological standpoint there can be no evolution without first the premise that everything is interconnected.  What would drive evolution otherwise?  Species evolve according to the stresses or changes in their environment–because there are inherent connections between and among those species and their environment.   It ain’t called the web of life for nothin’.

Then you add onto that cellular knowledge, instinct and intuition—oh and life itself—the unmeasurable aspects to species interactions and behaviors—and, THAT my friends is the great paradox of reductionist thinking in the natural world.  The natural world is the opposite of reductionist, the opposite to compartmentalization.  It is encompassing, it is diverse, it is unpredictable and wild.  It will never conform to the maps and equations and mathematical models that are imposed upon it.  It may tolerate them for a while, but ultimately life will break free of the shackles of human thought limitations and do its thang.  Anyone who doubts this has not been paying attention to the history of the rise and fall of empires throughout human history.  They rise, they devastate or eat up their natural surroundings in the pursuit of their lust for more, more, more.  Then they exceed the limits of their ecological boundaries, cannot adjust, and pass from existence.

Can we, as the present race of dominant humans, change this trajectory?  Can we redirect our meager existences to shift the dominant paradigm to one that is harmonious with, rather than in constant conflict with, the non-dominant-human world?  Now is the time to find out.  There is no time to lose.

As the old Wobbly slogan demands, “Which side are you on?”

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