martes, septiembre 30, 2008

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lunes, septiembre 29, 2008

A letter to Scientific American

In regards to your article "Food Shortage Aid Should Start with Lessons in Agriculture." [Aug 2008], isn't it time that groups in wealthy developed countries stopped professing to know "the solution" to hunger in Africa? If Scientific American is concerned about "putting African bread on African tables," maybe you should be reporting on, and supporting, the many agroecological projects on that continent and elsewhere that have increased productivity using means more readily available to Global South farmers. [For example, the NY Times has reported that just intercropping of rice strains can double yields (Carol Kaesuk Yoon, "Simple Method Found to Increase Crop Yields Vastly," August 22, 2000)].

Many farming organizations in Africa have, with comparatively little international support behind them, achieved amazing agricultural successes through endogenous innovation, biointensive farming, and other organic farming methods, without the use of genetically engineered seeds.

We disagree with your support of Green Revolution technologies as a solution for African farmers. Green Revolution packages of hybrid seed, mechanical instruments, and chemical inputs were previously introduced in much of Africa, and for the most part, they failed due to their incompatibility with place-specific agricultural production patterns. Elsewhere in the world, they have led to significant negative consequences --consolidation of farms, massive debt for smallholders, and subsequent suicide epidemics. They did not reduce global hunger.

High tech inputs may be suitable for large mechanized industrial farms (although even here they present significant problems), but they are completely inconsistent with the needs of smallholders in the Global South. For example, while these technologies benefited those large farmers who were well-connected, they failed to address the politics of class. Patented GE seeds can not be legally replanted, shared with neighbors, or crossed with other varieties-the techniques that enabled these people to feed themselves for millennia.

The recent report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, prepared by the World Bank and the UN, refused to support the further industrialization and globalization of agriculture and, in particular, reliance on genetically engineered plants, because the analysis shows that this route is unlikely to achieve the goal of feeding a hungry world.

GE issues are intensely political, as are agricultural issues in general-hunger in Africa and elsewhere is at least partly attributable to problems with unequal global distribution of food, political instability, and international trade regimes. However, your article leaves out the various political and economic aspects of the problem; these will not be fixed by technological improvements in agriculture.

Given our concern with the global state of agriculture and food security, we encourage Scientific American to consider all factors contributing to world hunger and to feature non-genetically engineered approaches that combine agricultural science with social, political, and economic non-technological solutions in your pages.


Prof. Philip L. Bereano and Ashley Fent
on behalf of AGRA Watch, Seattle

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Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero

Ruiz Marrero is founder and director of the Puerto Rico Project on Biosafety.

The main argument of defenders of products derived from genetically modified organisms (GMO's) is that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined in 1992 that they are safe and therefore need no further safety testing.

The FDA refused to allow the public to view the internal documents related to these tests, which caused in 1998 a lawsuit by a coalition of civil society and public interest groups headed by the Alliance for Biointegrity demanding that these be made public. The judge ruled in the plaintiffs' favor, resulting in the release of over 44,000 pages of documents. These show that contrary to the agency's top officials' assurances, staff scientists had major misgivings about the safety of GM foods.

Continue reading "IS THE FDA DOING ITS JOB?" »

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domingo, septiembre 28, 2008


James Petras

Treasury Secretary Paulson and President Bush backed by the Democratic Congressional leadership have asked Congress for $700 billion dollars to bailout Wall Street financial institutions.

Over the past several years these banks reaped billions of dollars borrowing and speculating on mortgages, securities and other financial paper with virtually no capital covering their bets. With the fall in the housing market, Wall Street’s financial debts skyrocketed, the value of their holdings evaporated and they are saddled with trillions of dollars of debt.

Paulson, Bush and the Congressional leadership want the US taxpayer to buy Wall Street’s worthless private debts, saddling current and future generations of US taxpayers with worthless paper.

Paulson/Bush and the Congressional leaders falsely claim that failure to bailout the Wall Street swindlers will lead to the collapse of the financial system. In fact, almost 200 of our leading economists from the most prestigious universities reject Paulson’s bailout. The truth of the matter is that withholding funds to Wall Street will lead to the collapse of the swindler-speculator-run financial system, which created the current economic debacle.

The Federal Government can and should use the hundreds of billions of public money to establish a national, publicly controlled banking and investment system subject to oversight by elected representatives. The collapse of the current bankrupt financial system is both a threat and an opportunity: The collapse of this corrupt system has led to the loss of jobs and frozen credit and lending; the establishment of a new publicly owned banking system offers an opportunity to finance the priorities of the vast majority of the American people: the re-industrialization of our economy, a universal national health program, securing and extending social security into the next century, rebuilding our decaying infrastructure and many other programs essential to the American way of life.

The problem is not the false alternative of bailing out Wall Street or financial chaos and collapse: The real choice is between subsidizing swindlers or establishing a responsible, responsive and equitable publicly run financial system.

Ten Reasons to Oppose the Wall Street Bailout

1. In a market economy capitalists justify their profits by the risk of losses that they take. Gamblers cannot keep their profits and pass their losses to the taxpayers. They have to take responsibility for their bad decisions.

2. Much of the toxic (garbage) debts were based on fraudulent practices – opaque financial instruments unrelated to real assets (but which generated huge commissions). Bailing out swindlers only encourages more swindling.

3. The US Treasury will purchase worthless paper, the private banks will retain any assets of value. We buy the lemons, they drive the Cadillacs.

4. The chance of the Treasury recovering any value from their purchases of bad debt is near zero. The taxpayers will be stuck with paper with no buyers.

5. The long-term effect of a bailout will be to double the public debt and undercut funding for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education and public health programs while increasing the tax burden of future generations.

6. The dollar will devalue as the government debt will decrease its attractiveness overseas, increasing the cost of imports and resulting in an inflationary spiral which will further undermine working people’s living standards.

7. The channeling of funds to Wall Street will divert funds from getting us out of this deepening recession.

8. The bailout will deepen the financial crisis because, according to the Director of the Congressional Budget Office, it will expose the fact that many institutions may be carrying many more ‘toxic assets’ and reveal that those institutions are not solvent. In other words, the Treasury and Congress are freeing up bad debts to insolvent institutions.

9. The bailout is aimed at facilitating lending; but if the problem is not credit but (as the Congressional Budget Office has shown) the insolvency of the financial institutions, the solution is to create solvent financial institutions.

10. The bailout totally ignores the financial needs of 10 million homeowners facing foreclosures; the bankruptcy of small enterprises facing a credit crunch and the loss of workers’ jobs and health plans for their families because of the recession.

Alternatives to the Wall Street Bailout

The speed with which this gigantic amount of public funds had been made available by the Treasury and Congress puts the lie to their argument that popular programs cannot be funded or need to be cut back. In fact, investing $700 billion in the health and education of American workers will increase productivity, open markets and expand consumer power leading to a virtuous circle increasing public revenues and eliminating the budget and trade deficits.

Public funds invested in manufacturing, construction, education and health care leads to products with real use value and has a multiplier effect on the rest of the economy instead of ending up in the pockets of billionaires who speculate and invest in mergers and overseas buyouts.

The Treasury and Congress have inadvertently revealed that federal financing is readily available to rebuild the US economy, guarantee decent living wages and provide health care for everyone if we choose elective officials who are committed to the needs of the US workers and not the Wall Street billionaires.

James Petras is a Bartle Professor (Emeritus) of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York. He is the author of 63 books published in 29 languages, and over 560 articles in professional journals, including the American Sociological Review, British Journal of Sociology, Social Research, Journal of Contemporary Asia, and Journal of Peasant Studies. He has published over 2000 articles in nonprofessional journals such as the New York Times, the Guardian, the Nation, Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Policy, New Left Review, Partisan Review, Temps Moderne, Le Monde Diplomatique, and his commentary is widely carried on the internet. His publishers have included Random House, John Wiley, Westview, Routledge, Macmillan, Verso, Zed Books and Pluto Books. He is winner of the Life Time Career Award, Marxist Section, of the American Sociology Association, the Robert Kenny Award for Best Book, 2002, and the Best Dissertation, Western Political Science Association in 1968. His latest books are: Zionism, Militarism and the Decline of US Power, and Rulers and Ruled in the US Empire


sábado, septiembre 27, 2008

Are GMOs a solution to climate change and food crises?

Henk Hobbelink, GRAIN

(Henk Hobbelink, GRAIN)

Amila de Saram Larssen

This was the title of a recent seminar held in Oslo jointly organized by Norad and the Development Fund.

The meeting room was filled to capacity, leaving no doubt that the debate over the risks and benefits of GMOs is still raging, especially in Norway.

While several interesting perspectives on GMOs were presented, the seminar was dominated by voices critical of GMOs. Gunn Opsahl Sorteberg, professor of genetics and plant biology at the University of Agriculture, Ås, offered the sole pro-GMO perspective.

Henk Hobbelink, Coordinator of GRAIN, an international NGO promoting the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity, was the featured speaker and presented a brief history of GMOs. He also assessed the promises made by proponents of the “GMO Revolution” twenty years ago, promises of increased food security and sustainability.

Hobbelink pointed out that 5 large corporations dominate the market, producing a narrow range of GM crops that can be cultivated in only few countries. Also, just two traits have been developed, herbicide tolerance and insect resistance. He concluded that the promises of the GM Crop Revolution remain unfullfilled.

Opsahl Sorteberg agreed that GMOs were not “the” answer to mitigating climate change or the food crisis, but argued that it might offer some part of the solution. According to her, the GMO debate has become so politicized that it is no longer based on science and facts.

Casper Linnestad, Senior Advisor, the Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board outlined the guidelines Norway uses to assess new GMO applications and David Quist, Researcher at Genøk and visiting scientist at University of California, Berkeley presented a short commentary on the need to see GMOs not as a product or an ideology, but rather as a technical system. He also pointed out the hypocracy of countries such as Norway, that deem it unsafe to import GMO technology into the country, but advocate its use in other parts of the world.

Henk Hobbelink's presentation: Download henk_hobbelink.ppt

Gunn Opsahl Sorteberg's presentation: Download Hilde-gunn_Ppt0000001.pptx

Casper Linnestad's presentation: Download casper_linnestad_utviklingsfondet_norad_250908.pptm

David Quist's presentation: Download David_norad_25sept08_quist_v2.pptm

Michael Pollan and Monsanto CEO at Google on YouTube


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The Biosafety Protocol and the Future of Biosafety

Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero | September 25, 2008

Americas Policy Program, Center for International Policy (CIP)

More than a decade after the commercial introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops and foods, the controversy surrounding them only seems to grow, as documented in recent Americas Policy Program reports.1 What are the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of these crops? Are they safe for consumption?

These questions are especially relevant for Latin America, as it is the biggest GM-producing and exporting region in the world after the United States and Canada.2 Argentina and Brazil are, respectively, the second and third biggest producers of GM crops in the world, Paraguay ranks seventh, and Uruguay ninth. Argentina alone accounts for 19% of the world's total acreage planted in genetically modified crops.

What methodological tools exist to assess the risks of this new technology? Such methods, procedures, and lines of research have been gradually developed over the last two decades and are collectively known as "biosafety."

Biosafety—not to be confused with "food safety" or "biosecurity"—is a new and growing field dedicated specifically to addressing safety concerns raised by genetic engineering and GM organisms. It acknowledges that GM organisms are essentially different from their non-GM counterparts and that they therefore present unique and unprecedented hazards that call for appropriate safety assessment.

These concerns are addressed at the international level by the United Nations Biosafety Protocol, known also as the Cartagena Protocol.3 "For the first time in international law, there is an implicit recognition that GMOs are inherently different from naturally occurring organisms, and carry special risks and hazards, hence the need to have a legally binding international instrument," says Lim Li Lin, coordinator of the Third World Network's Biosafety Programme.4 "The Protocol recognizes that GMOs may have biodiversity, human health, and socio-economic impacts, and that these impacts should be risk assessed or taken into account when making decisions on GMOs."

The Protocol, signed by 147 countries as of summer 2008, was adopted in 2000 after years of contentious negotiations and entered into force in September 2003.5 Its ratification was achieved through the efforts of developing country delegations, organized as "the Like-Minded Group."

On the opposing side, the country delegations that did not want a legally binding protocol and were hostile to the very idea of biosafety, was "the Miami Group." This small but powerful group was led by the United States and included Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. None of the Miami Group members have signed the Protocol.6

To sign on to the Protocol, countries must also be members of the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), an international agreement for the protection and sustainable use of biodiversity signed by 191 countries as of summer 2008.7 The Convention was signed into existence at the UN Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit, which took place in Brazil in 1992. The Untied States has refused to sign either the CBD or the Protocol, but a number of GM crop producers have, including Brazil.8

The Protocol is negotiated regularly in sessions known as the Meeting of Parties (MOP). The MOPs take place right before the bi-annual CBD meeting, known as the Conference of the Parties (COP), which is why both events are known jointly as COP-MOPs. The most recent COP-MOP meetings took place in Curitiba, Brazil (2006) and Bonn, Germany (2008). The next one will be in Nagoya, Japan, in 2010.

The Protocol and the field of biosafety are based on the precautionary principle, a scientific concept that is meant to help with the protection of human health and the environment in the face of factors of risk and uncertainty. The principle holds that when society is weighing risks caused by human activities (such as the introduction of new technologies), lack of scientific certainty shall not be used as an excuse for not taking preventive action to protect human health and the environment.9 This principle is referred to in Article 1 of the Protocol and in Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration,10 a consensus document produced at the Earth Summit.

The Protocol puts the burden of proof on the promoters of new technologies rather than on those who express misgivings and warn about dangers. "Within the general use of technology it has been those who claim an existence of yet unproven effects who have had the burden of demonstrating that the activity in question is causing harm to health or the environment," says Anne Ingeborg Myhr of the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology.11 "With the employment of the precautionary principle, the burden of proof is shifted to the proponent who now needs to demonstrate that the activity is necessary and that it will not harm health or the environment. This is reflected in the Cartagena Protocol."

However, neither the Rio Declaration nor the Protocol mentions the words "precautionary principle." In both instances the U.S. delegation and its allies (in the case of the Protocol, the Miami Group) succeeded in blocking any mention of it, replacing it instead with the more ambiguous term "precautionary approach."

Thus, Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration reads: "In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation."

Furthermore, the Miami Group was able to eliminate any reference to genetically modified organisms and substitute them with the more vague term "living modified organisms."

SIDEBAR: Are Genetically Modified Products Safe or Not?

In spite of the assurances of the biotechnology industry and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to this day GM foods have not been proven to be safe. The FDA does not carry out its own studies on GM products. All it does is accept studies submitted by the biotech companies about their GM products. Most of these studies are confidential business information, and thus not subject to public scrutiny.

"Consultation with the FDA on GM food safety is a voluntary exercise, in which the agency receives summaries without data and conclusions without foundation," says researcher Jeffrey Smith in his book Genetic Roulette. "If the company claims that its foods are safe, the FDA has no further questions. Thus, GM varieties that have never been fed to animals in rigorous safety studies and probably never fed to humans at all are approved for sale in grocery stores."

The FDA "almost totally relies on voluntary notification by the biotechnology companies that they carried out their own safety assessment of the GM crops they want to release commercially," according to Hungarian scientists Arpad Pusztai and Susan Bardocz. "The FDA has no laboratory of its own and never underwrites the safety of GM crops/foods."

The agency carried out its own tests on GM foods only once. The now declassified documents of this inquiry show that staff scientists were divided over the safety of these products and that some of them openly expressed major misgivings about them. Nevertheless the FDA approved GM foods for consumer use.

The published scientific literature on the human health implications of GM foods consists of hardly more than 20 studies, an alarmingly low number. In a study published in Nutrition and Health, I. F. Pryme and R. Lembcke observe that studies on GM foods that are not funded by industry tend to find problems with serious human health implications while the industry-funded ones never find any problem. "Safety Testing and Regulation of Genetically Engineered Foods," a report by William Freese and David Schubert (Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews, 2004), concludes that the evaluation process for GM foods in the United States is not effective, as it is based on poor research and erroneous assumptions.

The few instances in which safety tests of GM foods carried out by industry have become public have given plenty of reason for concern. An internal Monsanto report leaked in 2005 revealed that rats fed the company's Mon 863 genetically modified corn had major health problems, including abnormally high white blood cell counts, liver necrosis, reduced kidney weight, and high blood sugar.

The genetic engineering issue is further complicated by the fact that its products are living organisms, which can—unlike the products of other technologies—reproduce and spread, in the case of plants by seeds or pollen. This process is known as genetic contamination. In the words of Swiss agricultural biologist Angelika Hilbeck, the "release of self-reproducible biological organisms is potentially irreversible and adds a dimension in complexity to previous technology introductions."

The GMO Contamination Register, an information service set up by Greenpeace International and Genewatch UK, has reported 142 instances of genetic contamination worldwide since 1996. Brazil is one of nine countries that have reported over five contamination incidents.

The furtive presence of GM corn in Mexico, where it is prohibited by law, was first reported in Nature magazine by University of California scientists Ignacio Chapela and David Quist in 2001. Pro-industry scientists and think tanks undertook a major campaign to discredit the Chapela-Quist findings, but in 2002 a study commissioned by the Mexican government found that as many as 95% of the corn fields in the states of Oaxaca and Puebla had GM contamination.

The Protocol's preamble reads: "In accordance with the precautionary approach contained in Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the objective of this Protocol is to contribute to ensuring an adequate level of protection in the field of the safe transfer, handling, and use of living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health, and specifically focusing on transboundary movements."

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jueves, septiembre 25, 2008

From the Climate Progress blog:

UK Ministry of Defence: Global warming goes on, deniers are deluded

The UK’s Met Office issued a blunt statement yesterday, “Global warming goes on,” that begins:

Anyone who thinks global warming has stopped has their head in the sand. The evidence is clear — the long-term trend in global temperatures is rising, and humans are largely responsible for this rise. Global warming does not mean that each year will be warmer than the last, natural phenomena will mean that some years will be much warmer and others cooler. You only need to look at 1998 to see a record-breaking warm year caused by a very strong El Niño. In the last couple of years, the underlying warming is partially masked caused by a strong La Niña. Despite this, 11 of the last 13 years are the warmest ever recorded.

Strong stuff from the UK’s official provider of climate and weather-related analysis, which is actually within the UK’s Ministry of Defence. The UK’s Guardian reported the story as “Met Office says climate change deniers deluded.”

The Met Office has put together an interesting figure to show that global warming has continued at a pace of 0.17°C per decade since 1975 (red line), although the decadal trends (blue lines) have fluctuated wildly.

Global average temperature anomaly 1975-2007

As the Met Office explains:

Average global temperatures are now some 0.75 °C warmer than they were 100 years ago. Since the mid-1970s, the increase in temperature has averaged more than 0.15 °C per decade. This rate of change is very unusual in the context of past changes and much more rapid than the warming at the end of the last ice age. Sea-surface temperatures have warmed slightly less than the global average whilst temperatures over land have warmed at a faster rate of almost 0.3 °C per decade.

Over the last ten years, global temperatures have warmed more slowly than the long-term trend. But this does not mean that global warming has slowed down or even stopped. It is entirely consistent with our understanding of natural fluctuations of the climate within a trend of continued long-term warming.

These natural fluctuations include the El Niño Southern Oscillations (ENSO) in the Pacific Ocean. In El Niño years - those when cold surface water is not apparent in the tropical eastern Pacific - global temperature is considerably warmer than normal. A particularly strong El Niño occurred in 1998 resulting in the warmest year on record across the globe. In La Niña years - when cold water rises to the surface of the Pacific Ocean - temperatures can be considerably colder than normal. Volcanic eruptions can also cause temporary drops in global temperatures because of huge amounts of dust thrown high into the atmosphere that reduce the amount of sunlight that reaches the surface. A La Nina was present throughout 2007 and much of 2008; — despite this temporary cooling, 2008 is still likely to be the seventh warmest on the global record.

current warming is being caused mainly by human emissions of greenhouse gases which have accumulated in the atmosphere and intensified the greenhouse effect by absorbing more of the thermal radiation emitted by the land and ocean. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in its most recent assessment in 2007 that increases in man-made greenhouse gas concentrations have ‘very likely’ caused most of the overall increase in global average temperatures since the mid 20th century.

The PDF brochure version is available here.

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Los peligros del doble discurso: el caso carbono neutral

El cambio climático es sin lugar a dudas la problemática ambiental más grave que sufre hoy en día la humanidad. El Grupo Intergubernamental de Expertos sobre el tema (IPCC) ha señalado en su último informe que la temperatura promedio de nuestro planeta ya empezó a incrementarse y podría elevarse entre 3 y 6 grados centígrados durante el presente siglo si no se logran reducciones de emisiones de Dióxido de Carbono (CO2) en el orden del 60-80%. Sin embargo, pese a la gravedad del tema, los gobiernos y las empresas a menudo lo abordan mediante el doble discurso. En vez de asumir con responsabilidad este desafío y promover reducciones reales y concretas de emisiones mediante la disminución del uso de combustibles fósiles se limitan a utilizar el juego de las compensaciones y mercados del carbono. Se mantienen de esta manera los mismos niveles de consumo y producción de CO2 mientras se compran a manera de indulgencia o con intención publicitaria las reducciones que supuestamente otros han llevado a cabo.

Mas que reducir emisiones de su fuente, el Carbono Neutral enfatiza la compensación mediante el comercio de las emisiones. El problema es que a menudo los créditos de carbono ( un crédito es igual a una tonelada de carbono que supuestamente se deja de emitir o se retira de la atmósfera) que se venden en los mercados no son tan confiables, ni tienen la "calidad" y los niveles de permanencia para garantizar que el clima no continúe por la ruta del calentamiento.

Uno de los esquemas de compensación utilizados, por ejemplo, está relacionado a la siembra de arbolitos. En teoría los arbolitos crecen y fijan en su madera carbono que toman de la atmósfera. A menudo se dice que sembrar 2 hectáreas de bosque tropical compensa el carbono emitido por europeo promedio durante un año. Pero no se especifica que no es bosque lo que se siembra si no plantaciones de monocultivos de árboles que hacen uso de grandes cantidades de insumos agropecuarios y destruyen la biodiversidad. A menudo también se dice que con $25 se financia la siembra de cinco arbolitos que compensan el carbón emitido durante un viaje en avión para llevar a cabo turismo C-neutral. Pero nadie garantiza el futuro de los arbolitos, no se sabe si son árboles grandes que ya fijaron el gas que se va a emitir o si por el contrario su siembra es apenas un proyecto; a menudo ni siquiera se garantiza la sobrevivencia del primer año. Mucho menos se informa si las compañías encargadas de la siembra desplazaron campesinos o indígenas para sembrar esos arbolitos.

No se reflexiona tampoco, sobre el hecho de que las cuentas de carbono no son para nada exactas, que las estimaciones de fijación de CO2 por parte de una plantación de árboles posee niveles altos de incertidumbre por lo que las emisiones del viajero tienen también una alta probabilidad de continuar flotando en la atmósfera.

En Costa Rica, la actual política oficial para enfrentar el Cambio Climático se limita al discurso C-Neutral. Se publicita la siembra de 5 millones de arbolitos durante el 2007, pero no se menciona que el 90 % fueron árboles de especies exóticos de crecimiento rápido que son sembrados por empresas como parte de su negocio regular. No se menciona tampoco que estos arbolitos van a ser cortados mediante tala rasa en un lapso relativamente corto y que una buena parte serán aprovechados en la fabricación de tarimas utilizadas en la exportación de frutas. Estas tarimas por lo general se desechan a los pocos días, liberando el carbono fijado. No es casual que la primera empresa en declararse C- Neutral fue justo una transnacional productora de fruta. La misma declaró que iba a neutralizar únicamente las emisiones producto del transporte terrestre de su fruta en Costa Rica mediante la compra de créditos de carbono a la institución que justamente subvenciona las plantaciones de arbolitos utilizados en la producción de tarimas.

En el fondo nada cambia. Mientras los mercados de carbono han crecido exponencialmente alcanzando tasas de crecimiento de hasta el 300 % en los últimos años, generando intercambios por montos que alcanzan varios cientos de millones de euros al año, las emisiones también han continuado creciendo exponencialmente mientras las inversiones en la producción de combustibles fósiles han tenido un incremento de un 70%, llegando a los 340 millones de euros anuales hacia la mitad de la década actual. En otras palabras, los mercados de carbono no nos están ayudando a disminuir nuestra dependencia a consumir combustibles fósiles.

Claro que conservar bosques y sembrar árboles nos ayuda a paliar el Cambio Climático. Por supuesto que los países industrializados cargan con una deuda ecológica y climática para con el resto del mundo. Pero el mercado libre y voluntario no es la manera de saldar esa deuda ni de financiar la conservación de bosques. Se deben establecer, a nivel internacional, cánones y regulaciones drásticas a la contaminación de la atmósfera. Se necesita crear, a partir de estos cánones, fondos internacionales de fomento a la restauración y conservación de bosques cuya administración incluya la participación de los pueblos indígenas y las comunidades relacionadas al bosque. Se requiere erradicar también la íntima relación que se ha gestado entre los gobiernos y las empresas del petróleo, del transporte y de la fabricación y comercialización de vehículos para empezar a fomentar políticas alternativas que nos desintoxiquen de los combustibles fósiles. Urge promover, tal y como lo señalan organizaciones ecologistas y campesinas en todo el mundo, la soberanía alimentaria sustentada en la parcela campesina , en sistemas agroforestales y en mercados locales, que reduzcan drásticamente las necesidades de transporte masivo de alimentos y de uso de agroquímicos que caracteriza la producción agropecuaria actual.

¡Hay mucho por hacer como para estar perdiendo el tiempo con el juego de las indulgencias climáticas y los mercados de carbono!; estos están atrasando los cambios estructurales que requieren las sociedades libres de combustibles fósiles y en el mejor de los casos no son sino un paliativo que permite perpetuar por unos añitos más el devastador modelo actual de desarrollo.

Comunidades Ecologistas la Ceiba-AT

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miércoles, septiembre 24, 2008

Growing Power’s Will Allen Honored with MacArthur Genius

by Anna Lappe, Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

We know that to revolutionize our food system we must reconnect people, especially those billions of urban dwellers, to the food that nourishes them. There is no better leader in this movement than Milwaukee’s Will Allen. And now, that’s not just my quirky opinion, it’s a view that’s been confirmed by the mucky-mucks at the MacArthur Genius Fellowship who chose Will among this year’s honorees. Congratulations Will!

From the 2008 MacArthur Fellows description:

Will Allen is an urban farmer who is transforming the cultivation, production, and delivery of healthy foods to underserved, urban populations. In 1995, while assisting neighborhood children with a gardening project, Allen began developing the farming methods and educational programs that are now the hallmark of the non-profit organization Growing Power, which he directs and co-founded. Guiding all is his efforts is the recognition that the unhealthy diets of low-income, urban populations, and such related health problems as obesity and diabetes, largely are attributable to limited access to safe and affordable fresh fruits and vegetables. Rather than embracing the “back to the land” approach promoted by many within the sustainable agriculture movement, Allen’s holistic farming model incorporates both cultivating foodstuffs and designing food distribution networks in an urban setting. Through a novel synthesis of a variety of low-cost farming technologies – including use of raised beds, aquaculture, vermiculture, and heating greenhouses through composting – Growing Power produces vast amounts of food year-round at its main farming site, two acres of land located within Milwaukee’s city limits. Recently, cultivation of produce and livestock has begun at other urban and rural sites in and around Milwaukee and Chicago. Over the last decade, Allen has expanded Growing Power’s initiatives through partnerships with local organizations and activities such as the Farm-City Market Basket Program, which provides a weekly basket of fresh produce grown by members of the Rainbow Farmer’s Cooperative to low-income urban residents at a reduced cost. The internships and workshops hosted by Growing Power engage teenagers and young adults, often minorities and immigrants, in producing healthy foods for their communities and provide intensive, hands-on training to those interested in establishing similar farming initiatives in other urban settings. Through these and other programs still in development, Allen is experimenting with new and creative ways to improve the diet and health of the urban poor.

Growing Power is a national nonprofit organization and land trust supporting people from diverse backgrounds, and the environments in which they live, by helping to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food for people in all communities. Growing Power implements this mission by providing hands-on training, on-the-ground demonstration, outreach and technical assistance through the development of Community Food Systems that help people grow, process, market and distribute food in a sustainable manner.

Our National Headquarters,

The Community Food Center

Urban Farm in Milwaukee

Greater Milwaukee Farm Sites

Urban Farms in Chicago

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Taken from

Caught Up in the Momentum

Physicists group urges U.S. to embrace energy efficiency

Posted on 17 Sep 2008

A group of some 46,000 physicists urged the United States on Tuesday to dramatically improve its energy efficiency in the interest of becoming more energy independent, saving money, and staving off climate change. The group, the American Physical Society, said of such a program, "the opportunities are huge and the costs are small." Smart folks. On the issue of climate, the group took the no-nonsense attitude you'd expect from a large group of professional scientists. "The physics and chemistry of the greenhouse-gas effect are well understood and beyond dispute. Science has also achieved an overwhelming consensus that the increase in greenhouse gases is largely of human origin," the group said. They also concluded that with current or almost-on-the-market technologies, buildings could be made dramatically more efficient -- enough to cut projected energy use in U.S. buildings 30 percent by 2030. The report recommended tougher state standards for commercial and residential buildings and also stressed the need for government to fund development of cheaper, more reliable batteries for electric cars.

source: Miami Herald

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martes, septiembre 23, 2008

A fine posting from the Climate Progress blog:

Matt Simmons: “John McCain is energy illiterate. He’s just witless about this stuff.”

If you follow peak oil — and if you don’t, you will be bitchslapped by reality — then you know of Matt Simmons. I was introduced to him several years ago by my former boss at the Energy Department. Back then Simmons was merely one of the savviest financier in the oil services business, who was presciently warning all who would listen that natural gas supplies in this country would not respond quickly to increased prices and thus we should expect some serious price spikes.

Today he is “The prophet of $500 oil” as Fortune described him Monday. Yet, long before he published his 2005 book, Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy, he was a “lifelong Republican” who “helped edit the Bush campaign’s comprehensive energy plan in the 2000 election.” The word “comprehensive” of course is a laughable term that I’m sure even Simmons would mock today for a plan that focused almost exclusively on supply.

Still, Simmons remains well connected to Republicans: “Maine’s Senator Susan Collins, a Republican who recently began consulting with Simmons on energy issues, says, “I think he’s issuing a clarion call that policymakers need to listen to.”

Simmons was right about natural gas, and he appears to be (mostly) right about peak oil (see below), so the nation should listen closely when he speaks truth to power about his party’s own nominee:

“John McCain is energy illiterate,” Simmons is saying. “He’s just witless about this stuff. As a lifelong Republican, I’m supporting Obama.” A dozen oil and gas men sitting around a conference table in Lafayette, La., chuckle nervously as he continues. “McCain says, ‘Oh, we’re going to wean ourselves off foreign oil in four years and build 45 nuclear plants by 2030.’ He doesn’t have a clue.”

… McCain’s midsummer move to begin campaigning on a platform of more offshore drilling has only hardened Simmons’s position. “What a hypocrite… Here’s a man who for at least the past 15 years has strenuously, I mean strenuously, opposed offshore drilling. And now it’s ‘drill, drill, drill.’ And he doesn’t have any idea that we don’t have any drilling rigs. Or that we don’t have any idea of exactly where to drill.” (As for McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, Simmons says: “She’s a very colorful person, but I don’t think there’s a scrap of evidence that she knows anything about energy.”)

Okay, Matt, but what do you really think about the GOP ticket?

I doubt we are going to see $500 oil for a long, long time, as I’ve told Matt. Every dollar a barrel increase translates roughly to 2.4 cents in the price of gasoline. So that would be $13 gas! The global economy will implode long before then. Even T. Boone Pickens suggested in his interview with me that the $300 a barrel he foresees by 2020 if we don’t adopt his plan would take a wrecking ball to the economy.

Frankly, $200 to $300 oil would be so shocking to the national and global economy, I don’t see much point in worrying about whether or not we could ever get to $500. I’ll look at the implications of even the “lower” prices in a later post.

Kudos to Simmons for calling McCain out (and a shout out to A. Siegel).

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Conservation Corp.: Enviros Ally with Big Grain Traders

By Christine MacDonald

Judson Barros lives in the state of Piauí in northwestern Brazil — a region known as El Cerrado that is traditionally dominated by dirt poor family farms and tropical woodland savannahs. It’s a stunted, scruffy landscape often overshadowed by the larger and more romanticized Amazon jungle to its west. But it is nonetheless important as Brazil’s second-largest ecosystem. Scientists say it is one of the most biologically diverse savannahs on the planet.

In 2003, New York-based agribusiness company Bunge Ltd. opened a soybean-crushing factory in the city of Uruçuí in the south of the state. In search of cheap land, a few commercial soybean farmers had already moved into Piauí from soy-growing strongholds in southern Brazil. Once the Bunge plant arrived, the conversion of Piauí’s Cerrado into industrial farmland began in earnest. The state’s soybean cultivation nearly tripled over the next three years. Such was the rush to expand the agricultural frontiers that new fields were often cleared without the proper land titles and required environmental permits. By 2006, soybeans became the state’s number-one cash crop.

To clear the land, plantation owners commonly stretch a long chain between two bulldozers and rip out the vegetation along their path. Then the roots and top layer of soil are swept together and set on fire. Trucks cart off the native wood to be burned as fuel at the Bunge plant. With help from state officials, the company obtained a 15-year tax holiday for the factory and permission to burn all the savannah hardwood within a 17-mile radius of the plant, eventually extending its wood purchasing to a 100-kilometer, or 62-mile, radius. Once all the native wood is gone, Bunge says it will switch to eucalyptus plantation wood that it is having grown just for this purpose. “It’s a fairly common practice in Brazil that people use biomass of a variety of types to fuel the plants, and that’s what we’re doing,” says Stuart Lindsay, director of global communications for Bunge.

Barros, president of the nonprofit Fundação Águas do Piauí (the Waters of Piauí Foundation, known as Funaguas) was outraged by this plan. So Funaguas teamed with the attorneys general offices of both the state and federal governments and sued Bunge, charging it had neglected to adequately study the environmental impact of its operations, as required by Brazilian law. A federal judge ruled in the group’s favor and ordered the company to find a more environmentally friendly alternative to the firewood. But when Bunge executives threatened to close the factory and leave the state, a judicially approved deal was cut that allowed the company to keep burning the firewood.

Funaguas filed a formal objection to the ruling in 2004. The group has also publicly denounced Bunge, alleging its involvement in an array of environmental and human rights offenses.

Funaguas’ fight with the multinational hasn’t made Barros popular among plantation owners and their farmhands. He has received death threats and has been burned in effigy. And he’s fighting civil lawsuits for the equivalent of $1 million that Bunge filed for alleged “moral damage” to its reputation. Lindsay says the company filed the suit “because of statements that were made implying that we were engaged in unlawful activity. We deny those claims and took legal action against Mr. Barros to see that those types of statements were not made anymore.”

Facing intimidation tactics, death threats and even lawsuits is nothing out of the ordinary for activists in developing countries who take on powerful economic interests.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of Barros’ fight with Bunge is that he’s found himself in conflict with one of the largest environmental groups in the world, Conservation International (CI). CI, a suburban Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit with operations in 40 countries, counts Bunge among its corporate sponsors.

CI officials in Washington say they are unaware of any organizational efforts to support Bunge in its dispute with Barros, but Barros says CI officials in Brazil have pressured him to end Funaguas’ campaign against the company. CI staff were also at Bunge’s side in a May 2005 meeting, where the company offered to drop its $1 million lawsuits if Funaguas would withdraw its objections to the Piauí operation. According to an official account published by CEBRAC, a Brazilian organization for soy growers that mediated the meeting, CI officials also made a presentation highlighting Bunge’s commitment to CI’s conservation work in the region.

For Barros, Bunge’s partnership with CI only serves to obscure human and environmental costs of Bunge’s expansion. “In Piauí, CI is good for nothing. It just gives a seal of approval to Bunge’s brutality,” says Barros, who resisted the pressure and finally won an important victory earlier this year. In March 2008, a Brazilian appellate tribunal ruled in favor of Funaguas allegations that Bunge’s use of firewood violates the country’s environmental law.

The ruling hasn’t stopped Bunge from burning up the local savannah, however. The company continues to run the plant on firewood, maintaining that it is the most environmentally friendly option available. It vows it will ultimately win the case on appeal.


lunes, septiembre 22, 2008

Here comes $500 oil

If Matt Simmons is right, the recent drop in crude prices is an illusion - and oil could be headed for the stratosphere. He's just hoping we can prevent civilization from imploding.

By Brian O'Keefe, senior editor
Last Updated: September 22, 2008: 4:43 PM EDT

Matt Simmons argues that Saudi Arabia's oil supplies are much more limited than everyone thinks.

(Fortune Magazine) -- Matt Simmons is as perplexed as anyone that it has fallen to him to take on OPEC, Exxon, the Saudis, and all the other misguided defenders of conventional wisdom in the oil patch. Why should one investment banker with a penchant for research be required to point out what he regards as the obvious - that from here on out, oil supplies can't meet demand, and if we don't act soon to solve this crisis, World War III could be looming?

Why should a man who scorns most environmentalists have to argue that locally grown produce and wind power are the way of the future? Why should a lifelong Republican need to be the one to point out that his party's new mantra - "Drill, baby, drill!" - won't really fix anything and that his party's presidential candidate is clueless about energy? That the spike in oil prices earlier this year wasn't a temporary market anomaly and the recent retreat in prices is just a misleading calm before a calamitous storm? That we're headed toward $500-a-barrel oil?

"I find it ironic that here we have the biggest industry on earth, and I'm one of the few people to figure out that we have a major problem," he says, in his confident if not quite brash way. "And I did it all in my spare time. How stupid and tragic is that? I shouldn't be one of the only folks that actually has a handful of ideas of how we can keep from blowing each other up and get through this."

Indeed, Simmons isn't the obvious candidate to be the bearer of bad news about oil. He's spent his career working in the business, has lived in Houston for decades, and is such an industry insider that he helped edit the Bush campaign's comprehensive energy plan in the 2000 election - the document that was ultimately more or less rubber-stamped by Vice President Dick Cheney's infamous secret Energy Task Force. Over the past 35 years, his boutique investment bank, Simmons & Co., has helped finance and shape much of the country's existing oil-services business. With profits gushing, you might expect him to be celebrating.

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Slow Food Nation interview: Deborah Koons Garcia

Future of Food director on 'making soil sexy'

Posted by Tom Philpott at 1:08 PM on 16 Sep 2008

Filmmaker Deborah Koons Garcia burst onto the sustainable-food scene with her 2004 documentary the Future of Food, a biting, well-researched indictment of Monsanto and genetically modified food. I caught up with her at Slow Food Nation to discuss her current project, a documentary about a topic dear to my heart: soil.

You can watch Koons Garcia's documentary online for free after the jump...

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Biotech Snake Oil: A Quack Cure for Hunger

Rising global food prices reached a flash point this spring, sparking food riots in over a dozen countries. Mexican tortillas have quadrupled in price; Haiti's prime minister was ousted amid rice riots; African countries were especially hard hit. According to the World Bank, global food prices have risen a shocking 83 percent over the past three years. And for the world's poor, high prices mean hunger.

The global food crisis has many causes, but according to the biotechnology industry, there's a simple solution - genetically modified, or biotech, crops. Biotech multinationals have been in media blitz mode ever since the food crisis first made headlines, touting miracle crops that will purportedly increase yields, tolerate droughts, grow in saline soils, and be chockfull of nutrients, to boot.

"If we are to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of cutting hunger and poverty in half by 2015," says Clive James, founder of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), an organization whose funders include all the major biotech companies, "biotech crops must play an even bigger role in the next decade."

Not everyone is convinced. In fact, the UN and World Bank recently completed an unprecedentedly broad scientific assessment of world agriculture, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which concluded that biotech crops have very little potential to alleviate poverty and hunger. This four-year effort, which engaged some 400 experts from multiple disciplines, originally included industry representatives. Just three months before the final report was released, however, Monsanto, Syngenta and chemical giant BASF pulled out of the process, miffed by the poor marks given their favorite technology. This withdrawal upset even the industry-friendly journal Nature, which chided the companies in an editorial entitled, "Deserting the Hungry?"

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