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Fossil fuels - September 8

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Dirty little secret
Alex Perry, TIME
... The transformation of Sasol from a company with the most dubious of pasts into a company with the brightest of futures illuminates our can't-live-with-it, can't-live-without-it relationship to oil. The future well-being of the planet depends on our reduction of fossil-fuel emissions. On the other hand, the future well-being of much of humanity depends on our continued use of fossil fuels. The way companies like Sasol negotiate this dilemma will help determine the future for all of us.

But first, about that dubious past. Sasol's origins can be traced to the work of two German scientists, Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch, who in 1923 came up with a process to convert coal to liquid fuel. When Adolf Hitler seized power in coal-rich, oil-poor Germany in 1933, the Nazis used the Fischer-Tropsch process to help power their military expansion across Europe; during World War II, Germany was producing 125,000 bbl. of synthetic fuel a day at 25 plants. After the war, a South African entrepreneur called "Slip" Menell bought the South African rights to Fischer-Tropsch, and in 1950 the new white supremacist Nationalist Party government formed Sasol--an acronym for Suid-Afrikaanse Steenkool en Olie (South African Coal and Oil)--to produce gasoline from South Africa's vast coal deposits.

... White supremacists using Nazi technology is a Venn diagram of bad p.r. Yet Sasol survived the end of apartheid. Why? Because it's an energy company. Precisely those qualities--size, profits, energy security--that made it a target of the ANC as a rebel group made it vital for the ANC as a government. Today Sasol has a market cap of $32 billion and is South Africa's biggest private-sector employer, with a workforce of 33,000, earnings that account for 4.4% of GDP and a production output that satisfies 38% of South Africa's fuel needs.
(4 September 2008)

Kingsnorth trial: Goldsmith defends climate change activists

John Vidal, The Guardian
Tory candidate and millionaire environmentalist Zac Goldsmith today accused the government of a "staggering mismatch" between what it says and what it does about climate change. He was appearing for the defence in the trial of six activists who scaled a 200m coal-fired power station and daubed the word "Gordon" on its chimney in October 2007.

Greenpeace does not deny causing £30,000 of damage to the smokestack of Kingsnorth power station in Kent, but argues that its members were trying to prevent a greater crime taking place. The prosecution has claimed that the group went well beyond acceptable protest.

Goldsmith, the former editor of The Ecologist magazine who resigned last year to advise the Tory party and become prospective parliamentary candidate for Richmond west, told the jury at Maidstone crown court that direct action could be justified. "Legalities aside, I suppose if a crime is intended to prevent much larger crimes, I think then a lot of people would consider that as justified," he said...
(4 September 2008)
This is an interesting case for the defence centering on the fact that the damage caused was 'lawful' because it is saving much greater damage which will be caused by climate change. See

Nasa scientist appears in court to fan the flames of coal power station row

Michael McCarthy, The Independent
The Nasa scientist who first drew attention to global warming 20 years ago appeared in a British court yesterday as a key witness in support of climate change activists charged with damaging a power station.

Professor James Hansen gave evidence at Maidstone Crown Court in the case of six Greenpeace members who scaled a 630ft chimney at the Kingsnorth plant in Hoo, Kent, last October in protest against plans to build new coal-fired units there...

...Yesterday, Prof Hansen, who has spoken out against the Bush administration's stance on global warming, said Britain had a responsibility to take a lead on limiting climate change because it was responsible – owing to its long industrial past – for much of the CO2 already in the atmosphere. Phasing out coal-burning power stations was crucial in tackling global warming, he told the court.
(4 September 2008)

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