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Quick jump to below stories:
The Struggle Against Ourselves
Local Food: Bringing the Food Economy Home
English countryside on the road to ruin
On Depaving
Avoid Tamiflu, infants and pregnant women
Childhood Deaths in Japan Bring New Look at Flu Drug
Roche's Tamiflu Doesn't Need New Safety Information, Panel Says
The most destructive crop on earth is no solution to the energy crisis
Cornell ecologist's study finds that producing ethanol and biodiesel from corn and other crops is not worth the energy

The Struggle Against Ourselves

By George Monbiot.

Speech to the Climate March, 3rd December 2005. By George Monbiot.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

I want to take a moment to remind you of where we have come from.

For the first three million years of human history, we lived according to circumstance. Our lives were ruled by the happenstances of ecology. We existed, as all animals do, in fear of hunger, predation, weather and disease.

For the following few thousand years, after we had grasped the rudiments of agriculture and crop storage, we enjoyed greater food security, and soon destroyed most of our non-human predators. But our lives were ruled by the sword, the axe and the spear. The primary struggle was for land. We needed it not just to grow our crops but also to provide our sources of energy – grazing for our horses and bullocks, wood for our fires.

Then we discovered fossil fuels, and everything changed. No longer were we constrained by the need to live on ambient energy; we could support ourselves by means of the sunlight stored over the preceding 350 million years. The new sources of energy permitted the economy to grow – to grow sufficiently to absorb some of the people expelled by the previous era’s land disputes. Fossil fuels allowed both industry and cities to expand, which permitted the workers to organise and to force the despots to loosen their grip on power.

Fossil fuels helped us fight wars of a horror never contemplated before, but they also reduced the need for war. For the first time in human history, indeed for the first time in biological history, there was a surplus of available energy. We could keep body and soul together without having to fight someone else for the energy we needed. Agricultural productivity rose 10 or 20 fold. Economic productivity rose 100 fold. Most of us could live as no one had ever lived before.

And everything you see around you results from that. We have been able to assemble here from all corners of the country because of fossil fuels. We have not been charged and cut down by the yeomanry – or not yet at any rate – because of fossil fuels. Our freedoms, our comforts, our prosperity are all the result of fossil fuels.

Ours are the most fortunate generations that have ever lived. Ours are the most fortunate generations that ever will. We inhabit the brief historical interlude between ecological constraint and ecological catastrophe.

I don’t have to remind you of the two forces which are converging on our lives. We are faced with an impending shortage of the source of energy which is hardest to replace – liquid fossil fuels. And we are faced with the environmental consequences of the fossil fuel burning which has permitted us to be standing here now. The structure, the complexity, the diversity of our lives, everything we know, everything that we have taken for granted, that looked solid and non-negotiable, suddenly looks contingent. All this is a great tottering pile balanced on a ball, a ball that is about to start rolling downhill.

I hear people talking about the carbon cuts they would like to see. I am not interested in what people would like to see. I am interested in what the science says. And the science is clear. We need not a 20% cut by 2020; not a 60% cut by 2050, but a 90% cut by 2030. Only then do we stand a good chance of keeping carbon concentrations in the atmosphere below 430 parts per million, which means that only then do we stand a good chance of preventing some of the threatened positive feedbacks. If we let it get beyond that point there is nothing we can do. The biosphere takes over as the primary source of carbon. It is out of our hands.

The notion that we can achieve this by replacing fossil fuels with ambient energy is a fantasy. It is true that we have untapped sources of energy in wind, waves, tides and sunlight, but it is neither so concentrated nor so consistent that we can plug it in and carry on as before.

A cut like this requires massive reductions in our energy use. There are some technofixes available, but they are unlikely to take us more than halfway there. If carbon emissions are to be capped at 10%, energy use will have to be capped at under 50%. The only fair means of doing this is national rationing accompanied by global contraction and convergence.

And we find ourselves in an extraordinary position. This is the first mass political movement to demand less, not more. The first to take to the streets in pursuit of austerity. The first to demand that our luxuries, even our comforts, are curtailed.

These are the greatest political challenges any movement has faced. But we are rising to it. We are rising. But let no one tell you it will be easy. If it were just a matter of slagging off George Bush, we would have won by now. But we must struggle not only against him, not only against our own government, not only against each other, but also against ourselves. The struggle against climate change is a struggle against much of what we have become. It is a struggle against some of our most fundamental urges.

We cannot call on others to stop flying if we still fly. We cannot ask the government to force us to change if we are not ready to change. The greatest fight of our lives will be fought not just out there, but also in here.

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Local Food: Bringing the Food Economy Home

International Society for Ecology and Culture

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Throughout the world, agriculture is in crisis. Farmers are going bankrupt in record numbers, and the rural communities of which they are an integral part are being drained of life.

Meanwhile, international trade in food is booming. Every year, the distance between producers and consumers rises, to the point where the average American meal has now travelled more than 1,500 miles before it arrives on the dinner table.

These two trends are directly linked. The globalisation of the food economy, while enriching a small number of giant 'agribusinesses', is undermining the welfare of everyone else. What's more, it is a major contributor to increasing CO2 emissions, and therefore to climate change.

We urgently need to move in precisely the opposite direction - towards shortening the links between farmers and consumers. Such a shift would bring back diversity to land that has been all but destroyed by chemical-intensive monocropping, provide much-needed jobs at a local level, and help to rebuild community. Moreover, it would allow farmers to make a decent living while giving consumers access to healthy, fresh food at affordable prices.

Local food is good for the South too! Despite what the multinational corporations would like us to believe, we are not helping people in the less industrialised parts of the world if we encourage them to grow food for export rather than for themselves.

The Programme

ISEC's Local Food Programme aims to raise public awareness of these issues, in order to lay the foundations for community action and political change.

We organise regular meetings - from local workshops to international conferences - and have written extensively for a wide range of audiences. We are also very active in promoting farmers' markets, vegetable box schemes and other forms of community supported agriculture.

  • Our report, Bringing the Food Economy Home, provides hard facts and figures to back up the arguments for local food. Written in an accessible style, it also serves as a valuable introduction to the economics and politics of food for the general reader.
  • Our newest publication (2004), Ripe for Change: Rethinking California's Food Economy, argues for the need to localize the food economy in California. Following the general analysis laid out in Bringing the Food Economy Home, this report looks at California's food system from seed to table, accounting for many of the hidden costs of what is often assumed to be a highly successful model - one which is being emulated by other regions and countries around the world.
  • In 1993, we wrote From the Ground Up: Rethinking Industrial Agriculture. The book has been widely used for educational purposes in the UK and USA, and a new edition was published in 2000.
  • We are bringing the local food message directly to the public with our Local Food Roadshow. The Roadshow outlines both a critique of the globalisation of the food economy and a compelling argument for shortening the distance between farmers and consumers. For more information on our Local Food Roadshow in the UK, click here. For information on our Local Food Toolkit in the US, click here.

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[It’s a race. The longer we burn oil, gas, and coal, the longer the car culture persists and the highway system devours land from the Amazon to the Severn. The longer that happens, the less arable the land becomes, and the harder it will be to raise food in decentralized plots without the use of artificial pesticides and fertilizers. But there’s hope: some people are reclaiming paved land for local gardening – JAH]

English countryside on the road to ruin

Friday, 9th September 2005, 07:40
Category: Politics

LIFE STYLE EXTRA ( UK) - The great English countryside is on the road to ruin and faces losing most of its natural beauty within a generation, warns a new doomsday report.

Environmentalists paint a portrait of the landscape in 2035 in which the spectacular scenery as we understand and love it today has "all but disappeared" from much of the map.

The report by CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) whose patron is the Queen says traffic is growing faster on rural roads than in urban areas in England.

Since 1990, 60% of the English landscape has changed in ways which are 'inconsistent' with its traditional character.

Many species of farmland birds are in a precipitous decline. Tree sparrow numbers have declined by 95% since 1970, corn buntings by 85%, turtle doves by 70% and skylarks by 52%.

The proportion of England's land area enjoying truly dark skies fell from 15% to 11% between 1993 and 2000 - a drop of more than a quarter in just seven years.

Meanwhile 81,500 farmers and farm workers left the land between 1995 and 2004 and 21 square miles of countryside - an area the size of Southampton - is lost to development every year.

The total area of 'tranquil countryside' declined by 20% between 1960s and 1994 and continues to do so.

Professor Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate, said: "'Your countryside, your choice' distils the essence of current questions about how best to manage, maintain, develop and preserve the natural environment.

"I urge everyone to read it, and join in the debate. It's one of the most important of our time."

Tom Oliver, CPRE's Head of Rural Policy, said: "We cannot continue to consider the countryside as a limitless resource, infinitely able to recover from repeated damage.

"Whether it's the prospect of a new generation of roads and airports carving up what's left of the countryside, rampant new housing schemes put up with little thought to the environmental consequences or the abandonment of farming to the tender mercies of world markets alone the present direction of many official policies is grim.

"Most initiatives to protect and enhance the countryside are overwhelmed by the scale of the present threats.

"What makes this all the more tragic is that so many people care passionately for the countryside, treasure the time they spend in it, and count it as a core part of this country's identity."

The report identifies future severe long term threats to the countryside including a greatly expanded house building programme with the land speculation that would go with this and a huge expansion of road freight distribution and car-dependent development with associated noise and loss of tranquillity.

It also cites major airport expansion, both nationally and regionally with associated infrastructure and a dramatic decline in farming - leading to ever more polarised land management either more intensely farmed or abandoned.

All the while climate change threatens to undermine the long established natural processes at work in the countryside, while our response to the associated extreme weather and increased shortage of water could cause more damage still.

But these threats to the countryside are not inevitable, says the report. It calls for everyone who values the countryside to play their part in ensuring it is still there to be enjoyed by future generations.

CPRE is urging the Government to commit to five broad policy objectives which will help secure the future of the countryside.

This includes redoubling efforts to promote efficient use of land for housing aiming for at least 75% of new housing on previously developed land at an average density of at least 40 units per hectare and a regional policy which respects environmental capacity instead of pushing for maximum development in all parts of the country.

They also want encouragement of local food and commodity procurement to reduce dependence on national distribution systems - especially motorways and trunk roads - and continued funding for farmers to manage the countryside both to retain the character of the landscapes and to conserve natural resources such as soil and water.

And an end to a policy of "predict and provide" for national and regional airport capacity is recommended.

Said Mr Oliver: "Whether it's the individual lifestyle decisions we make, the way our businesses operate or the sort of lead given by government, national, regional and local, we are all responsible.

"The countryside is for us all. If we want to keep it, all of us have a part to play in its survival for ourselves and for our children."

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On Depaving

Jan Lundberg, Special to the Mirror
The Santa Monica Mirror
December 15, 2005

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Today's anxiety over higher gasoline prices is not an issue for those who choose to not own a car. Not only is the car-free sector of the U.S. population panic-free over high gas prices, but car-less folk may be enviable for their greater enjoyment of their community.

Activists and planners are also beginning to make urban areas more friendly to walking and biking. Trains running on cleaner, renewable energy are also a possibility if public spending priorities shifted away from driving.

Such land use and transportation measures along with car-free living need to be considered at a time when road rage is on the rise, with or without gas price jumps. And, oil is a dwindling resource. Perhaps the most immediate detrimental effect of oil is from one product, asphalt: pavement has encroached on our living space so as to raise urban temperatures while stealing both farmland and wildlife habitat.

Band-aid solutions are many, but the movement for sustainability has a sophisticated vision that has wide appeal, if we can slow down and take a look around. Los Angeles can learn from other cities, such as Portland, Oregon. There activists recently succeeded in having a city ordinance passed to allow every intersection to be traffic-calmed so as to become a neighborhood's social hub. Corner kiosks and street parties will start to decrease the urge to drive for distant needs and thrills.

Believers in the car-free lifestyle are often opponents of urban sprawl -- more freeways, wider avenues, bigger parking lots. To compensate for the struggle and bad news associated with more sprawl and worsening traffic, car-free folk happily get daily exercise walking and biking. And, not having to support a car leads to greater financial freedom: on average, Californians spend around $13,000 per registered vehicle annually. If that doesn't bother you, realize that a pedestrian actually goes just as fast as any motorist. How is that? Do the arithmetic: if all the hours to earn the money to buy the car, to pay for repairs and the insurance and fuel, and the time sitting in traffic and finding the car in some huge parking lot, and all other time-consuming car activities are considered, and the total hours are divided into the annual miles driven, the average North American is proven to be going only five miles per hour.

Depaving is another important pastime. People with pickup trucks are welcome to participate, by bringing sledge hammers, picks and shovels, and hauling away rubble. For my driveway, we made attractive landscaping walls with the concrete pieces. It's great to free the soil to grow flowers, vegetables and trees--it cools the atmosphere and empowers a human being in this megacorporate-dominated world. Grow some food by liberating the land.

Why rely on Safeway, et al, who in turn depend on diesel fueled trucks? Car-free activists were delighted with the WTO protest in Seattle last fall, as streets were taken over by people for a change. The next time these people take over the streets, they might have a depaving party a la "Reclaim the Streets," of British contemporary lore.

Car-free Americans may actually be more concerned about oil than the typical TV-watching commuter. This is because most of them know how precarious is today's petroleum-intensive agriculture, as it floats this nation's overpopulation beyond the capacity the land could otherwise carry. The U.S. will run out of oil by around 2020, and the world soon after. Wars over oil are therefore always around the corner. Perhaps having a new gas-guzzling SUV should not be so prestigious, as few of them venture out in the wild anyway, where they just tear up the ground and pollute.

The death toll on U.S. roads is near 43,000 people every year. The Columbine High School massacre body count is dwarfed by the loss of life occurring every week as we drive in this country. Fumes from our vehicles' exhaust kill another 50,000 annually, especially the elderly and children. Heart attacks claim even more people's lives every year due to the excessive sedentary factor implicated in driving. One million animals die on U.S. roads every day. Global warming's single biggest factor is the U.S. automobile population's emissions. Obviously, there is more to be worried about than "high" gas prices (at half of the rest of the world's level) in our car-dependent, paved culture.

Instead of dealing with this issue head on, "solutions" range from building more roads to "alleviate" traffic congestion, to building non-oil burning vehicles. Unfortunately, the environmental movement is largely funded not to take direct action, but to instead push for technofixes. People assume there are replacement fuels and technologies for oil, but consider, for example, how cheaply it flowed until massively subsidized after the 1970s, and oil is our asphalt and tires as well as fuels. This is one reason fundamental lifestyle change and land-use are the real key. Sadly, there is no operating fund for depaving which addresses the cause of these problems.

For ways to get involved in projects to reduce petroleum dependence, such as Pedal Power Produce and the new Sail Transport Network, and to get a copy of the Auto-Free Times magazine, visit the web site of the Alliance for a Paving Moratorium. Let us rise above oil, cars and pavement starting now.

The writer is president of Fossil Fuels Policy Action in Arcata, California, and he formerly published the Lundberg Letter on oil industry trends.

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Avoid Tamiflu, infants and pregnant women

December 15, 2005
Channel NewsAsia

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

The number of flu cases typically peaks in December, and flu drugs such as Tamiflu have been flying off the shelves. But experts in infectious diseases here say inappropriate use of such drugs could impair one's immune system.

Concerns about the safety of flu drugs were raised following recent reports that two youths in Japan attempted suicide after taking Tamiflu. While doctors say Tamiflu thins the blood, there has been no evidence so far that the drug can cause hallucinations.

Doctors have advised against administering Tamiflu to children under a year old, who run the risk of demonstrating side-effects such as stomachaches, nosebleeds and ear and eye infections. Women who are pregnant should also not use the drug.

Dr Wong Sin Yew, consultant for infectious diseases at Parkway Hospitals Singapore, said: "Tamiflu should not be administered to patients who are pregnant, because at this time we don't have safety information on its use by pregnant women."

She added: "We are always worried about any drug that may be administered to pregnant women that may affect the organ development of an unborn child."

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[The confounding thing about iatrogenic injuries and death is that the underlying disease is always available to blame, especially since cause and effect are so notoriously hard to prove anyway. – JO]

Childhood Deaths in Japan Bring New Look at Flu Drug

November 18, 2005

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

The Food and Drug Administration is looking into reports of deaths and abnormal behavior among children in Japan who took the anti-influenza drug Tamiflu, which is being stockpiled by governments around the world for use in a possible flu pandemic.

The agency said that given the available information, it could not conclude that Tamiflu had caused the deaths and other problems. It plans to continue monitor possible complications from the drug for up to two years.

Roche, the company that sells Tamiflu, said that the reports of these problems were rare given that millions of people had used the drug, and that the problems might have been caused by the flu itself.

The issue of Tamiflu's safety in children will be discussed today by an advisory committee to the F.D.A. at a meeting in Gaithersburg, Md. Such a safety review is required one year after a drug receives a patent extension offered to companies that test the safety and effectiveness of their medicines in children.

Seven other drugs will also be discussed at the meeting, but most of the time will be devoted to Tamiflu, also called oseltamivir. While the discussion is not directly related to planning for a pandemic, the F.D.A. said that a better understanding of the safety of Tamiflu for children would be useful in such a situation.

Tamiflu was approved in 1999 in the United States and late in 2000 in Japan. In documents prepared for the meeting, F.D.A. reviewers said 12 children, ages 1 to 16, had died after taking the drug, all of them in Japan. In one document, the reviewers commented on the death of six children ages 2 to 4 who had apparently been healthy before getting the flu. "It is concerning that six young patients died suddenly within one to two days after initiation of oseltamivir therapy," the reviewers wrote.

The documents also said there had been 32 instances of "neuropsychiatric events," 31 of them in Japan, including delirium, abnormal behavior and hallucination.

Two boys, one 12 and one 13, jumped from the second-story windows of their homes after receiving two doses of Tamiflu. Those boys survived, but Japanese news reports have told of two teenagers taking Tamiflu whose death may be attributable to suicide. And an 8-year-old boy had a frightening hallucination and rushed out of his house into the street three hours after his first dose.

There have also been reports of severe skin reactions, in Japan and other countries and in adults as well as children.

One reason so many of the reports are from Japan could be that the drug is used far more widely there than in any other country. Of the 13 million prescriptions written for children worldwide, 11.6 million have been in Japan, according to Roche. That could mean that rare side effects are being seen first in Japan.

But, the F.D.A. said, there may be other reasons. For one, Japanese doctors seem to be more aware of brain inflammation caused by flu itself. That could lead to greater reporting of problems experienced by flu patients, some of whom happen to take Tamiflu.

Roche said that the death rate among children taking Tamiflu was only one in a million and that the rate of death and other problems was no greater than in children with the flu who did not take the drug.

"There is the complicating factor of the disease itself causing these effects," Dr. Joseph Hoffman, a vice president for pharmaceutical development at Roche, said in an interview. He said that in some of the cases of possible side effects, other causes might exist, including other drugs the patients were taking.

Dr. Hoffman also said that one study using data from an insurance company suggested that the use of Tamiflu could reduce the death rate from flu.

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[You’d think that a thumbs-up from a public health organization would require some proof that the drug in question did more good than harm. But we’re told to have no fear and buy the product, because some of the Tamiflu-associated suicides were actually caused by “suicide,” and some of the Tamiflu-associated deaths were actually caused by something called “sudden death.” -- JAH]


Roche's Tamiflu Doesn't Need New Safety Information, Panel Says

Dec. 15, 2005

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Roche Holding AG’s Tamiflu treatment, being stockpiled worldwide for use in a potential avian influenza epidemic, doesn't need extra safety information on its label, a European Union regulatory panel ruled.

A review of new data indicates that there's no suggestion of a link relating to [sic] psychiatric disorders to Tamiflu and “therefore no change to the product safety information of Tamiflu is needed,” a European Medicines Agency committee said in an e-mailed statement today.

U.S. and European regulators said in November they were examining the deaths of 12 Japanese children who took Tamiflu. Four of the fatalities were due to “sudden death,” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a report. Other causes included suicide and pneumonia, the FDA said.

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The most destructive crop on earth is no solution to the energy crisis

By promoting biodiesel as a substitute, we have missed the fact that it is worse than the fossil-fuel burning it replaces

George Monbiot
Tuesday December 6, 2005

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Over the past two years I have made an uncomfortable discovery. Like most environmentalists, I have been as blind to the constraints affecting our energy supply as my opponents have been to climate change. I now realise that I have entertained a belief in magic.

In 2003, the biologist Jeffrey Dukes calculated that the fossil fuels we burn in one year were made from organic matter "containing 44 x 1018 grams of carbon, which is more than 400 times the net primary productivity of the planet's current biota". In plain English, this means that every year we use four centuries' worth of plants and animals.

The idea that we can simply replace this fossil legacy - and the extraordinary power densities it gives us - with ambient energy is the stuff of science fiction. There is simply no substitute for cutting back. But substitutes are being sought everywhere. They are being promoted today at the climate talks in Montreal, by states - such as ours - that seek to avoid the hard decisions climate change demands. And at least one substitute is worse than the fossil-fuel burning it replaces.

The last time I drew attention to the hazards of making diesel fuel from vegetable oils, I received as much abuse as I have ever been sent for my stance on the Iraq war. The biodiesel missionaries, I discovered, are as vociferous in their denial as the executives of Exxon. I am now prepared to admit that my previous column was wrong. But they're not going to like it. I was wrong because I underestimated the fuel's destructive impact.

Before I go any further, I should make it clear that turning used chip fat into motor fuel is a good thing. The people slithering around all day in vats of filth are performing a service to society. But there is enough waste cooking oil in the UK to meet a 380th of our demand for road transport fuel. Beyond that, the trouble begins.

When I wrote about it last year, I thought that the biggest problem caused by biodiesel was that it set up a competition for land use. Arable land that would otherwise have been used to grow food would instead be used to grow fuel. But now I find that something even worse is happening. The biodiesel industry has accidentally invented the world's most carbon-intensive fuel.

In promoting biodiesel - as the EU, the British and US governments and thousands of environmental campaigners do - you might imagine that you are creating a market for old chip fat, or rapeseed oil, or oil from algae grown in desert ponds. In reality you are creating a market for the most destructive crop on earth.

Last week, the chairman of Malaysia's federal land development authority announced that he was about to build a new biodiesel plant. His was the ninth such decision in four months. Four new refineries are being built in Peninsula Malaysia, one in Sarawak and two in Rotterdam. Two foreign consortiums - one German, one American - are setting up rival plants in Singapore. All of them will be making biodiesel from the same source: oil from palm trees.

"The demand for biodiesel," the Malaysian Star reports, "will come from the European Community ... This fresh demand ... would, at the very least, take up most of Malaysia's crude palm oil inventories." Why? Because it is cheaper than biodiesel made from any other crop.

In September, Friends of the Earth published a report about the impact of palm oil production. "Between 1985 and 2000," it found, "the development of oil-palm plantations was responsible for an estimated 87 per cent of deforestation in Malaysia". In Sumatra and Borneo, some 4 million hectares of forest have been converted to palm farms. Now a further 6 million hectares are scheduled for clearance in Malaysia, and 16.5 million in Indonesia.

Almost all the remaining forest is at risk. Even the famous Tanjung Puting national park in Kalimantan is being ripped apart by oil planters. The orangutan is likely to become extinct in the wild. Sumatran rhinos, tigers, gibbons, tapirs, proboscis monkeys and thousands of other species could go the same way. Thousands of indigenous people have been evicted from their lands, and some 500 Indonesians have been tortured when they tried to resist. The forest fires which every so often smother the region in smog are mostly started by the palm growers. The entire region is being turned into a gigantic vegetable oil field.

Before oil palms, which are small and scrubby, are planted, vast forest trees, containing a much greater store of carbon, must be felled and burnt. Having used up the drier lands, the plantations are moving into the swamp forests, which grow on peat. When they've cut the trees, the planters drain the ground. As the peat dries it oxidises, releasing even more carbon dioxide than the trees. In terms of its impact on both the local and global environments, palm biodiesel is more destructive than crude oil from Nigeria.

The British government understands this. In a report published last month, when it announced that it would obey the EU and ensure that 5.75% of our transport fuel came from plants by 2010, it admitted "the main environmental risks are likely to be those concerning any large expansion in biofuel feedstock production, and particularly in Brazil (for sugar cane) and south-east Asia (for palm oil plantations)."

It suggested that the best means of dealing with the problem was to prevent environmentally destructive fuels from being imported. The government asked its consultants whether a ban would infringe world trade rules. The answer was yes: "Mandatory environmental criteria ... would greatly increase the risk of international legal challenge to the policy as a whole." So it dropped the idea of banning imports, and called for "some form of voluntary scheme" instead. Knowing that the creation of this market will lead to a massive surge in imports of palm oil, knowing that there is nothing meaningful it can do to prevent them, and knowing that they will accelerate rather than ameliorate climate change, the government has decided to go ahead anyway.

At other times it happily defies the EU. But what the EU wants and what the government wants are the same. "It is essential that we balance the increasing demand for travel," the government's report says, "with our goals for protecting the environment." Until recently, we had a policy of reducing the demand for travel. Now, though no announcement has been made, that policy has gone. Like the Tories in the early 1990s, the Labour administration seeks to accommodate demand, however high it rises. Figures obtained last week by the campaigning group Road Block show that for the widening of the M1 alone the government will pay £3.6bn - more than it is spending on its entire climate change programme. Instead of attempting to reduce demand, it is trying to alter supply. It is prepared to sacrifice the south-east Asian rainforests in order to be seen to be doing something, and to allow motorists to feel better about themselves.

All this illustrates the futility of the technofixes now being pursued in Montreal. Trying to meet a rising demand for fuel is madness, wherever the fuel might come from. The hard decisions have been avoided, and another portion of the biosphere is going up in smoke.

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Cornell ecologist's study finds that producing ethanol and biodiesel from corn and other crops is not worth the energy

By Susan S. Lang, Senior Science Writer
Cornell University News Service

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Turning plants such as corn, soybeans and sunflowers into fuel uses much more energy than the resulting ethanol or biodiesel generates, according to a new Cornell University and University of California-Berkeley study.

"There is just no energy benefit to using plant biomass for liquid fuel," says David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell. "These strategies are not sustainable."

Pimentel and Tad W. Patzek, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Berkeley, conducted a detailed analysis of the energy input-yield ratios of producing ethanol from corn, switch grass and wood biomass as well as for producing biodiesel from soybean and sunflower plants. Their report is published in Natural Resources Research (Vol. 14:1, 65-76).

In terms of energy output compared with energy input for ethanol production, the study found that:

corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced;

switch grass requires 45 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced; and

wood biomass requires 57 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced.

In terms of energy output compared with the energy input for biodiesel production, the study found that:

soybean plants requires 27 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced, and

sunflower plants requires 118 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced.

In assessing inputs, the researchers considered such factors as the energy used in producing the crop (including production of pesticides and fertilizer, running farm machinery and irrigating, grinding and transporting the crop) and in fermenting/distilling the ethanol from the water mix. Although additional costs are incurred, such as federal and state subsidies that are passed on to consumers and the costs associated with environmental pollution or degradation, these figures were not included in the analysis.

"The United State desperately needs a liquid fuel replacement for oil in the near future," says Pimentel, "but producing ethanol or biodiesel from plant biomass is going down the wrong road, because you use more energy to produce these fuels than you get out from the combustion of these products."

Although Pimentel advocates the use of burning biomass to produce thermal energy (to heat homes, for example), he deplores the use of biomass for liquid fuel. "The government spends more than $3 billion a year to subsidize ethanol production when it does not provide a net energy balance or gain, is not a renewable energy source or an economical fuel. Further, its production and use contribute to air, water and soil pollution and global warming," Pimentel says. He points out that the vast majority of the subsidies do not go to farmers but to large ethanol-producing corporations.

"Ethanol production in the United States does not benefit the nation's energy security, its agriculture, economy or the environment," says Pimentel. "Ethanol production requires large fossil energy input, and therefore, it is contributing to oil and natural gas imports and U.S. deficits." He says the country should instead focus its efforts on producing electrical energy from photovoltaic cells, wind power and burning biomass and producing fuel from hydrogen conversion.

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