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Guarani children working on the sugar cane fields. © Survival International
June 2012

Shell drops biofuels plan after Brazilian Indian protest

cane from land stolen from an indigenous tribe, thanks to a dynamic campaign by the Indians and Survival International. The company, Raizen, was established in 2010 as a joint venture of Shell and the Brazilian ethanol giant Cosan to produce biofuel from sugar cane. But some of its sugar cane is grown on land that belongs to the Guarani tribe, one of the most persecuted and impoverished in South America. Their leaders have been repeatedly killed by gunmen on behalf of the sugar cane growers and cattle ranchers who have taken over almost all their land. Now Raizen has agreed to stop buying sugar cane from land declared as indigenous by the Ministry of Justice.

sources: REDD+ monitor
Survival International

Iguazu Falls, Brazil. © gary yim/
March 2010

The real importance of the Amazon rainforest

Peter Bunyard, the science editor of The Ecologist and of Science in Society, has published an article called 'The Real Importance of the Amazon Rain Forest'. He hopes to draw attention to the work of two scientists from the St Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute who show to what unexpected extent the rainforests are responsible not only for the moist, fertile climate of South America and Central Africa, but the equilibrium of world climate.

The research by A.M. Makarieva and V.G. Gorshkov, the Russian scientists, challenges the established views of climatologists and renders all current computer simulations regarding 'global warming' incomplete and inaccurate. Hence they have been adamantly ignored by the scientific community.

Bunyard states that 'the implications of Makarieva and Gorshkov's thesis are enormous; essentially it means that South America cannot do without its rainforests' …and neither can we in the northern hemisphere.


source: Peter Bunyard, The Real Importance of the Amazon Rain Forest, ISIS Report, 15/03/2010
string: All climate models questionable!, Amazon deforestation fails to improve local life

map showing the deforestation of Borneo
Aug 2009

Biofuel destroys rainforests

Biofuel can be derived from dozens of crops but most companies choose palm oil because usually it is cheaper than the more sustainable alternatives such as rapeseed. Unfortunately, palm oil is one of the most environmentally damaging 'biofuels'.

Governments like the British under Tony Blair signed up too early for huge palm oil biofuel deals which have since begun to lead to unprecedented rainforest destruction.

By the way, palm oil is very likely to be found as well in your margarine, bread, biscuits and candy bars — frequently listed as "vegetable oil" in the ingredients. But it is the oil for motoring that makes the difference globally: in Britain alone, the major twelve oil companies supplied a total of 123 million litres of palm oil to filling stations in the year to April, according to official figures obtained by The Times (15 Aug 2009).

Under a European Union initiative aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, 3.25 per cent of the total amount of fuel sold by each oil company must be biofuel. The proportion is due to rise to 13 per cent by 2020.

But this concept backfires most drastically because vast tracts of rainforest are cleared to create biofuel plantations. The burning of the rainforest releases so much carbon stored in the trees and the soil that it would take up to 840 years for a palm oil plantation to soak up that carbon!

In practice most companies meet the obligation by adding biofuel to diesel, creating a blend that contains about 5 per cent biofuel. But the major oil companies avoid declaring what type of land has been used to grow their biofuel. They are obliged to submit a sustainability report but in the section on the previous use of the land are allowed to say 'unknown'. Pressure, however, increases to use only certified sources.

To keep a constant eye on the rainforest visit Rainforest Rescue

Further reading:
The guilty secrets of palm oil: Are you unwittingly contributing to the devastation of the rain forests?, The Independent, 2 May 2009
Southeast Asia Paying High Environmental Cost For Palm Oil

tropical deforestation and landscape fragmentation in Colombia, mostly due to coca crops. ©
March 2009

Drug production kills trees and people

Since the United States and the UN 'took over' Afghanistan from the Taliban, the annual opium production has increased over 5400 per cent – 150 tonnes in 2001, 8200 tonnes in 2007. The 2007 harvest produced about 820 tonnes of heroin and at the Uzbekistan border, UN troops found themselves in the strange position of having to wave through the convoys of black jeeps. All this land growing poppies cannot be used for food production or reforestation! The chemical waste products of the heroin labs pollute additional land.

Worse for the trees is the situation in Latin American countries ruled by cocaine. Here, unlike in Afghanistan, US involvement has actually helped to destroy 1.15 million hectares of coca, but in Colombia for one, production has not actually fallen. In March 2009, 'Latin America declares war on drugs a failure' (The Guardian Weekly, 13 March 09, pp1-2).

In Latin America, armed groups seeking new land for coca are clearing rainforests killing and evicting the inhabitants. 'Some 270,000 Colombians were forced to flee their homes in the first half of 2008' (The Guardian Weekly), the situation in Venezuela is equally bad.

The Colombian government has created a website for 'Awareness about cocaine's ecocide in Colombia'. Note: This website disappeared in late 2012 – now that's worrying!

veils of rain over forest landscape. © Dudarev Mikhail/
Oct 2008

Tree vapours cool planet

Forests store carbon and help in this way to prevent global warming. But they do more: scientists in the UK and Germany have now discovered that trees release a chemical that thickens clouds above them, which then reflect more sunlight and cool the Earth more sufficiently.

The scientists looked at chemicals called terpenes that are released from boreal forests across northern regions such as Canada, Scandinavia, Russia and Siberia. But other trees also produce terpenes so the cooling effect should be found in other regions too, including the tropical rainforests.

The terpenes react in the air to form tiny particles called aerosols. The particles help turn water vapour in the atmosphere into clouds. The particles released by pine forests, for example, double the thickness of clouds some 1,000m above the forests, which causes them to reflect an extra 5% sunlight back into space. 'It might not sound a lot, but that is quite a strong cooling effect. … It gives us another reason to preserve forests,' says Dominick Spracklen of the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science at Leeds University.

The research suggests that the destruction of old-growth forests could accelerate global warming more than was thought, and that protecting existing trees could be one of the best ways to tackle the problem.

source: David Adam, Chemical released by trees can help cool planet, scientists find, The Guardian, 31 October 2008

clearfelling in the Brazilian rainforest. © Edward Parker
Jul 2003

USA to start global initiative against illegal logging

The USA have started a global initiative against illegal logging and hence for the preservation of the tropical rainforests. Foreign Affairs Minister Colin Powell made public on Monday the fact that Third World countries will now be aided in their fight against the illegal timber trade. The US would support local police forces and supply modern technologies to monitor activities in the woodlands.

The initiative focuses on the Congo and the Amazon, as well as the tropical forests in Latin America and south-east Asia. As an example, Powell mentioned Liberia, whose president Charles Taylor used illegal timber trade profits to buy weapons. According to estimates by the World Bank, developing countries lose 10 to 15 billion dollars annually to illegal logging.

source: dpa [German press agency], July 29, 2003

The German Minister for the Environment, Juergen Trittin, pointed out the importance of the role of Germany and the European Union in the conservation of the last tropical rainforests. The EU supports a comprehensive approach for efficient conservation of the rainforests. He describes the latest American initiative as half-hearted. 'It is not enough to supply developing countries with surveillance technology. Only a more far-reaching approach, encompassing financial aids, sensitizing the buyers' market for illegal products, and a system of benefits and sanctions, can limit the illegal logging of the rainforests effectively.' (The German government finances forest projects in the developing world with over 125 million Euro, £83m, annually.)

source: dpa [German press agency], July 30, 2003

U'wa leader praying. © Amazon Watch
May 2002

Oilfield in Colombia disappears after Indio prayers

In 1995, the US oil company Occidental Petroleum, Oxy, bought the concessions to mine for oil – in one of Latin America's supposedly biggest oilfields – at the border of the territory of the U'wa tribe in north-eastern Colombia.

Near the bore hole, the natives started to pray to their god Sira, asking to hide the oil from the white man, deep in the underworld. And indeed, no more oil could be found. The company has spent about 100 million dollars since, drilling to a depth of 3600 metres (!) but the oil is gone. And Oxy is leaving for good.

Is it possible for an entire oil field to disappear? No question for the U'wa tribespeople. 'The king of money is merely an illusion,' they say. Capitalism which destroys everything reckons us crazy. And that's what we'd like to remain, if it allows us to keep on living on our beloved Mother Earth.' In their cosmology, the oil is the 'blood of the Earth'. It rests in the depth where the earthquakes come from and holds all life in equilibrium.

Over just a few decades, the U'wa have been heavily decimated to about 5,000 people by diseases imported by the white man. The neighbouring tribes call them the 'thinking people' and their noble task is to 'sing the world into being every morning'. In 1996 their fight was supported by a young Californian eco-activist, Terry Freitas, who was murdered three years later. But by then the U'wa had already matured to global eco-heroes by making efficient use of the internet, road blockades, and court hearings. Two years ago they exposed US vice president Al Gore who had inherited Oxy shares from his father.

Now, the Colombian state company Ecopetrol has announced its intention to go looking for the oil themselves.

source: Der Spiegel [German news magazine], no. 21, 2002
string: Protecting the Rainforest: The U'Wa Defence Project

Berito Cobaria. © Amazon Watch
Nov 2001

Protecting the Rainforest: The U'Wa Defense Project

The U'wa people are an indigenous people living in the cloud forests of northeastern Colombia. They have been engaged since 1992 in an ongoing struggle to prevent oil drilling on their land. For the U'wa, oil is the blood of the Earth and that to extract it is equivalent to committing matricide.

Their representative to the outside world in this struggle, Berito KuwarU'wa, won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1998. In 2001 he was quoted on the website of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation:

'Each time that a species is extinguished, humankind approaches its own extinction; each time an Indigenous people becomes extinct, one more member of the great human family leaves forever on a journey with no return… Perhaps before greed takes root in us we will be able to see the wonder of the world and the greatness of the universe that extends beyond the diameter of a coin.'

The struggle of the U'wa continues…

string: Oilfield in Colombia disappears after Indio prayers

viruses. © psdesign1/
Oct 1998

Epidemics vs. intact rainforest

The destruction of the tropical rainforest is often accompanied by the outbreak of new unknown diseases. An unknown virus, for example, was discovered in the blood of the workmen who cut the road from Belém to Brasília through the jungle in 1950. Subsequently, 11,000 people fell ill with high fever and muscle pains. And the construction of the railtrack from Lima to La Oroya in Peru resulted in an outbreak of the so-called 'Oroya fever'. The origin of the Aids virus, too, is thought to lie in the tropical rainforest.

The high biodiversity of the rainforest also promotes a high potential for unknown viruses – which can be set free by the ecological destabilisation of these areas. In Latin America, the extinction of big cats and the expansion of agriculture led to a massive increase of rodents, and hence of the Machupo virus. Other epidemics, like the Rift Valley fever, can be traced to the spreading of huge cattle herds and the explosion of mosquito populations that often accompanies clearfelling. 'A change of host, for example from rodent to human,' says virologist Kurt Roth of the Georg-Speyer-Haus, an Aids research institute in Frankfurt, 'is favoured by a preceding mass increase of the virus population because the chances of successful mutations are growing too.'

source: GEO [German equivalent to National Geographic]