New Biomassters: emerging bioeconomy is a resource grab
michael at fingerlakespermaculture.org
Tue Nov 23 15:18:37 EST 2010
The New Biomassters
Synthetic Biology and the Next Assault on Biodiversity and Livelihoods
A new report from The ETC Group
As global attention switches from the new Nagoya Protocol of the
Biodiversity Convention to the next climate talks in Cancun, Mexico, ETC
Group releases a groundbreaking report that lifts the lid on the emerging
global grab on plants, lands, ecosystems, and traditional cultures. The New
Biomassters - Synthetic Biology and the Next Assault on
Biodiversity and Livelihoods is a critique of what OECD countries are calling
'the new bioeconomy.' Concerted attempts are already underway to shift
industrial production feedstocks from fossil fuels to the 230 billion tones of
'biomass' (living stuff) that the Earth produces every year -not just for
liquid fuels but also for production of power,
chemicals, plastics and more.
Sold as an ecological switch from a 'black carbon' (ie fossil) economy to a
'green carbon' (plant-based) economy, this emerging bioeconomy is in fact a
red-hot resource grab of the lands, livelihoods, knowledge and resources of
peoples in the global South, where most of that biomass is located.
Enabling the next stage of this new grab is the adoption of synthetic biology
techniques (extreme genetic engineering) by a wave of high-tech companies
partnering with the world's largest energy, chemical, forestry and
The New Biomassters:
* Provides an overview of the bio-based economy being envisioned by
many OECD countries and Fortune 500 corporations and being sold to the global
South as "clean development," as well as a comprehensive
consideration of its wider implications -- a first from civil society.
* Analyzes the impact of next-generation biofuels, the production
of bio-based chemicals and plastics and the industrial burning of biomass for
electricity, arguing that civil society needs to critique and confront the
combined threats arising from these developments.
* Unmasks the industrial players intent on commodifying the 76% of
terrestrial living material that is not yet incorporated into the global
economy. Sectors with an interest in the new bioeconomy (energy,
chemical, plastics, food , textiles, pharmaceuticals, carbon trade and
forestry industries) flex a combined economic muscle of over US$17 trillion a
year. Visible players in the new bioeconomy include BP, Shell, Total, Exxon,
Cargill, ADM, Du Pont, BASF, Weyerhaeuser and Syngenta.
* Explores the safety concerns and threats to livelihoods inherent
in the high-risk, game-changing field of synthetic biology. Relying on
synthetic biology to provide higher yields and transform sugars could open a
Pandora's box of consequences. See pages 36-41.
* Surveys the industrial landscape of next generation biofuels,
including cellulosic ethanol, algal biofuels, sugar cane, jatropha and
synthetic hydrocarbon, and sets out the case for why this next
generation is as ecologically and socially dangerous as the first. See pages
* Poses challenging questions about the 'green' credentials of bio-
based plastics and chemicals and their future impact on food supplies and
world hunger. See pages 50-56.
* Raises important political questions about land grabbing: 86% of
global biomass is located in the tropics and subtropics, a simple fact driving
an industrial grab that threatens to accelerate the pace of forest destruction
and land acquisition in the South in order to feed the economies of the North.
See pages 15-18.
* Tallies the investments, subsidies and financial promises being
made for the biomass economy. Predictions for the market value of
biomass-based goods and services total five hundred billion dollars by 2020,
with the biggest turnover expected in biofuels and biomass
electricity. See pages 13-14.
* Challenges common myths of industrial biomass use, including the
claims that switching to biomass is carbon-neutral, renewable and green. In
fact, burning biomass can often produce more CO2 per energy unit than burning
coal. See pages 19-20.
* Details how a key error in the UN climate convention is driving
destructive policies. By considering biomass energy as 'carbon neutral,' the
UN has enabled destructive national renewables policies, carbon trading, and
technology transfer activities. This report also examines the new REDD+
provisions in the context of the biomass economy. See pages 20- 24.
* Sets out why we cannot afford any increase in the amount of
biomass taken from already overstressed ecosystems. Indeed, industrial
civilization may already be taking too much biomass from the systems we depend
upon. See pages 24- 26.
* Explores the new suite of technological strategies being proposed
by biomass advocates to boost global stocks of biomass, including the genetic
engineering of crops, trees and algae. Meanwhile, the
geo-engineering agenda is increasingly converging on biomass. See pages 27-30.
* Exposes the switch to algae, purported to be the next 'clean
green' feedstock and argues the case against industrial algal
production. See pages 47-50.
"For years, humans have tried to conquer nature, but in doing so, they
themselves became conquered. They lost their connection with the earth. They
destroyed the land they were tilling. In Buddhist belief, there are no
pesticides, no bad insects, no good ones. There is only imbalance in the
world. We must restore that balance."
*-Han Guojie, water-quality engineer turned farmer, quoted in "Sowing Seeds
for an Organic Revolution," by William Wan in the Washington Post, November 2,
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