Friends of the Earth: Africa up for Grabs

Friends of the Earth International (FOE) has released a report about Africa’s move to produce biofuels to help meet the global needs of renewable energy. “Africa, up for grabs: the scale and impact of land grabbing for agrofuels” looked at 11 African countries and found that five million hectares of land, or an area the size of Denmark, is being acquired by foreign companies to produce biofuels, mainly for European markets. Dubbed “land grabbing,” the majority of entities entering the country are European and Chinese companies with Brazil making a play as well.

According to FOE, the purpose of the report was to take a closer look at these land deals and determine how many of them are for agrofuels and how they will affect local communities and the environment. In the report the authors write, “although information is limited, there is growing evidence that significant levels of farmland are being acquired for fuel crops, in some cases without the consent of local communities and often without a full
assessment of the impact on the local environment.”

The report says that many African countries are waking up to the realities of biofuels and have halted their biofuels programs. Others, they say are moving forward. FOE offers several actions that they believe should be taken including putting a stop to land grabbing; re-prioritize political priorities that include local sustainable farm programs and energy efficiency brought about through public transportation, walking and cycling;  and creating fair and appropriate land deals.

In a press release, Mariann Bassey, food and agriculture coordinator for Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria said, “The expansion of biofuels on our continent is transforming forests and natural vegetation into fuel crops, taking away food-growing farmland from communities, and creating conflicts with local people over land ownership. We want real investment in agriculture that allows us to produce food and not fuel for foreign cars.”

The report points out that jatropha, often hailed as a wonder crop for biodiesel production, is actually one of the worst enviornmental offenders and claim that those who have converted food crops to this biofuels crop, can not make a living.

In conjunction with the report, FOE is calling for the EU to scrap its biofuels policy and asking governments to invest in environmentally friendly agriculture and decrease the energy used for transportation through conservation efforts.

Is Iowa Putting the Cart Before the Horse?

Is the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) putting the cart before the horse in their proposition to add greenhouse gas emission amendments to the Iowa Administrative Code? The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) and Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) think so. The two organizations have joined forces to urge the EPC to delay consideration on decisions that would increase the regulatory burden faced by Iowa’s biofuels producers. The industry has been struggling from an economic slowdown and faces additional uncertainty at the federal level regarding similar GHG regulations.

In addition, the groups say that passing GHG regulations at the state level could put Iowa at odds with federal regulations if and when they are passed.

The two organizations wrote in their comment letter, “In addition to substantially increasing the regulatory burden faced by the state’s biofuel producers, we are concerned that amendments by the EPC may result in Iowa implementing more stringent regulatory requirements than may ultimately be required by the federal regulation with which the state is seeking to harmonize. As such, we are urging the EPC to delay consideration of the proposed amendments until such time that there is more certainty surrounding federal regulatory actions intended to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Alternatively, and at the very least, EPC should add certain provisions to its amendments that would nullify regulatory actions based on federal rules that may ultimately be stayed or deemed invalid by a court.”

More than likely, if the EPC were to pass GHG regulations, they would face a similar fate as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who is facing a multitude of legal challenges opposing the rules including a motion to stay any further EPA action on this front.

“Given these pending legal challenges, the state of Iowa should not adopt proposed changes to the state law and revision to its Clean Air Act Implementation Plan that could ultimately make its regulations more stringent than federal regulations. This is precisely what would occur should the EPA Tailoring Rule be stayed or ultimately invalidated,” continued the letter.

According to the two groups, another major issue which renders the EPC consideration premature is the EPA’s movement to include biogenic emissions of C02 under the Tailoring Rule. Should EPC adopt this rule, it would put them in violation by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which acknowledge the carbon neutrality of biogenic emissions from biofuels production.

Ultimately, RFA and IRFA are asking that if EPC continues to move forward with its GHG emission policy, then they should include provisions that would nullify their policies if the federal Tailoring Rule is stayed or deemed invalid. You can read the comments in full here.

Ride for Renewables

This past Sunday, Tom Weis left Boulder, Colorado on a hybrid electric-assist recumbent trike on a 2,500 mile journey that will end in Washington, DC. Coined the Ride for Renewables, Weis is set out to gain support for his plan that calls for a 100% renewable electricity grid for the U.S. by 2020.

Weis believes that 2010 is the year America needs to set the agenda to address climate change and he is so passionate about making change, that he is willing to pedal across the country to build grassroots support for his plan. He writes on his website, “This is about everyday Americans “taking back our power” by demanding a green industrial revolution that will put unemployed Americans back to work, reestablish our role as world economic leader, and help ensure future generations a livable planet.”

Weis will be traveling through Colorado, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and ending in Washington, DC. Along the way, he will highlight local renewable projects, bring attention to old, dirty technologies that need to be replaced and solicit signatures for his petition that he will present to DC legislators. You can follow his journey online at www.climatecrisissolutions.com where he will post photos and videos and he will also be posting to various social media sites.

Book Review – Food Wars

This week I read a book about the ongoing discussions regarding the causes of the food crisis. It should come as no surprise that several of the main reasons the globe is in the midst of a food crisis, according to a The Food Wars author Walden Bello, are commodity speculation, biofuels,  increased demand for food in Asia brought on by prosperity, and most influential, the massive ag policy reorientation known as structural adjustment.

In this case, I’m going to focus on Bello’s explanation of how biofuels contributed to rising food costs. Bello states that biofuels have been blamed for the food price increases over the past few years, but continues by saying while they were a contributing factor, they were not the cause of the volatility of food prices.

He writes, “More central as root causes have been structural adjustment, free trade, and policies extracting surplus from agriculture for industrialization, all of which have destroyed or eroded the agricultural sector of many countries. No one factor can be pinpointed as the cause of the global food crisis. It is the confluence of these conditions that has made the contemporary food price crisis so threatening and difficult to solve.”

But despite this concession, he is still not a supporter of biofuels, at least in the context of environmental benefits, and he says, “Indeed agrofuels contribute to global warming and certainly do not provide a solution to climate change.” Continue reading

Calling All Green-Minded College Students

Calling all green-minded college students. It’s time to take action for the environment in the new contest, “Greenest Student College Challenge.” College students are being asked to submit the most inventive and ingenious “green” ideas emerging from their college campus, and one lucky college student will become the owner of a new iPad provided by Duke’s Restaurants. The contest is sponsored by ThinkGreenLiveClean.

As the fall term is now underway for most students, they are being asked to make green resolutions. These resolutions will be reviewed by a panel of judges and one student with be given an award for the best idea. Entries will be judged on creativity of the green resolution and details on how the idea will be fulfilled.

“Since our contest’s green resolutions can be viewed by anyone anywhere, the Greenest Student College Challenge is essentially a national brainstorming session with an iPad as an incentive,” said Wyatt Taubman, founder of ThinkGreenLiveClean. “Students will be able to read what other students have written and will hopefully become inspired by all the great green ideas floating around. These students are going to have the ideas that will change the future so we want to let their ideas be heard now on a national level.”

The Greenest Student College Challenge marks the first in a series of contests to be hosted by ThinkGreenLiveClean, an environmental news website launched in 2009 by 23 year old Wyatt Taubman. The contests will run throughout the school year, and future contests will explore different aspects of students living sustainably. Green Resolution contest entrants must enter by October 18 at www.ThinkGreenLiveClean.com.

Green Energy Expo in Wisconsin

didionDidion Ethanol in Cambria, Wisconsin is hosting a Green Energy Expo next week.

The event is open to the public to highlight ways to reduce energy and recycle at home and on the farm, and to learn about ethanol and the future of alternative fuels. There will be exhibitor booths, tours of Didion Ethanol and panel discussions on a variety of topics, including the benefits of ethanol and the future of biofuels. Visitors can also qualify to enter a drawing for tickets to Farm Aid 2010 to be held in Milwaukee on October 2.

Among the celebrities who will be at the Expo are Alice in Dairyland 2010 with her E-85 Flex-Fuel Chevrolet Tahoe and Captain Cornelius. Children will be able to make their own putty made from corn starch and also participate in a coloring contest for a chance to win a gift card.

The Didion Green Energy Expo will be held Thursday, September 16 from 2-7pm at Didion Ethanol in Cambria.

Canada Mandates Biofuels

By the end of the year, Canadians will be using more ethanol in their fuel. According to The Epoch Times, regulations were finaized by the government yesterday requiring that all gasoline must contain 5% biofuels starting December 15.

“Regulating renewable fuel content in gasoline is just one of several steps the Government is taking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector, which account for about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Environment Minister Jim Prentice in a statement.

This regulation is part of a strategy by the government to lower greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.

“Support for renewable fuels is support for farmers, rural communities and our economy,” said Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz in a statement. “This is a vital step in generating new market opportunities for our farmers and maximizing Canada’s high quality resources to produce food and fuel for the world.”

California Apollo Program Formed to Create Green Jobs

Last week, Creighton University economist Ernie Goss was quoted on NPR saying the country is preparing itself for another wave of lay offs. It will start at the coasts and move its way to the Midwest. Not good news for the millions of people who are currently unemployed. Unfortunately, a good number of people have become unemployed in the alternative energy industry, but a group in California is set to reverse this trend.

A new alliance of California business, labor, environmental and community leaders have formed the California Apollo Program to help create clean energy jobs in the state. According to the organization, the program is a “blueprint for moving California toward broadly shared economic prosperity, energy security and climate stability, while reinforcing the state’s commitment to a new clean energy future.”

“By implementing the California Apollo Program, we will be making the right moves to secure our economic future, retain our global leadership in clean energy and technological innovation, and engage the workers and businesses who can keep the world’s eighth-largest economy growing,” said Phil Angelides, chairman of the national Apollo Alliance. “The Apollo Alliance will work with our diverse coalition of business, labor, community and environmental leaders to ensure our state seizes the opportunity to invest in California businesses and create new jobs producing the clean technologies of the future.”

The organizations blueprint has identified several key areas it believes will create and retain clean energy jobs including: modernizing the power grid to support clean energy generation and smart grid technology; revitalizing rural California by expanding environmentally sustainable renewable energy and carbon sequestration projects; investing in clean energy research and development; and helping manufacturers retool their factories and retrain their employees to produce clean energy product.

Several of California’s environmental and energy laws are under fire citing the “economic” costs of implementing the technologies required under the laws will cause financial destruction for companies in the state. The supporters of the policies claim that they will help generate up to $104 billion in economic activity by 2020.

Book Review – The Great Global Warming Blunder

“I am under no illusion that this book will settle the scientific debate over the roles of mankind versus nature in global warming and climate change. Quite the opposite. I am hoping that the scientific debate will finally begin.” These are the final words of author and climatologist, Dr. Roy Spencer in his new book, The Great Global Blunder.

While the mainstream media continues to report that global climate change is real and caused by man, Spencer argues that it is in fact real, but not manmade. He says that global warming is just part of a natural cycle. In fact, he said that cloud cover is one of the “feedbacks” (i.e. causes) of warming and cooling trends.

Spencer is not the first scientist to speak out against the theory that global climate change is manmade. Climate physicist Henrik Svensmark and award winning science writer Nigel Calder also believe that clouds are a cause of global warming. They lay out their theory in “The Chilling Stars A New Theory of Climate Change.

Spencer argues that scientists who take a risk and offer other ideas for the cause of climate change, are not often published in scientific journals nor are their theories covered by the mainstream media who likes stories that bring the message of doom and gloom.

“Why am I willing to stick my neck out on an issue where there is so much momentum running in the opposite direction? Because the United States is making decisions on energy policy that will literally lead to death and suffering. The environmental lobby, activist news media, opportunistic politicians–and even a few Big Oil interests–have led the public to believe that we can “go green” in generating energy,” writes Spencer. Continue reading

Book Review – Power Grab

It’s been a year and a half since President Obama took office and there are definitely mixed emotions on how effective he has or hasn’t been. One area where many people have been critical is with regards to his green policies. One such critic is Christopher Horner, who has written a book with the central theme that Obama’s green polices are the worst thing that has happened to our country over the past two years. Power Grab, How Obama’s Green Policies Will Steal Your Freedom and Bankrupt America, has two major tenets: that climate change is a farce, and that the green policies and programs that are being developed to curb climate change will ruin our lives and our country.

The mood is set at the beginning of the book where Horner lays out what America will be like in 2015, when Obama’s policies begin to take affect. He lays out a country with energy shortages, food shortages and job shortages. He describes a world in which the rise of renewable energy and cap-and-trade sent our jobs oversees, and while America’s wealth is declining, the cost of living is rising.

Horner purports that any it would be one thing if the proposed green measures actually curbed global warming, but, he says, they don’t. He writes, “As I explained in Red, Hot, Lies, no proposal ever tabled would, according to anyone, detectably impact global temperature…” He goes on to say, “The real issue Americans should be concerned with is the outcome of these “green”schemes: the transfer of your liberties and wealth to the state, and the transfer of jobs to other countries.” Continue reading

Controversial Clean Energy Killer Added to Cali Ballot

There is a highly controversial provision being added to California’s ballots this November called Prop 23. The proposition, which is backed by several oil companies, is asking for the state to suspend California’s 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act that calls for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to 1990 levels by 2020. Supporters of Prop 23 want the suspension to be in place until unemployment drops to 5.5 percent in four consecutive quarters. The state is currently looking at double-digit unemployment numbers of 13.2 percent, one of the worst in the nation.

The supporters of Prop 23, led by Texas refining giants Valero Energy Corp. and Tesoro, Inc., are claiming that this piece of legislation will cost businesses and consumers billions of dollars in higher energy costs over the next decade. Environmental organizations are fighting back arguing that this is an attempt to kill California’s green energy policy.

Yet those who oppose the bill are claiming that the passage of this proposition would jeopardize a half million clean tech jobs, 12,000 companies and billions of dollars of private investment in California. They also contend that the state’s global leadership in clean tech would succumb to nations such as Asia and Europe. To date, more than 250 businesses and organizations have vocally opposed Prop 23.

In a new report, “Going Backward,” released by the Clean Economy Network (CEN), Prop 23 would suspend efforts to increase electricity produced from renewable sources as well as stifle energy efficiency standards for homes and office buildings. The report says that this effort, if passed, would increase healthcare costs due to pollution as well as raise electricity bills by up to a third over the next 12 years.

“Prop 23 should be viewed for what it is: a mechanism for regulatory and investment uncertainty that only benefits its backers – big out-of-state oil companies Valero and Tesoro – while putting the economic health of the rest of California at risk,” said Jeff Anderson, Executive Director of CEN. “Sending jobs and investment overseas is a no-win proposition for all Americans and must be defeated.”

In an environment that has lost most private investors, those who oppose Prop 23 fear that what little money is left will dry up. There is also concern that if California backs off of its current climate change and alternative energy legislation, that it will signal other states to follow suit. The result, they say, would be detrimental to our country’s efforts at creating comprehensive energy and climate policy in the U.S.

Novozymes Joins Sustainability Consortium

A new global organization called The Sustainability Consortium, has been formed to improve the sustainability of consumer products and Novozymes has become a member. The group membership consists of both government and non-government organizations, businesses, environmental organizations, and academics who will work together to impact future products and supply networks designed to address environmental, social and economic imperatives. Novozymes joins the ranks among several other well-known U.S. companies including Wal-Mart, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Dell, Disney, and BASF.

“Novozymes is recognized for being among the best in sustainability development and their expertise in bio-innovative products and solutions will be a tremendous value and addition to the efforts of The Sustainability Consortium,” said Dr. Jay Golden, co-director of The Sustainability Consortium.

While Novozymes is best known in the biofuels space for their break-through cellulosic ethanol enzymes, the company actually works in more than 40 industries worldwide. According to the company, they use the power of bioinnovation as a means to help increase product quality and yields while reducing consumption of natural resources including water and energy.

“Society must find new ways to meet the needs of a growing population while reducing our impact on the environment,” said Claus Stig Pedersen, head of sustainability at Novozymes. “In short, we must produce more with less. Our goal in working with The Sustainability Consortium is to help develop the tools, metrics and strategies that will create more sustainable consumer products for the future. Today Novozymes is a supplier and partner to many different consumer product value chains, and this is a unique opportunity to help make them more sustainable.”

For the past 15 years, Novozymes has been developing an expertise in the study of life cycle assessment (LCA) a tool to measure the environmental impacts of products throughout their life span. Their intent is to both share and improve this expertise through their work with The Sustainability Consortium.

CARB Proposes LCFS Soil Sustainability Provisions

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is far from over on discrediting biofuels as part of their mandated policy known as the Low Carbon Fuels Standard (LCFS). For the past year, the ethanol industry has been embroiled in a fight for proper reflections of biofuel’s indirect greenhouse gas emissions, aka indirect land use. Now, CARB has created a working group to study soil sustainability provisions of biofuels. The specific crops under review at this time include corn ethanol, sugarcane ethanol, wood based fuels, palm oil, and soy biodiesel.

Today, CARB held a meeting to discuss this topic. In the proposed agenda, CARB offered several “loose” categories to be considered including carbon content, erosion, crop rotation, nutrition/chemical use, productivity, and crop expansion. I’ll kick myself for saying this, but I’m surprised they didn’t include water.

While I’m not sure what exactly has driven this new LCFS dimension of discussion, I can speculate that several recent events have in part led to this recent course of action. One is the Dead Zone/hypoxia issue which resurfaced when several scientists began calling the Dead Zone a bigger environmental catastrophe than the BP Oil spill. Corn and corn ethanol are being charged for creating the Dead Zone through its use of pesticides and fertilizers used in production.

Second, Friends of the Earth has been vocally opposed to how corn is produced and to corn ethanol (actually, to all current and future biofuels) and is currently engaged in a national campaign to end production of corn ethanol and reassess corn production methods.

While I do believe that soil sustainability is an area to be reviewed in general, I do not agree that you can regulate biofuels policy on this issue. Not only that, but like indirect land use, a theory not based in sound science, petroleum is not being held to the same standards. No where on the agenda is a discussion of the soil, or land implications of global petroleum production. Continue reading

More Transparency Needed Among Environmental Groups

I’m calling the environmental movement out for supporting nothing and opposing everything.

Not too long ago, I was proud to call myself an environmentalist. Today, I’m bordering on embarrassed to admit that I support sustainability programs. The cause of my distress is what is happening under the carpet among environmental groups. On the surface, they look squeaky clean, but when you pull back the carpet you find years of dust and dirt.

The result is crippling the system so that the status quo remains unchanged.

Are they doing this unknowingly? It’s hard to imagine a community founded on integrity and steeped in the honorable tradition of academia could blatantly miss the truth on the intellectually definable myths about renewable energy.

For example, for more than 30 years, environmental organizations have attacked the oil and gas industry in the name of environmental integrity. During this same time, these same groups have aided Big Oil in its attack of the biofuels industry in the name of subsidies. The irony is that ethanol subsidies such as the ethanol tax credit (VEETC) and the ethanol tariff are subsidies that actually go to the oil industry – not the ethanol producer.

Until recently, the oil industry was not attacked for the hundreds of billions of subsidies they receive nor were they held accountable for their greenhouse gas emissions until the University of Nebraska conducted an indirect land use emissions study from petroleum transportation and protection – mainly war.

How did everyone miss this? Continue reading

Book Review – Green Gone Wrong

Everyone has an opinion about the veracity of global warming, except, maybe global governments who are pursing economic improvements on the back of climate change. The quest for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and predominately carbon dioxide (CO2) has led to a spurt of new research around the development of more sustainable practices and technologies. But at what cost to the environment? This question is asked and answered in the new book Green Gone Wrong, by Heather Rogers.

This question may on the surface sound like an oxymoron. How can you be developing technologies to reduce CO2, yet hurt the environment at the same time? According to Rogers, this is in fact happening every day, all over the world. Rogers breaks up the offenses into three categories: food, shelter and transportation.

The crux of the food section studies what organic farming really means (or doesn’t mean) and the movement to “beyond organic”. The next section discusses green building and the last section studies transportation, where I will focus. One element that is weaved throughout this section, is the discussions of the validity of carbon offset programs.

Many of the arguments she presents in the section are not new. She writes about biofuels, “As for ecological sustainability, biofuels have been widely discredited. The energy efficiency achieved with ethanol is dubious and a source of much debate. While some researchers say more energy goes into making ethanol than the alt-fuel can supply, others estimate a positive energy balance. A commonly cited figure is that for every gallon of fossil fuel used in production, only 1.3 gallons of corn-based ethanol can be refined. Either way, by now it’s apparent that biofuels pressure both ecosystems and the access to food.” Continue reading