Politicians panicking over climate change are promoting biofuels as the answer. Yet they unlease a totally new destructive force.

Who's watching who destroy the planet? Who’s watching who destroy this planet?

Part A.
Nearly 40,000 hectares of forest vanish every day, driven by the world’s growing hunger for timber, pulp and paper, and ironically, new biofuels and carbon credits designed to protect the environment.

The irony here is that the growing eagerness to slow climate change by using biofuels and planting millions of trees for carbon credits has resulted in new major causes of deforestation, say activists. And that is making climate change worse because deforestation puts far more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the entire world’s fleet of cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships combined.

“Biofuels are rapidly becoming the main cause of deforestation in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil,” said Simone Lovera, managing coordinator of the Global Forest Coalition, an environmental NGO based in Asunción, Paraguay.

“We call it ‘deforestation diesel’,” Lovera told IPS.

Oil from African palm trees is considered to be one of the best and cheapest sources of biodiesel and energy companies are investing billions into acquiring or developing oil-palm plantations in developing countries. Vast tracts of forest in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and many other countries have been cleared to grow oil palms.

Oil palm has become the world’s number one fruit crop, well ahead of bananas. More on this at ipsnews.

Who’s watching who destroy this planet?

Part B.
Meanwhile the IMF, with its World Economic Report, states that food prices rose by 10% in 2006, owing to a surge in corn, wheat and soya bean prices. The IMF has warned of the consequences of a mass conversion of food crops into fuel. The US Department of Agriculture has also reported a rise in meat prices and a reduced supply as farmers compete with ethanol producers for corn feed.

Over the last 12 months the world’s politicians have finally accepted climate change exists and that man has played a large part with carbon emissions spewing out since the Industrial Revolution. Now they panic as they look for answers to turn back the carbon tide. The worse thing is they have few answers and are making all the wrong moves. The planting of biofuel crops is leading to a worldwide surge in rainforest destruction. To rub salt in the wound prices of food staples are also soaring.

Who’s watching who destroy this planet?

Part C.
Ugandan police have opened fire at hundreds of Mabira rainforest protection campaigners in Uganda protesting against government plans to allocate forest land to a sugar company. Two local rainforest conservationists, protesting to save the Mabira protected rainforest from being cleared for sugar cane were shot dead according to BBC. They were part of one of Africa’s first grassroots modern ecological protest campaigns, with local peoples organizing boycotts against the sugar company involved, setting up cyber-petitions and text messaging via cell phones to organize protests. More from the BBC.

Who’s watching who destroy this planet?

Part D.
Meanwhile ‘Western corruption’ has flown into Congo in the form of logging companies. Surprise, surprise the locals get little for this extraction of their timber resources. Greenpeace report here.

Who’s watching who destroy this planet?


This entry was posted in Biofuels, Climate change, Economics, Food & Agriculture, Nature & Conservation, Politics & Policy initiatives, Transport. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Politicians panicking over climate change are promoting biofuels as the answer. Yet they unlease a totally new destructive force.

  1. earthpal says:

    Hi Matt.

    At least our governments will reach their targets – temporarily. Hmph.

    Isn’t it amazing how we can suddenly pull out all the stops and mass produce crops to feed our cars when we haven’t been able to do it for the hundreds of millions of people around the world who are hungry.

    George Monbiot wrote an article about three years ago entitled…“Feeding Cars, Not People” and in it he said that biofuels would be… a humanitarian and environmental disaster. I will try to find it for you.

  2. matt says:

    It is scary how the panic button appears to have been pushed in response to IPCC reports on climate change. Policy makers must have been asleep. It appears the grim reaper has given them the kiss of life. They now unleash biofuels policies with devastating effects.

    Our world’s forests, their animal species & local tribes people really have no chance now. The price of food stuffs around the world (eg. £1 for a loaf of bread in the UK) are surging. As to the affects on the world’s weather … I really hate to think of the consequences.

  3. the Grit says:

    Hi all,

    This is affecting Mexico also, where their staple food is the tortilla, made from corn. Prices on these have almost doubled, last I checked, seriously straining the budgets of much of their poor population. It’s bad enough that the Government down there is desperately trying to prevent mass riots and possible revolution.

    I can even see the effects here, near Memphis Tn. Being a farmer, I pay attention to what’s being planted. This year should have been soy beans, since last year was cotton. However, all of the big fields around here are being readied for corn, and who can blame them looking at $4 per bushel? However, this will mean a need for extra fertilizer to make up for the nitrogen fixing of the beans. If you haven’t looked it up, production of fertilizer uses a great deal of energy. Besides, soy beans go into a whole lot of the things we eat. A shortage will bump their price, and the price of everything they go into. If this trend continues through next year, well, stock up on cotton cloth goods now.

    While I like the idea of producing our own fuel, much as I like the idea of producing my own beer, it would seem that we are leaping before we look.

    the Grit

  4. matt says:

    Completely understand your analysis there Grit. These are curious times indeed and we mustn’t forget that the Bush administration has kicked this all off with a regime of subsidies. What happened to the market deciding what’s right. But then a war in Iraq for oil ain’t exactly market determined either (except that it’s good for the arms industry).

    Maybe the ethanol policy is an admission (albeit indirectly) of a failed Iraq-oil policy/war.

  5. the Grit says:

    Hi matt,

    When Bush first came to office there was some hope that we could take the limits off the oil companies and develop more of our own oil resources. While our politics are too complex to sum up here, it didn’t work. Then, 911, Katrina, we’re screwed on the oil front and, at the same time needing to fight a most unusual war. To recover our infrastructure, both in New York and the Gulf, it was most important to keep the general economy humming along. Higher oil prices would not accomplish that, so the oil company redevelopment had to be subsidized. On the other hand, as our current economic prosperity shows, it worked. The string of disasters did, at least, put the idea of energy independence back in the mind of Government, which is a good thing, and explains the drive for ethanol production. If oil was not such a prized commodity, we could safely let the Middle East destroy itself.

    Which brings us to Iraq. Yes, it was, in part, about oil, but not in the direct send it to the US sense. Most of the oil from that area goes to Europe. We get ours from Mexico and South America. The problem with this is that, since Europe, in general, has lost its ability to defend itself, we get stuck with the job. While this was fine while the USSR gave us a good propaganda foil to keep the general public saying “OK” to this incredible expense, times have changed since they quit. Now, we have a sizable segment of the public that really wants us to slash our military and funnel that money into social programs. You should note that, during the Clinton administration our military forces were reduced by about one third, and our intelligence services were cut in half, while being placed under severe restrictions on how they could operate.

    Thus, we have the war in Iraq, which, in theory, was a brilliant and bold move to stabilize the Middle East, so we could worry about our own problems instead of Europe’s. Well, the best laid plans of mice and men and all that. Of course, from a historical perspective, it’s not going all that badly. It took 10 years to put down the Nazi resistance in Germany after WWII. As I recall, it took longer than that for y’all to deal with the IRA. Heck, it took us almost as long to settle on the Constitution as our Governing document. People today have no patience.

    As to a failed policy/war in Iraq, you should be keeping your fingers crossed that such is not the case. North Sea oil is running out, or so I have been told. Europe, including the UK, have allowed large and unstable populations of Muslim immigrants to settle in their countries, without being able to assimilate them. If our struggle in Iraq fails, the Islamic Terrorists will have another base from which to operate, and money from oil to fund themselves. Since I suspect your socialist governments will have a much more difficult time getting their populations mobilized to do something about the problem, you’ll collapse first, or pay such a high price in capitulation that the alternative of fighting will, in hindsight, look like paradise.

    It’s a nasty problem. None of the alternatives are attractive. Our leaders, as a general rule, have failed us. Guess who gets to pay the price 😉

    the Grit

  6. Dave On Fire says:

    Hi Grit,

    The Iraq war was a defensive war only for the kind of people who fret about how “our” oil ended up under “their” sands. It’s disheartening to see the only real political opposition to the neocons’ war talk about failure, strategic mistakes, misadventure – neglecting the illegality and immorality of imperial aggression. It’s all “we could run the empire better”, and not the more pertinent question of “do we really want to be an empire”.

    But I digress. A huge chunk of the U.S. oil does in fact come from the Middle East, but I think you’re right that the OIL (Operation Iraqi Liberation) war was about much more than the oil America consumes. It’s far more about control of the market. As the too-cosy-for-either-side’s-comfort relations with Saudi Arabia strain, and as Russia and Venezuela become more important players, the U.S. has less and less control over international oil sales.

    This is important both to the (domestic) U.S. economy, which I will come back to, and to the (international) U.S. hegemony. Before words like “hegemony” and “empire” start to alienate people, let’s agree that the U.S. is a superpower beyond rival; a hyperpower, if you will. This has been the explicitly stated aim of most postwar American leaders, and is now so self-evident that we rarely think ask how it happened.

    Capitalism? Investment in education? An aggressive military? WWII victory? Centuries of secure isolation? Certainly, all these have played a part in extending American influence, but none are unique to the U.S. The one thing that really puts the U.S. apart is the dollar, the world’s currency of quality. Countries around the world trade in dollars, and keep their reserves in dollars and dollar bonds.

    Aside from the de facto “inflation tax” that these countries must inevitably pay to the U.S., these reserves represent money lent to the U.S. It is frequently pointed out that the U.S. is (by a long way) the most heavily-indebted nation in the world; it is rarely mentioned that by “severing the link with gold” in the 1970s, the U.S. has defaulted on those debts in advance. The U.S. will pay its dollar debts in dollars; when its creditors ask for their money back, all they will get is devalued dollars.

    Anyway, this is why the U.S. has such a strong interest in maintaining an insatatiable demand for dollars. (It’s NOT for the U.S. economy; as any macroeconomics textbook will tell you, and as the suddenly oil-rich Netherlands once discovered, an unusually strong currency can harm an economy, as it becomes easier to send money out of the country and harder to bring it in). And the universal demand for dollars comes from the dollar monopoly on oil.

    It would be naive to paint this as the only factor in inspiring Bush’n’Blair’s wars, but in the year 2000 Saddam started selling oil in euros and in the year 2001 they started baying for his blood. Iran has since started selling oil in euros too (and Venezuela has been bartering its own reserves), but a militarily-overstretched U.S. has so far done little beyond grumble about this “belligerent new regional superpower”. Iran is now set to open an exchange on which fossil fuels can be traded in any currency, with the euro expected to be especially successful (though it raises interesting questions about China’s currency). The threat posed to the dollar hegemony by the Axis of Euros is probably why the loyal serfs of the UK have thus far kept their precious Pound.

    Anyway, you have made the common assertion that securing access to foreign oil is crucial to keeping the economy ticking over. That’s half the story, woefully misleading when the rest is left out. It’s true that being dependent on supplies from other (potentially hostile) nations carries not only heavy costs, but heavy risks. Swings in the price of oil, which are becoming more and more dramatic, can result in demand for oil temporarily outstripping demand, with very nasty consequences for the economy.

    The conventional American answer to this? Keep securing ever-larger supplies. The neocons have a more aggressive strategy than some, but that’s always been the idea – with one notable exception. In the wake of the OPEC-led oil embargo, the Carter administration looked at the other side of the coin – controlling demand. They emphasised efficiency and conservation, and actually reduced America’s oil usage over a period of eight years. During this time, the economy nevertheless ticked over quite nicely.

    This strategy was an anaethema to Reagan, who undid much of Carter’s work. Clinton subsequently removed even the mechanisms that could have redone it; he didn’t just dramatically downsize the military, he downsized everything (often more dramatically still), famously saying that “the era of Big Government [was] over”. As a result, for nearly two decades America’s “efficiency reserve” has been greatly neglected; some estimate that minor upgrades to car engines could save more oil than comes out of Saudi Arabia, and that’s without even thinking beyond efficiency to renewable energy and suchlike.

    Unsurprisingly, Bush has no wish to scale back America’s consumption. This is partly ideological and partly to pander to his wealthier supporters, but there is a more concrete reason too. America’s lost decades have been better spent elsewhere; Japan is making cleaner cars, and Germany is mass-manufacturing wind turbines (and noweven solar cells). A move to efficiency could well make the already-struggling Detroit, and American utility companies, really suffer for the lost time.

    Of course, it’s a challenge that America will sooner or later HAVE to face up to, but it’s understandable that the current crop of leaders are reluctant. (Hope comes from individual states with more progressive policies – California in particular comes to mind. Disparate and unpredictable state policies are frustrating to businesses, who would eventually plead with the federal government to bring out some kind of nationwide standards). In the meantime, with their aggressive oilgrabbing widely written off as a failure, BushCo have found their dream ticket of a middle way: biofuels. Reduce the demand for foreign oil, while keeping an energy intensive economy.

    The aforementioned Monbiot article (link, anyone?) gives a good overview of what’s wrong with biofuels, but the liveliest debate over them is now going on in Latin America. Brasilian president Lula Da Silva thinks they’re the future, his Venezuelan and Cuban counterparts Chavez and Castro think they spell catastrophe. Of course, each side has something to gain – Brasil could make a mint razing its forests for ethanol farms, and Venezuela’s influence comes from oil demand.

    However, and it pains me to say this, the oil giants are right: biofuels (in their current incarnation) are Even Worse Than Oil. I get the impression that’s one of the few things that you, I and Hugo Chavez are all agreed upon. Crucially, in championing oil over biofuels, Chavez neglects other resources like Liquified Natural Gas, renewables, biofuels extracted from waste and – especially – efficiency.

    That’s about all I have to say on-topic. But I’m disappointed to see you go off-topic and all clash-of-civilisations. You really think that invading Iraq is “stabilizing the Middle East”?! Have you really thought that one through? And as to assimilating “unstable” Muslim immigrants, European Muslims faced the same difficulties as immigrants generally do, until post-9/11 governments and (even more so) media started to demonise them in earnest. “In every headline we are reminded”, sings London musical sensation Bloc Party, “that this is not home for us”.

    The demonisation of Muslims and their radicalisation fuel each other dramatically. Of course, it’s no longer a matter of “send the buggers back” – when a British Pakistani goes to Pakistan, we’re all told to wonder whether he’s just after Al Qaeda training camps – but a modern, paranoid racism of “keep the buggers at arm’s length and under very close scrutiny”.

    I was in France in 2005, when the deaths of several innocent Parisian youths during a police chase set off fiery nationwide protests. My university town, Strasbourg, was not spared, and dozens of cars were burnt. I learned of this from the news, from very distant sirens, and from an acrid rubbery smoke that hung in the air. The actual violence – like hte actual Muslims – was miles away, in the concrete ghettoes that orbit every largeish French town. The recent victims were just Franz Ferninands; keep people in unemployable, cramped concrete postcodes, and eventually they start fighting.

    Nothing has changed, and they’re waiting to erupt again. And if “defending ourselves” from Islam has any effect on that, it a) adds grist to their already overflowing mill and b) makes it harder for nonviolent (ie political, economic and cultural) resistance. What exactly you call “capitulation” is unclear; I think the alternative to wars abroad and repression at home would be pretty attractive.

    As usual our leaders are messing it up. That’s in no small way because we let them; co-opting their inflammatory rhetoric isn’t exactly going to put them back on the straight and narrow.


  7. Dave On Fire says:

    * “demand for oil temporarily outstripping demand” should of course read “demand for oil temporarily outstripping supply”. Sorry

  8. the Grit says:

    Hi DOF,

    While I don’t have time to reply to all of your comment, I will point out the flaws in your concept of the Carter years. Our economy did not tick over quite nicely. It was the worst economic period since the Great Depression, and in some ways worse. Do you remember the term “stagflation?” That sums up those years very well. There was almost no economic growth, while inflation ran into double digits, as did interest rates. It was also the period of time during which environmental activists were allowed to kill our nuclear power industry. Fortunately, he only held office for 4 years, which limited the damage his feeble attempts at running the country did.

    On a different note, I am most interested in understanding what the heck is going on in France such as caused those riots. Even with the Internet I find it difficult to get a feel for other countries, France in particular. If you ever post on this, kindly let me know. While you are on my ever growing reading list, I would hate to miss it.

    the Grit

  9. Dave On Fire says:

    Thanks for bringing stagflation to my attention; after I’ve read the macroeconomics textbook my brother just found for me I might get back to you on it. Your point is well taken: Carter’s economy was certainly not all sunshine and happiness. There was nevertheless some growth; indeed the troubles of the 1970s doesn’t even show up on the graph of “real” (i.e., inflation-corrected) growth.

    I think my point still stands. Even under Carter, there was growth, and there was also a reduction in oil consumption. The two are not, as may be expected, mutually exclusive. Other countries have pursued efficiency and conservation without damaging their economies, and America has neglected its efficiency resource for too long.

    Of course, the way our economic system demands eternal growth is at the root of many of our worst problems. But that’s a whole other story.

  10. matt says:

    DOF & Grit,

    Good conversation fellas. The coffees on the house 🙂 .

    America and all its obese folk living off the spoils of the planet reminds me of that Monty Python sketch (at least I think it was them); Waiter comes up to the increasingly fat man at the table who has been stuffing himself all night and by now he really can’t take any more, ‘Would you like a wafer thin mint sir’. He knows he shouldn’t but, he does so because no one is there to challenge his conscience or indeed his recklessness. Of course the fat man, as he savours his lovely wafer thin mint ….. explodes! 😉

    All superpowers, from the Egyptians, the Romans, through to various European empires, have ended up falling from grace through greed, recklessness and ultimately by neglecting to see that some other peoples are doing things better than them. Dim sum anyone?!

  11. the Grit says:

    Hi DOF,

    First, I should point out that any economic growth during the Carter years was eaten by inflation. It was also the first time we started loosing heavy manufacturing jobs overseas.

    As to the countries pursuing energy efficiency and not hurting their economies, kindly point them out.

    As to our economic system and expected growth, in this, we are both in agreement. Why, when a company announces a 5% growth, does the stock price fall because someone projected a growth of 6%? Magic.

    Hi matt,

    That was, as I recall, a MP skit, and a right good one.

    As to people living off the spoils of the planet, who doesn’t? While Americans seem to be better at reaping the harvest, I fail to see how that is a negative?

    On the point of ancient empires, in the area of alternative energy, we have little to fear in this area, since America is on the cutting edge in this field. Heck, we may have pushed things too fast, considering that our efforts to up ethanol production are starving Mexicans. Time will tell.

    As to dim sum, I make most excellent pot stickers! I still haven’t gotten the hang of those steamed rolls though, which is probably a Southern thing, as I instinctively want to incorporate more fat into the dough.

    the Grit

  12. matt says:

    Hey Grit

    America is undoubtedly still there innovating and just as importantly funding cutting edge products and processes to market, to which us mere mortals outside of US borders are eternally grateful. If the US innovators could help sex up the arse end of production processes (dealing with waste and reducing it) we’d also be eternally grateful. 😉

    ‘As to people living off the spoils of the planet, who doesn’t? While Americans seem to be better at reaping the harvest, I fail to see how that is a negative?’

    A little more equitable distribution of resources (leave that wafer thin mint alone!) and potential immigrants will gladly stay in their country, believe me. Something Westerners just don’t get, although our enlightened Mr Gordon Brown does understand this and is leading the world with initiatives to help poorer nations provide for themselves. Pity about their despot dictators!

  13. Pete Smith says:

    “As to people living off the spoils of the planet, who doesn’t?”

    Of course all living things exploit the planet’s physical resources. Where everything’s gone awry is in the sheer gross imbalance of consumption. It’s disingenuous to ignore the well-publicised inequality between ‘North’ and ‘South’, in terms of food, energy, any measure you like. The key is in the use of the word ‘spoils’, as in spoliation; plundering; the act of damaging; harm; impairment

  14. the Grit says:

    Hi matt,

    Well, we have all that non-polluting power generation technology for sale. Buy all the wind mills, solar panels, and water wheels you want, we’ll make more 😉 The problem is the initial investment cost for an individual to produce his/her own electricity. However, the price is coming down, slowly, and there was a recent development in solar cell technology that holds some promise. I suspect that, as the demand goes up, we’ll be happy to crank it out. Well, at least until the production is shipped overseas to escape the insane costs of doing business in the US.

    As to building up poor nations, that is what NAFTA (North American Free Trade Act) was about. Even though it’s slow going to get past the Government corruption of our southern neighbors, progress is being made, and, in another generation or two, they will be happy well-to-do socialists just like the Canadians.

    As to “spoils,” I must point out that the US wasn’t a Colonial Power, and that we didn’t screw these countries up. That task fell to Spain, France, England, etc. Unlike the European powers, the US has always purchased what we have taken from other countries, so, if anyone has responsibility for making up the gap, it is not us. However, rest assured, we’re already having a go at it anyway, to the tune of several billion dollars a year. Of course, if the rest of the world would cooperate, progress might come quicker.

    the Grit

  15. matt says:


    Just one question. How on earth did the US ‘acquire’ that little bit of Cuba to store away those ‘muslim terrorists’ in those battery chicken style cages? I genuinely don’t know.


  16. Pete Smith says:

    The US took out a lease on it after the Spanish-American War and built the naval base. The US government still pays rent on the site, but the Cubans refuse to cash the cheques on principle!

    Imperialism the modern way.

  17. the Grit says:

    Hi Pete,

    Thanks for doing the history check.

    Hi matt,

    Actually, if you look up the current status of Gitmo, you will find that the facilities are much nicer than the majority of prisons in the US or the UK, and the guards are on a much shorter leash. Really, if you had the misfortune to be incarcerated in your nearest detention facility and threw urine or feces on the jailers, I suspect they would give you a lesson as to why that is not permissible behavior. However, the terrorists we have locked up in that tiny area of Cuba do this every day, and our soldiers have to ignore it. Which makes me wonder why we switched from the standard we followed in previous wars, where combatants caught out of uniform were given a quick trial on the battlefield and shot? It would seem that 9/11 and Gitmo are the price we pay for being a kinder and gentler country.

    the Grit

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