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Ethanol’s Growing List of Enemies

Moira Herbst, Business Week
…The ethanol movement is sprouting a vocal crop of critics. While politicians including President George W. Bush and farmers across the Midwest hope that the U.S. can win its energy independence by turning corn into fuel, Hitch and an unlikely assortment of allies are raising their voices in opposition. The effort is uniting ranchers and environmentalists, hog farmers and hippies, solar-power idealists and free-market pragmatists (see BW Online, 02/2/07, ” Ethanol: Too Much Hype-and Corn”).

They have different reasons for opposing ethanol. But their common contentions are that the focus on corn-based ethanol has been too hasty, and the government’s active involvement-through subsidies for ethanol refiners and high tariffs to keep out alternatives like ethanol made from sugar-is likely to lead to chaos in other sectors of the economy.
(19 March 2007)

Petition – Palmoil firms robbing Indian land

Staff, Rettet den Regenwald, via Indymedia
The Awa jungle people of Ecuador are appealing urgently for international help after the Ecuadorian environment ministry stripped them of their rights to 17,500 hectares of their land.

Behind this land theft are lumber cutters and palm oil firms who want to get at the timber and land of the Awa. At another place the cadastre authority also took away the Awa’s rights to 4,000 hectares.

The German advocacy group “Rettet den Regenwald” (save the rain forest) writes that the land taken away was given to co-management with “Afro-Ecuadorian villages”. ..
(14 Mar 2007)

Jakarta: Alternative energy needs to focus on waste recycling

Amol Titus, Jakarta Post
The giddy-eyed proponents of alternative energy bio fuels derived from agricultural commodities received a bit of a wake up call recently when prices of almost all major raw materials such as corn, oil palm, sugarcane, wheat, soya, peanuts and even cassava shot up sharply causing widespread jitters.

… Juxtapose the above with two other important environmental factors — the growing shortage of water across the world and the concerns voiced by many ecologists that once the bio fuel genie escapes from the “green bottle”, the remaining tracts of rain forests will face an irreversible decline — and the conclusion becomes quite clear.

Whilst there is no argument that alternatives to fossil based fuels need to be found, bio fuels alone cannot fulfill the growing hunger for energy. They have an important role to play especially when grown on managed plantations on arid or abandoned (alang-alang) land but this requires a coordinated policy framework that provides incentives for the development of such plantations (e.g tax, concessional long term finance) but which equally ensures that there is no overexploitation of crops, ground water or residual forested tracts in the pursuit of short term profits.

The solution, ironically, exists all around us especially for those of us living in teeming third world cities like Jakarta. Al Gore in his recent eye opening documentary highlighted many “inconvenient truths” and one alarming one relates to the exponential growth in human population.

In the film he makes the scary point that the global population levels that took 10,000 generations to reach two billion will take only one human lifetime (ours) to cross nine billion! The levels of civic waste this will generate are frighteningly unimaginable.

This civic waste is being fed by chemicals, plastics, glass, metals, textiles, building materials and natural resources that are now an inescapable part of our consumerism driven development and lifestyle. Jakarta and suburbs alone produce a huge 8,000 tons of waste per day, a fact brought home acutely to each and every resident in early February when over 75 percent of the capital was submerged under floods. Streams of rainwater gushing down deforested Puncak and Bogor slopes spilled out of garbage-clogged Jakarta sewers and canals causing havoc. And the solution to this crisis goes beyond simply building or deepening canals.

… imagine a grid of not coal or diesel or bio fuel fired electricity plants but civic waste derived bio gas plants dotting the archipelago.

The writer is a Nehru scholar from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, who works for HSBC Indonesia. The views expressed in the article are his own.
(18 March 2007)