[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 
sustainably" logged.

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 
climate change.

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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