No to the agrofuel craze! (30/6/2007)

1.No to the agrofuel craze!
2.Charity attacks rush for biofuels
3.GRAIN - all the links
4.Agrofuels in Africa
5.Berkeley Lab Wins Federal Biofuel Grant
6.Are Biofuels the Solution?

EXTRACTS: "Behind the corporate 'greenwash' that biofuels will help solve the problem of global warming is an unfolding environmental and social catastrophe." (item 6)

"It is very disconcerting to see such an overwhelming concentration of research in the hands of scientists whose ideas are not only wrong but dangerous," said Ignacio Chapela, a UC Berkeley plant microbial ecologist...

"I no longer hesitate to use the word fascism," he said. "That is the idea that we have no difference between the state, the scientific establishment and the corporations. They have finally come into complete alignment, leaving no opportunity for diversity of thought and creativity." (item 5)
1.No to the agrofuel craze!
GRAIN, June 2007

GRAIN has just published a special issue of Seedling which focuses on biofuels, or as we like to call them, agrofuels - over 30,000 words of indepth analysis from around the world.

In the process of gathering material from colleagues and social movements around the world, we have discovered that the stampede into agrofuels is causing enormous environmental and social damage, much more than we realised earlier. Precious ecosystems are being destroyed and hundreds of thousands of indigenous and peasant communities are being thrown off their land.

Click here to read the news release (28 June 2008)
Click here to see the agrofuels resource page
Click here to view all the Seedling articles
2.Charity attacks rush for biofuels
By Roger Harrabin
BBC Environment Analyst
BBC News, 29 June 2007

[image caption: The rush for biofuels could have a major environmental impact]

A furious attack on the drive to grow more biofuels has been launched by a charity supporting poor farmers in developing countries.

The charity - called Grain - says their research shows the rush for biofuels is causing much more environmental and social damage than previously realised.

Biofuels from crops are being heavily promoted by the US and Europe as a welcome solution to climate change.

In theory their emissions are much lower than from fossil fuels.

But the report from the charity Grain amplifies recent warnings from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that some biofuels produce hardly any carbon savings at all.

The UN says basic food prices for poor countries are being pushed up by competition for land from biofuels.

Name change

The Grain report says its research shows how governments and biofuels firms in developing countries are collaborating to push hundreds of thousands of indigenous people and peasant communities off their land.

Grain says: "The numbers involved are mind-boggling. The Indian government is talking of planting 14 million hectares of land with jatropha.

"The Inter-American Development Bank says that Brazil has 120 million hectares that could be cultivated with agrofuel crops; and an agrofuel lobby is speaking of 379 million hectares being available in 15 African countries. We are talking about expropriation on an unprecedented scale."

It points out that one of the main causes of global warming is agro-industrial farming itself, thanks mainly the use of chemical fertilisers which introduce nitrous oxide into the air.

The group says the media has been spun into using the attractive term biofuels - and wants them referred to as "agro-fuels" instead.

The plant fuel industry accepts that there is a limit to the energy to be obtained from crops - but believes plant fuels can be produced sustainably on a large scale. The EU wants to see at least 10% of road fuel derived from plants by 2020.

Oil firms believe this target is achievable using farm surpluses combined with fuel digested by bacteria from waste - so called second generation biofuels.

But their economic calculations do not include competition for feedstock from power firms wanting biofuel for combined heat and power - which produces much more energy more economically than liquid fuel.

The UK government's climate envoy John Ashton recently told BBC News: "The policy on biofuels is currently running ahead of the science."
3.GRAIN's special issue of Seedling with over 30,000 words of in-depth analysis from around the world, plus other resources on agrofuels are available from this page:


Download the entire Seedling issue in PDF format, or you can download individual articles below. (Note: Articles are only currently available in PDF format - we hope to have HTML versions of these articles in mid-July).


An introductory article that, among other things, looks at the mind-boggling numbers that are being bandied around: the Indian government is talking of planting 14 million hectares of land with jatropha; the Inter-American Development Bank says that Brazil has 120 million hectares that could be cultivated with agrofuel crops; and an agrofuel lobby is speaking of 379 million hectares being available in 15 African countries.

A detailed look at the way agrofuels is restructuring agribusiness, with the emergence of new powerful corporate alliances across the globe. Agrofuels are deepening the alliances between transnational capital and local landed elites, with profound consequences for struggles over land and local food production.

Foreign diplomats and businessmen are pouring in to secure reliable supply chains of agrofuels. Not only the old colonial powers but new emerging countries, particularly Brazil and China, are scouring the region for investment deals. There is talk of Southern Africa becoming ‘the Middle East of agrofuels’. A report from Uganda where popular movements have forced the government to suspend two big agrofuel projects.

In no other region in the world is the absurdity of the frenzied rush into agrofuels more blatant than in South-east Asia, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia. With funding under the terms of the Kyoto Protocol, peat lands are being destroyed (with the emission of billions of tonnes of carbon) to plant palms to produce oil for biodiesel. A report from Indonesia where the population is protesting over the surge in cooking oil prices because so much palm oil is being exported.

A mosaic of interviews with leaders of social and popular movements, who analyse what is happening on their countries and describe their strategies for confronting agrofuels. A look at the emergence of large-scale biodiesel production in Latin America (particularly in the Amazon, where soya cultivation for the production of soya oil for biodiesel is intensifying forest destruction).

The volume of recent articles, papers and other materials on agrofuels can be overwhelming. Below we list some that we found particularly useful when preparing this Seedling.
4.Agrofuels in Africa

The African Biodiversity Network's new report "Agrofuels in Africa - the impacts on land, food and forests" is now out and available online at:


The report looks at case studies in Benin, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, as well as trends elsewhere on the continent.  It is clear that big companies are looking to convert large areas of Africa's best land over to biofuel production, even if this means privatising customary land, evicting farmers, raising food prices, competing for water resources,
and cutting down precious forests and conservation areas...
5.Berkeley Lab Wins Federal Biofuel Grant
By Richard Brenneman
The Berkeley Daily Planet, June 29 2007

Berkeley’s bid to become the biofuel research capital of academic and corporate America scored another major advance Tuesday, winning funds to start a second lab.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman awarded $125 million to a coalition headed by the University of California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) to create one of three national bioenergy research centers.

Funds will target development of genetically modified plants and microbes to transform cellulose - the basic building block of plant walls -into fuels.

The ultimate goal is to create energy independence, with the nation reaping its harvest of crops grown on American soil.

While the project is separate from the $500 million Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) funded earlier this year by BP (the company once called British Petroleum), the newly funded Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) features many of the same scientific players - and both are headed by Jay Keasling, a chemical engineering professor and entrepreneur.

The announcement was met by criticism from some researchers. "It is very disconcerting to see such an overwhelming concentration of research in the hands of scientists whose ideas are not only wrong but dangerous," said Ignacio Chapela, a UC Berkeley plant microbial ecologist and a leading critic of the increasing ties between the corporate and academic worlds.

Washington announcement

Bodman made the formal announcement to reporters gathered at the National Press Club. LBNL's Keasling stood alongside the Bush Administration cabinet officer as one of three winning project directors.

All three centers will focus on genetic engineering as a way to create new crops along with new microbes and newly discovered enzymes to design a more efficient process for converting plants into fuels for cars, trucks and airplanes.

Keasling say he hoped that the Joint BioEnergy Institute - or JBEI, "jay-bay as we call it" - would trigger the start of a new wave of green biotechnological industry in the Bay Area and across the country.

The Berkeley scientist will lead a partnership headed by his lab in partnership with the Berkeley-affiliated Sandia and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories along with UC's Berkeley and Davis campuses and Stanford University.

While Bodman said he was barred from saying just how many applications he had received for the three slots, applicants were narrowed to a list numbering "in the teens," with the winners picked by an international panel of scientists, technologists and figures from the corporate and non-profit realms.

The Bioenergy Science Center is the name for the winning project for a lab to be led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Other partners are Georgia Institute of Technology; University of Georgia, Athens; University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and the DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo.

The third winner, the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, is headed by the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Other partners are: the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash.; University of Florida, Gainesville; Illinois State University, Normal; Iowa State University, Ames, and the only corporate partner among the winners, Lucigen Corporation of MIddleton, Wis.

Each lab will receive up to $25 million annually for five years.

"We don’t know exactly what will happen, but I've got great confidence," said Bodman, that the intellectual prowess of the researchers "will lead to great things."

The result, he said, will be "a total change in the way we power our homes and our vehicles."

GMO linkage

To make the linkage between the grants and genetics research explicit, DOE Under Secretary for Science Raymond Orbach told reporters that "seven years ago to this day," the National Institutes of Health and the DOE announced sequencing of the human genome.

"That gave us the technological expertise to bring genomics" into the search for new sources of biofuels, Orbach said, and his department "is using genomics to meet this critical need of this nation and our world."

Martin Keller of the Oak Ridge center said one of the goals of their research would be manipulating the genes in cellulose to make the tissue more degradable. "We really want to change how biofuels are made in the next five years," he said.

Timothy Donahue, director of the Wisconsin project, said researchers had been handed "the largest political, economic and scientific challenge of our time," with his team located in the heart of the nation’s greatest source of biomass, the Great Lakes Basin.

Donahue said his team "will have the lead in the way" wood chips and grasses are used to produce biofuels by harvesting microbial and chemical technologies.

Keasling said JBEI will focus on:

• Developing new "feedstock" (plants) to provide richer sources of biofuels;

• Scavenging the environment for enzymes better capable of breaking down plant materials into sugars, the basic fermentation stock used in making fuels;

• Developing organisms capable of producing higher levels of ethanol as well as "the next generation of biofuels" for uses ranging from diesels to jets, and

• Developing and refining so-called "cross-cutting technologies," processes that cut across the different phases and specialties involved in biofuel research and production with a goal of providing techniques for the emerging biofuel industry.

Keasling said JBEI "will operate much like a start-up company with dynamic allocation of resources" to respond to developments as they arise.

Chapela was far less optimistic. "I no longer hesitate to use the word fascism," he said. "That is the idea that we have no difference between the state, the scientific establishment and the corporations. They have finally come into complete alignment, leaving no opportunity for diversity of thought and creativity."

Both EBI and JBEI were enthusiastically backed by local government, including Berkeley's Mayor Tom Bates, as well as by UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau. The JBEI proposal was aided by the San Francisco East Bay Economic Development Alliance for Business, a quiet but powerful alliance of corporations and local politicians.

Chapela had been denied tenure after his outspoken critique of the Novartis agreement, an earlier UC Berkeley/corporate pact, and won his position only after filing a lawsuit.

Starting next month, he will be gone from the Berkeley campus for a year, taking a sabattical with the Institute of Gene Ecology in Promso, Norway. "I will not lose track of what's happening here," he said. "I will remain engaged."


One reporter asked the Energy Secretary about that morning’s announcement that ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips had broken off talks with the Venezuelan oil ministry over demands that the U.S.-based firms grant a majority share of revenues to the government.

"It's not a happy thing for Venezuela," said Bodman, adding that American companies also have problems with Nigeria and Russia.

He said the administration has "encouraged all countries with indigenous supplies to have laws that will encourage non-indigenous companies to participate in developing their resources."

Unmentioned was the fact that two companies with strong local ties - EBI-funder BP and Richmond refinery owner ChevronTexaco - have signed agreement with the Venezuelan ministry.

A non-UC center

While the largest share of the local biofuel funding pie has been sliced off for the UC labs, there’s another DOE recipient in Albany.

Two other grants announced earlier this month went to research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Western Research Center in Albany.

Both projects were awarded $600,000 to study the genetics of grasses being considered as possible sources for biofuels derived from cellulose.

One involves the creation of genetically modified varieties of a variety called Purple False Brome, while the second will provide a more detailed investigation of the genes of switchgrass.

One project already underway in the lab is involved in a search for biofuel producing enzymes which can be engineered to create more efficient microbes for biofuel production.

Two other Albany projects are aimed at using wheat as a source of biofuel, using the starches to produce ethanol, while another is looking at a whole range of biofuel issues through the lens of genomics.

Another Albany project is concerned not with fuel but with finding new ways to engineer crops for domestic production of natural rubber.

[check out:
http://stopbp-berkeley.org/ ]
6.Are Biofuels the Solution?
Institute for Public Accuracy

Research biologist at the Global Justice Ecology Project, Smolker said today: "In just the past week [the U.S. government] permitted field testing of a eucalyptus genetically engineered specifically for biofuel production, a $375 million DOE grant was made to fund three major bioenergy research centers, BP and DuPont fronted most of $400 million for a 'world class' biofuel plant in the U.K., and the U.S. Senate passed a bill to mandate a target of 36 billion gallons of biofuel by 2022. The pace at which biofuels are being promoted is staggering.

"Behind the corporate 'greenwash' that biofuels will help solve the problem of global warming is an unfolding environmental and social catastrophe. The idea that we can solve our problems by permitting huge multinational corporations to grab up agricultural lands and cut down forests in order to install massive industrial plantations of fuel feedstocks is ludicrous and extremely dangerous. The direct and indirect impacts on food, soils, water, indigenous people and biodiversity are already evident. Any greenhouse gas emission savings is far outweighed by the emissions caused by deforestation and industrial agriculture. The oil, biotechnology and agribusiness industries see massive profits and are forging alliances to consolidate food and fuel production under one collosal industrial roof."
More Information

Maria Luisa Mendonça is based in Sao Paulo and is in the U.S. until Saturday at the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta. She is director of the Social Network for Justice and Human Rights and co-wrote an article titled "The Myth of Biofuels." She said today: "Now there is a real concern in the U.S. about global warming and that's good because the U.S. is responsible for 25 percent of all air pollution, so of course it's important that the U.S. public take responsibility for that. But no alternative energy source would meet the current demands for oil in this country. Right now there are about 770 cars for each 1,000 people in the U.S., so this is not a sustainable sort of society. So before we talk about alternative sources of energy, we need to talk about massive good-quality public transportation -- and then talk about the impacts of the current sources for biofuel and bio-diesel and ethanol.

"In the case of ethanol, the main sources now are sugarcane and corn, and both have several problems in terms of environmental destruction because any type of extensive agricultural process will have an impact in terms of the amount of water you need, the soil pollution with pesticides, and of course the ground water pollution. In the case of sugarcane there is also the problem of burning sugarcane which causes air pollution as well. And in the case of bio-diesel, which is mainly made from palm oil and soybeans, this is causing a great deal of deforestation, destroying the rain forest in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Malaysia and Indonesia. So using agricultural land for biofuels is not really sustainable.

"In addition to all environmental issues, we have also serious labor rights violations in the case of cutting sugarcane. ...

"Biofuels can actually make global warming worse in the case of Brazil, because in the case of Brazil carbon emissions are not as much because of our lifestyle, like in the United States. Carbon emissions for Brazil are for the most part because of the destruction of the rain forest in Brazil, so putting more pressure on expensive agriculture will only mean more destruction of the rain forest and therefore more emission of carbon and more global warming."
More Information

CONTACT: Institute for Public Accuracy
(202) 347-0020; or David Zupan at (541) 484-9167
June 28, 2007

One day after the Yes Men made a joke announcement that ExxonMobil plans to turn billions of climate-change victims into a brand-new fuel called Vivoleum, the Yes Men's upstream internet service provider shut down Vivoleum.com, the Yes Men's spoof website, and cut off the Yes Men's email service, in reaction to a complaint whose source they will not identify. The provider, Broadview Networks, also made the Yes Men remove all mention of Exxon from TheYesMen.org
before they'd restore the Yes Men's email service.

The Yes Men assume the complainant was Exxon. "Since parody is protected under US law, Exxon must think that people seeing the site will think Vivoleum's a real Exxon product, not just a parody," said Yes Man Mike Bonanno. "Exxon's policies do already contribute to 150,000 climate-change related deaths each year," added Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum. "So maybe it really is credible. What a resource!"

READ ON: Vivoleum, Solves Global Warming and Peak Oil

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