[permaculture] Burning the Planet to Fill Your Fuel Tank
lbsaltzman at aol.com
lbsaltzman at aol.com
Wed Jun 20 11:39:08 EDT 2007
Interesting Blog site and a nice plug for Permaculture at the bottom.
Burning the Planet to Fill Your Fuel Tank
Cellulosic ethanol another chimerical climate "solution" that
furthers biological homogenization and ecological collapse
Earth Meanders, by Dr. Glen Barry
June 19, 2007
Humanity's epitaph may well read "Much Potential, but Cut and
Burnt Themselves to Death". Nearly every environmental crisis
can be traced to burning hydrocarbons for energy, and cutting
and clearing vegetation for a variety of reasons. Sadly, even as
climate change awareness has grown, an understanding of root
causes of environmental crises such as over-consumption remains
dreadfully lacking. So now, at this late date in the Earth's
decline, it is proposed to cut and burn cellulosic ethanol
biofuel produced from biomass including forest and agricultural
Vain attempts to fuel gluttonous, over-populated humanity --
that is well past the Earth's carrying capacity already -- from
biomass may well be the final step in the destruction of Gaia's
biosphere and our human habitat.
Everyone is green since the Goracle has spoken. But the fact
that half-baked half-measures to try to maintain gluttonous
western lifestyles remains the focus means really no one (or
very few) truly approach individual ecological sustainability.
Our techno-capitalist ideological faith assures us that climate
change, forest loss, water scarcity and ocean decline all have
technological fixes. We see capitalism's "more is good" ecocidal
policy in chimerical promises of untested "clean coal"; the myth
that "healthy forests" requires industrial management, and false
claims that ancient forests should and can be "certifiably
Pie-in-the-sky climate techno-fixes divert attention from
reducing individual and societal emissions – the only way to
save the climate, the Earth and thus ourselves. Appropriate
technologies have a role but their primacy in the discussion
diverts attention from the immediate need to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions now, yesterday, 10 years ago. Fast, really fast.
As climate change becomes a huge fucking business, very little
attention is paid to whether a particular product, method or way
of addressing the problem will truly be effective. Do something,
anything (that does not require real sacrifice), and worry later
whether it was the right thing or ultimately caused more
problems than it solved.
Burning More Biomass NOT the Climate Answer
Using woody cellulose rich biomass for energy to power
industrial societies that have already passed their carrying
capacities will spell the death knell for forests, humans and
all of life. Cellulosic ethanol fuel is produced from cellulose
found naturally in cell walls of plants such as wood, straw and
grass. Those that propose producing cellulosic ethanol from
these materials state there is a large amount of wasted biomass
from agricultural and forestry sources that is currently being
discarded and can be drawn upon to fuel our automobile culture
in particular. We are about to embark upon fueling our society
from woody "waste" that may or may not exist.
Cellulosic ethanol is all the rage these days as a business
opportunity to address climate change and surging energy demand.
President Bush in his 2006 State of the Union address proposed
expanding the use of cellulosic ethanol by some 20 billion
gallons per year by 2017. Since cellulose cannot be digested by
humans, at least production of cellulose does not compete with
the production of food. Biofuels from food sources such as corn,
sugar, palm oil and other crops were all the rage just a couple
years ago and growth continues apace, but significant problems
are emerging and it is unlikely food biofuels have a sustainable
and equitable future, are green, or will meaningfully address
It is illustrative to further review these problems with food
biofuels which were heavily sold as green and sustainable. Yet
now we find food prices are soaring globally while actual
biofuel production has limited if any benefit for climate
change, sustainability, equity or justice. Paramilitary groups
are taking land in Colombia for biofuels, Indonesia's
rainforests are being cleared for Europe's fuel releasing more
carbon than saved by oil palm biofuel, the price of food around
the world such as corn in Mexico is skyrocketing. Who was the
genius that thought of burning food for energy? Must not have
been one of the billions that are poor, hungry or landless.
Cellulose Biofuels Will Destroy Forests and Land Productivity
First let's smash the fallacious myth that cellulose as a raw
material is plentiful, readily available with little negative
residual impact. Energy from non-food organic biomass is only
going to increase pressure on land and forests. It is the next
step in the biological simplification and destruction of the
As with other capitalist environmental failings; the push for
cellulosic ethanol is oblivious to limits to growth including
finite amounts of land, and solar energy to power terrestrial
biomass growth. Already humanity uses the majority of the
Planet's arable land and net primary production. Increased
demand for cellulose will certainly mean fewer natural forests,
reduced land productivity, and increased land conflict.
Cellulose based biofuels will lead to more ill-advised forest
thinning projects to fight fires while using woody cuttings for
fuel, and to genetically modified plantations of fast-growing
cellulose rich trees. Most agricultural waste is ultimately
returned to the land to fertilize and build soil structure, or
fed to livestock; while much forest waste is in fact nutrients
for the next generation of forests. There will be even more
pressure upon ancient primary forests to be converted to
agriculture and fiber plantations.
Ethanol produced from cellulose ultimately represents a mining
of soil nutrients and of the Earth's productive capacity. More
pressure upon the land to produce ever more agricultural and
plantation products will come at the cost of further
deterioration of the Earth's terrestrial ecosystems, as natural
ecosystems that are already failing are asked to give yet more.
We can expect a whole range of follow-on problems including
genetic pollution, water diminishment, and toxic chemicals
associated with industrial plantations and agriculture.
As if enough forests have not been lost from Europe's bastard
child, the industrial revolution, which commoditized everything,
including forest ecosystems; and globally from waves of
ecological imperialism as Europeans brought their capitalism,
religion, cocks and forest destruction to the Americas and the
world. The Earth's forests and land do not have the capacity to
power human society while maintaining ecosystem services and
species, and land productivity. Cellulose biofuels will kill.
Human Society's Downsizing: Starts with Less Cutting and Burning
Global environmental sustainability depends critically upon
reducing the extent and scale of human impact upon natural
ecosystems. All remaining primary vegetation must be protected,
and large scale restoration of ecological systems where they
historically occurred commenced. Humanity's overall population;
as well as per capita consumption, energy use and greenhouse gas
emissions must be dramatically downsized immediately. Any
solutions that propose more biomass cutting and perpetuates
burning for energy production exacerbates rather than solves the
Earth's ecological crises.
Humanity simply can not maintain excessive energy dependent
lifestyles through yet another ill-considered and
environmentally damaging energy source -- cellulosic ethanol
biofuels -- that further draw upon the biosphere and primary
production of biomass. It will not work and will doom the Earth,
human habitat and all of Gaia's creatures. Who is going to rise
up and fight off the flim-flam, charlatans, con artists selling
us biofuels, geoengineering, carbon offsets and more consumption
and growth as the keys to a climate change solution?
The only solution to global heating and the myriad of other
global ecological emergencies is to immediately begin
deintensifying human impacts upon the biosphere and her natural
ecosystem patterns and processes. In terms of climate, this
requires targets for mandatory national emission cuts while
meeting our energy, food and other needs for a reduced human
population from permaculture systems and renewable, non-
polluting and non-destructive energy sources that are truly
ecologically sustainable. There are no easy solutions to save
the Earth; they all require sacrifice, as well as changed
lifestyles and societies.
Earth Meanders is a series of personal essays that places
questions of environmental sustainability within the context of
other contemporary issues. Comments can be made, and past
writings can be found, at: http://earthmeanders.blogspot.com/ .
Emailed comments will be posted there as well. Permission is
granted to reprint this essay provided it is properly credited.
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