Is Wood-Based Bioenergy a Real Climate Change Solution?
No, says a new report from the Global Justice Ecology Project, the Global Forest Coalition and Biofuelwatch called “Wood-based Bioenergy: The Green Lie”.
Burning wood – even fast-growing, genetically engineered trees designed to be used for fuel – merely increases the dangers of climate change, especially among the poorest nations, where much of the tree-growing takes place.
Growers argue that the tree plantations are growing on “marginal” land, but there is no such thing as marginal land in a poor country like Borneo, for example, where such land is used for grazing livestock, gathering wild plants for food or medicine, or as housing space.
Even the argument itself is specious. Some of these monoculture plantations are encroaching on arable land, or invading old-growth forests, a process that ends up displacing indigenous forest people, who in turn displace other populations or are themselves forced into a life of abysmal poverty on the outskirts of cities, and ultimately into cultural extinction.
This problem came to light in 2006, thanks to the courage of self-appointed “eco-warrior” Chris Lang, who reported on the situation in Cambodia, where the expansion of monoculture forests for pulp wood, biofuels, rubber and teak has since led not only to displacement, hunger and financial strain, but actual brutality.
There, a Chinese-Cambodian firm, Wuzhishan, had won a concession from the government for 199,000 hectares of land on which to grow monoculture plantations, with 10,000 hectares coming under immediate cultivation.
In addition to cutting down the fruit trees the indigenous Phong grew for food – or for sale to buy food, Wuzhishan took over part of the community’s upland rice fields, cut down its sacred ancestral trees, forbid the Phong to burn grasslands (an agricultural tradition designed to improve grazing), and used chemicals to destroy grasslands prior to planting which leached into streams and killed the fish the Phong use to supplement their meager diets.
When villagers tried to leave the village to attend workshops that would have helped them understand and avert their predicament, they were physically prevented. When they later marched en masse to the district governor’s office to protest, they were mown down with water cannons. Villagers also reported that the company and its workers were “exploiting” children and young girls, presumably as cheap labor but also as sexual partners for workers who left them behind when they moved to another plantation.
The Wuzhishan grant was given in spite of the fact that Cambodian land law restricts such land grants to 10,000 hectares – a fact that Prime Minister Hun Sen and his administration appear to have ignored, to the benefit of friends and associates and the complete detriment of the indigenous Phong.
But it isn’t just the Cambodian government. In 2001, the World Bank launched a land management plan which didn’t even bother to conceal a bias for corporations and against such indigenous communities. Other NGOs are equally as corporate-centric, even though their presupposed role is as defenders of the poor and the environment.
Nor is it just Cambodia, or even third-world countries, for that matter. The same thing is occurring across the globe, from Malaysia and Indonesia, across Cameroon and South Africa, and into Argentina and Brazil, where corporate cultivation of monoculture tree plantations, some of them containing genetically modified (GM) trees, is dedicated to profit at the expense of people.
Nor is the United States exempt. All across the South, in seven states whose “pockets of poverty” have endured for generations, a recent order by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, allowing more than a quarter million GM eucalyptus trees to be planted to feed the maw of wood-burning power plants, threatens not only human populations but the genetic integrity of native trees by creating a situation in which “genetic drift” can take place, forever altering the genetic makeup of native trees.
GM eucalyptus may also alter the entire forest biome, introducing or expanding plant pests that could devastate native forests, or giving free reign to invasive species like Kudzu. In addition, these overly thirsty GM eucalyptus are already depleting the water table, and a push to expand wood-burning energy production (under the American Power Act) will only exacerbate the problem in a South just now recovering from one of the worst droughts in history.
In fact, the only ones likely to prosper from this GM introduction into the American South are the owners and investors in ArborGen, or Range Fuels, who are together looking into biomass energy technologies, including biofuels, from GM eucalyptus.
In 2009, USA Today reported on the status of U.S. wood-burning power plants, noting the meteoric rise of such facilities from one in 2007 to 19 in 2009, with dozens more in the planning stages – including three 100-megawatt plants slated for 2012.
Article by Jeanne Roberts appearing courtesy Celsias.
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