The sinister new biofuel alliance / BP-Berkeley row / Action alert (6/3/2007)

2.Video clip on EU biofuels proposal
3.ACTION ALERT: Protest EU biofuels proposal
Debate on Berkeley BP biofuel proposal - multiple items

Joao Pedro Stedile
Inter Press Service, March 2007

MARCH 2007 (IPS) - The Landless Movement of Brazil and the international organisation Via Campesina condemn the new initiative of President George W. Bush, who in his upcoming trip to Latin America hopes to seduce and co-opt the countries of the region into becoming major producers of bio-fuels for export to the United States, writes Joao Pedro Stedile, leader of the Landless Movement of Brazil (MST) and Via Campesina Brazil.

In this article, Stedile writes that a diabolical alliance of the oil companies, the transnationals that control agricultural and genetically modified seeds, and the automobile industry, in order to maintain the current consumerist model of the first world and its profit levels, are trying to convince the governments of the South to concentrate their agriculture in bio-fuel production to supply the cars of the first world.

The new U.S. plan would be a tragedy for tropical agriculture and would transform major areas of our best lands into monoculture tracts, aggravate the loss of biodiversity, and reduce the amount of land dedicated to food production, forcing millions of peasants around the world from their land and into the swelling slums of the big cities.

2. Video clip on EU biofuels proposal

VIDEO CLIP: really excellent clip from a recent More 4 (part of UK Channel 4 network) news programme is available at the link below. Broadcast on February 19th, it explains why the proposed EU biofuels directive threatens rainforest and peatlands in South East Asia, and WHY drained peatlands create absolutely massive carbon emissions that add significantly to the global total of carbon in the atmosphere and hence to climate change. It uses simple graphics to explain these issues very clearly.

If you are in any doubt about the arguments concerning massive biofuel expansion based on imports from the tropics, then this clip should help please forward widely.


3.Protest EU biofuels proposal

Dear All,

Please find a crucial action alert at:

(This only takes two minutes to do).


At the EU Summit on 8th/9th March, the 27 Heads of States will decide whether to endorse high mandatory biofuel targets. Car manufacturers are pushing for high biofuel targets, because they hope to avoid fuel efficiency standards and speed limits that way the very things which would help against climate change. The GM and biotech industry are also pushing for biofuel targets, because they hope for a vast new market for GM crops.

This is our last chance to try and stop those destructive biofuel proposals from becoming EU policy, and to demand that politicians do the right thing to protect rainforests and reduce climate change emissions.

Please take part in the email alert today and ask Europe’s political leaders to make the decision which is right for the climate, for rainforests, for local communities, and for food security.

When filling in the form below, please note:

Vorname is first name, Nachname is surname, Firma is company (leave blank if you sign as an individual), Strasse is street, Hausnr is house number, PLZ post code, Ort is town, Staat is country (for United Kingdom choose Vereinigtes Koenigreich).

Please do the action alert at:


4.Debate on Berkeley BP biofuel proposal

The following items form part of a debate between different Berkeley academics, most notably Tad Patzek and Per Peterson, on the Berkeley BP biofuel proposal. To make sense of the argument (about biofuels), the sequence is best read from the bottom up!

Response from Ignacio Chapela to Tad Patzek:

Dear Tad,

per your request, I am answering here to leave some record of my reading of such a historical exchange - for those who seem to be watching this exchange on their screens as one would watch a "reality" TV show, please note that Prof Patzek's argument is not one of only technical significance, but one upon which rests much of the future of the planet.

Having run out of logical or demonstrable arguments, Per Peterson, a nuclear engineer, chides Tad Patzek with the last move left to those wishing to silence inconvenient truth-sayers: discreditation. According to Peterson, Patzek should not contribute his understanding to public discourse since he was "tenured in a different area". Apart from the falsehood of the statement, which Patzek easily shows, Peterson opens an important and fruitful line of reasoning (my apologies for holding the primacy of reason over the presumed credentials of the thinker):

If we are to request Patzek's silence on the basis of his (falsely attributed) lack of expertise to say what is needed in the field, I wonder what anyone would say of the following experts, upon whose authorities rest the rationale and the implementation of the BP-Berkeley contract:

Dr. Chu - expert in Laser Cooling and Trapping of Atoms.
Dr. Birgeneau - Spin correlations and repulsive forces in atoms.
Dr. Keasling - Chemical engineering of transgenic microbes.

and for other boosters,
Dr. Smoot - Satellite measurement of cosmic background radiation.
Dr. Townes - phase-amplification of electromagnetic waves. Received also the Templeton Prize for his promotion of Intelligent Design. Here's the authority Peterson was missing to complete his argument against Patzek.
Dr. Lee - beam devices to send streams of intensely packed molecules into each other at supersonic speeds.
Dr. Glaser - the bubble-chamber for atomic observations - the list goes on.

I do not need to abound on the many quotes by these illustrious leaders, as they are echoed in media outlets around the world. Perhaps one of them may give the gist of what they mean:

"We're going to save the world, in parts" Prof. S. Chu, 2 March 07.

I will not offend the reader by the demonstration of the double-standard of Peterson's argument against Patzek. But I will point out that it is these experts who are prescribing their supposed solution to the world's problems, it is these people's minds that would be embedded in the energy policy for the world to come if nobody raises a question about what is happening at Berkeley.

According to Peterson, it is not OK for Patzek, with a deep and detailed knowledge of the field, first-principle and numerically-supported arguments, to make statements about his understanding of what the consequences will be of signing the BP contract. But it is apparently fine for a man who has spent his career perched on a satellite, looking away from the planet (Smoot) to say that he knows the one solution to maintain our status-quo (nuclear power), or for an expert on the laser cooling of atoms (Chu) to say that the world will be saved by planting millions of acres of transgenic, weedy and invasive grasses doused in fertilizer and pesticides. If any proof is needed of the level of ignorance involved and the miopic understanding of ecological and evolutionary processes by the latter experts, please consider the following statement:

"[Miscanthus is] essentially a rapidly growing grass that is indigenous to the United States. I think it originally might have been from Asia, but it's been in the United States for 50, 80, 100 years or something of that nature, and it grows like a weed." Prof. S. Chu, 2 March 07.

I checked with my daughter, who is not yet out of highschool, and she confirms to me the absurdity of Prof. Chu's understanding reflected in this statement. On her authority I assume that I do not need to waste time elaborating.

Seen through the cold glass of evidence, much of the statements driving the BP-Berkeley initiative appear more as wild-eyed lunacy -not even "emotional rather than substantive" argumentation, as Peterson charges Patzek. There is no doubt in my mind of the level at which this prostitution of intellectual standards is already "affecting how the world judges UCB's technical credibilty" (Peterson), and I cannot be more thankful to Prof. Patzek for leaving a record of this dark moment in the history of academia.

Ignacio H. Chapela


At 12:27 PM -0800 3/4/07, Tadeusz Patzek wrote:
Subject: Per's comments and my answer
Date: Sun, 4 Mar 2007 12:27:22 -0800

I have decided to make Dr. Per Peterson's emotional outburst (see below the double line) public, because it is symptomatic of our bigger quandary here at Berkeley, and elsewhere in the US and the world. I would encourage those of you who are experts in ecology, genetics, epigenetics, biochemistry, GMO's, pesticides, herbicides, and ethics to respond to us all. Only if we continue to talk, despite not liking each other, we can hope to avoid committing suicide as humanity. So here is my reply to Per:

1. In his prior exchanges, Per demonstrated lack of understanding of the generally weak science behind the BEI proposal, and I have tried to respond to his questions and comments.

2. This weak science amounts to the following: if one cannot possibly deliver on the large-scale promises made in the proposal because of the physical limitations of the planet Earth, then the micro-scale arguments and research are all very interesting but rather irrelevant, and not worth spending our limited resources.

3. Per seems to be unaware that I have worked for several years in the area of biofuels and for 25 years in the area of energy supply for humanity, and have published a couple of peer-reviewed papers in these two areas, some of which he could get from my web site and read, e.g.,

Apparently, Per has not read my energy and biofuels papers before writing his comments.

4. I am a chemical engineer schooled rather thoroughly in thermodynamics. Therefore, I know that no amount of biological gobbledygook and shouting can overcome the Second Law of thermodynamics.

5. Perhaps it is the myopia and foolishness of the so-called "science experts" Per seems to trust so much that have lead us to where we are now as the society.

6. Perhaps if Per bothered to read - and understand - my thermodynamics papers, he would also understand that there is solid science behind each bullet in my short write up. This science amounts to the law of mass conservation, and the First and Second Law of thermodynamics. I might add that all these three laws of science were thoroughly violated in a rather famous Science paper of February 2006, commissioned here on Campus to neutralize me. For a proof of the latter statement, just as Per requires, please see http://petroleum.berkeley.edu/papers/Biofuels/NRRPaper2.pdf

I would encourage Per to read and attack at least this paper.

7. I apologize for omitting the numerous scholarly references and equations from my write up to make it more understandable to others. Later, I will publish it as a peer-reviewed paper, just like the dozens of other papers I wrote in the past.

8. Perhaps the younger generation which will have to inherit the Earth ravaged by us, has more common sense than we and needs to be heard from.

9. I would like to remind Per that a land grant, public university is here to teach students, in addition to bolstering our research careers and pumping up our egos.

10. My daughter's comments make more scientific sense and have more moral power than anything I have read in the entire BEI proposal.

11. I would encourage Per to read the BEI proposal too. Its abbreviated version, minus the names of participants, is now on the Web thanks to the fearless graduate students at Berkeley and a couple of faculty who followed in their wake. The PI names were deemed to be too hot to publish by a public university because of the obvious conflicts of interest they imply.

12. Perhaps aligning the research efforts of Berkeley with those of Monstanto, Cargil, Syngenta, DuPont, Mandel Biotechnologies, Khosla Ventures, and other corporations is not quite appropriate for a public university.

To attack me, Per used exactly the same language that was used against me before by the National Corn Growers Association, the Renewable Fuels Association (both front ends to big agribusiness), and their minions.

So, I am ending my discussion with Per with this quotation from Ignacio Chapella's recent email to me:

There was a saying in German: "Man soll sich nicht von jungen Mädchen führen lassen" - which would translate as "One should not allow himself to be led by young girls".

No more history should have to pass for us to clearly know where such maxims have led better ones than us: to Treblinka and Birkenau.

No more destruction of the planet should need to be suffered before we recognize that it is for them, the young ones, and with their understanding of the world that we need to work.

I'll let others judge the power and appropriateness of Per's arguments, and I wish him and Alex Farrell good luck in their efforts to stem with the sheets of paper the torrent of new CO2 emissions from the growing population that continues to use too much energy. In my mind, we need to develop at Berkeley radically different solutions than the cap-and-trade agreements, not worth the paper on which they are printed. See this NYT article of yesterday as another example http://petroleum.berkeley.edu/patzek/Harmful/Materials/nyt_03_03_2007.htm

-Tad Patzek



I've read through this. I'm perfectly comfortable with the idea that biomass has very limited potential to contribute to energy production with low net carbon emission. But quoting your daughter in the abstract kills the whole argument; she is an undergraduate student with no advanced education or stature as an expert in the field. Whatever substance there might be to the arguments in this write-up, this approach to arguing the issues immediately lacks credibility. .No UCB faculty member would get tenure by quoting an undergraduate as an authority on a technical topic.

As best I can tell, you are discussing a field where you hold a passionate opinion, but you are far from being a technical expert and you are not producing arguments that would survive academic peer review. You are tenured in a different area, but nothing I've seen yet on the BP proposal would merit even publication in a peer-reviewed conference proceeding.

Sorry to be harsh, but I cannot imagine that the abstracts in any of your technical publications include quotes from your daughter. I know that there is something to your arguments about the net carbon emissions from biofuels, but the arguments on GMO's and corporate malfeasance remains really weak, about as compelling as arguments against evolution and stem cells.

In this piece you are not holding up the standards that you would demand of an assistant professor in Civil Engineering. It would not matter if you were some anonymous individual getting a letter published in the local paper, but as a U.C. Faculty member the general assumption is that your opinions carry the weight associated with the intellectual demands required to achieve tenure here.

I need to try to explain further. Let's say that as an NE professor I had some extremely strong opinion in an area where I do not have recognized expertise, for example (this is not the case), say I had the opinion that evolution is not the correct model to teach for any purpose. Once tenured, I could use my position as a NE faculty member to express opinions on evolution. And this would be wrong.

I think that the key question is how to create an effective approach to addressing your concerns. On the GMO side, I do not have the expertise to provide advice. But on the CO2 side, Alex Farrell and the idea of Low Carbon Fuel Standards is the place where some real impacts are possible. As a UC Berkeley faculty member, the key point is to be effective, rather than putting forward arguments that are emotional rather than substantive and thus affecting how the world judges UCB's technical credibilty.



These are the comments that originally sparked the debate.

Tad Patzek on the Berkeley BP proposal

I finally read the whole Berkeley BP proposal. I am still rubbing my eyes. It is a straightforward document about the brutal subjugation of the Earth to essentially burn her in our cars.

The proposal uses the words "disruptive technologies" 2 or 3 times, it quotes the development of atomic bomb by Los Alamos as an example to be followed at Berkeley, but it never uses the words: ethical, moral, responsible, ecosystem, biome, biota, natural gene transfer, endangering life on the Earth, etc.

I was awed by the narrow, reductionist, brutal, and arrogantly negligent approach to life by the proposal authors, reminiscent of Sir Francis Bacon or Rene Descartes. But these two men lived some 400 years ago and can be excused. We now understand that the horizontal exchange of genes by microbes calls into doubt even the existence of separate species. In other words, what we do to one part of one species in one place will show up in different parts of different species in other places.

So when our reductionist friends propose to create radically genetically modified plants, I get shivers. Here are some examples from the Berkeley BP proposal:

We consider likely that optimized energy crops will carry several critical directed changes and a large number of genes with relatively minor individual effects that have been selected from natural variation (p 32) Ideally, the biomass will have a chemical composition that maximizes recoverable chemical energy with minimal processing costs (p. 35) Because crop residues are derived from commercial seed companies by contributing expertise and technological developments, the EBI will usually find it most practical to collaborate with commercial seed companies…(p 35) Examples include the introduction of herbicide resistance in the perennial grasses to aid establishment… p 38 In theory, it may be possible to develop plants that have alterations in cellulose structure that facilitate hydrolysis…Additionally, there is evidence from genetic studies that cellulose and lignin provide similar structural integrity to cell walls. Thus, it may be possible to alter the ratio of lignin to cellulose by simultaneously decreasing lignin and increasing cellulose (p. 38).

It may be possible to genetically decrease the amount of acetyl groups in feedstock without significant negative effects (p. 39) (such as inhibition of growth of various microorganisms during plant decomposition, so that plants can rot faster, TWP) A major objective of the program in this area will be the development of new types of lignin that are not known to occur in nature. We believe that there is a large opportunity to fundamentally change the overall deconstruction process (plant decomposition in the Orwellian newspeak of the proposal, TWP) by producing transgenic plants that accumulate a type of lignin with easily cleavable linkages (e.g., amide or ester) that would facilitate removal of lignin with processes that are much more benign (to our factories, not to the living plants and ecosystems, TWP) than the current process. Furthermore we envision that the lignin fragments produced that way could represent a valuable feedstock for production of certain types of engineering plastics of the types used by the automobile industry (Chris Somerville’s task, p 39) ..to explore how changes in decomposition affect the overall deconstruction process (p.39) Once the pests and pathogens are identified, it will then be necessary to identify efficacious commercial agrichemicals and to register them for use on the energy crops. The Biotics Stress Laboratory will also collaborate with breeders in industry or within the EBI to incorporate durable genetic resistance into pre-commercial or commercial cultivars of t he energy crops, p.40. (This task has contributions from Shauna Somerville of Carnegie) ..potential invasiveness of new biomass crops, p. 40 Removal of substantial proportions of crop residues, such as corn stover, that are currently returned to soil CAN (emphasis mine, TWP) lead to decreased soil organic matter (SOM), and the longer-term decreased grain yield, p. 40.

…elimination of unwanted side-reactions in native host metabolism, p. 50 Synthetic biology is the design and construction of new biologic entities – such as enzymes, genetic circuits, and cells – or the redesign of existing biological systems, p 54 (how is that for feeling demigod-like, TWP?) …synthetic biologists will soon design and fabricate biological entities to accomplish a particular task, p. 54 This research will profit from paying significant attention to the evolving regulatory framework and societal response to genetically modified organisms at both domestic and international level (Propaganda for Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont et al., TWP?)

Also, these people want to mentor graduate students, mentor undergraduate students, participate in outreach and educational (propaganda, TWP?) activities targeting K-16 audiences, and provide leadership and guidance to energy-based graduate and undergraduate student groups and activities.

There is a lot more good stuff there, all 92 pages.

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