Thursday, January 31, 2008

Extraordinary vessels make offshore wind energy projects possible

Ever wonder what it takes to actually install wind turbines in the water? It's a pretty neat engineering feat. The following account will give you a since of what's involved. It will also help you understand why offshore wind project costs are higher than onshore projects.

By the way, there are no offshore wind purpose-built vessels in the U.S. and the Jones Act of 1920 prohibits any would-be developer from importing one from the overseas. That protectionist law stipulates that only local ships built in American shipyards can be used for transporting goods domestically. (GW)

Ships on legs

By Giancarlo Rinaldi
BBC News
January 30, 2008

Rising from stormy seas, the giant turbine towers of an offshore wind farm seem almost miraculous to the untrained eye. But how do you put them there?

Most boats do not have legs. But a jack-up barge has six, protruding high into the air when the ship is in transit.

Extending to a length of 48m from the bottom of the ship, and penetrating up to 5m into the sea bed, the "legs" of these ships provide a stable "ground" in a place where there is only roiling water.

As the legs push down, the ship is lifted above the waves. Purpose-built at a Chinese shipyard, the £60m jack-up barge MPIO Resolution is an extraordinary piece of engineering in itself.

With a solid platform achieved, the windmill is fixed into place using a crane from the ship.

These procedures are becoming more common as the drive goes on to increase wind power.

If government targets are to be met, the UK could have as many as 7,000 offshore wind turbines by 2020. In the process, it would increase the amount of energy produced by that means about 60-fold.

The building of each offshore site tends to be contentious, with complaints about disruption to wildlife and eyesores.

And after surmounting any planning concerns, the big engineering question of putting the turbines in place remains.

The giant jack-up barges are purpose-built for the expanding industry and one such vessel is the £60m MPIO Resolution.

Its most recent appointment has been to help with construction of the 60-turbine Robin Rigg scheme in the Solway Firth, about six miles off the south west coast of Scotland.

In August last year, the £325m scheme's progress was delayed by the late arrival of another jack-up barge, the Lisa A.

Then 38 workers had to be rescued from Lisa A after it started to list dangerously. It was taken to Belfast to undergo checks and the Resolution was drafted in.

The barge itself is a major piece of construction to overcome the difficulties of working at sea.

The vessel was purpose-built at the Shanhaigun Shipyard in China and delivered to the UK in February 2004.

On average, it takes about 24 to 36 hours to install wind turbine foundations from a vessel like the Resolution.

At locations where drilling is required, it can taking closer to three days.

Then the vessel often has to wait for high water to allow it to move to the site of the next turbine.

Finally, it can return to fit the rest of the structure - usually in a period of about 24 hours for each turbine.

E.ON, the company behind the Robin Rigg project, has been philosophical about the difficulties encountered in the Solway.

"The offshore environment does present a number of challenges that you don't face onshore," said a company spokesman.

"However, offshore wind does offer a number of advantages such as the potential to build larger and more powerful wind farms.

"Certainly the availability of vessels capable of carrying out offshore work is an issue.

"And there's always the possibility that bad weather and high seas can affect construction, but the more we learn about building these projects the easier it will become."

Offshore wind farms like Robin Rigg play a key role in helping the UK deliver its renewable energy targets, E.ON believes, and in teaching lessons for the next generation of bigger, more powerful wind farms.

Which may mean we see more massive jack-up barges patrolling the waters around the UK in years to come.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"God made all of us, we need his help"

Commenting on the recent violence in Kenya Dr Glenn Denning, senior research Scholar at the Earth Institute at Columbia University and director of the Institute's Millennium Development Goals Center in Nairobi notes that "[t]here is growing recognition that too little has been done to harness the potential of agriculture and rural development in fighting extreme poverty on the continent. And there is growing appreciation that the conflicts of Darfur and, more recently, Kenya are as much the result of rural neglect and environmental degradation as they are the consequence of deep ethnic discord."

It will be interesting to see how the world responds to this terrible crisis. Last week that Bill Gates announced
that he was giving US$306 million to use green technology and farming techniques to boost millions of Africans and South Asians out of hunger and poverty.

Where is the rest of the world? (GW)

Ethnic Violence in Rift Valley Is Tearing Kenya Apart

NAKURU, Kenya — Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, may seem calm, but anarchy reigns just two hours away.

In Nakuru, furious mobs rule the streets, burning homes, brutalizing people and expelling anyone not in their ethnic group, all with complete impunity.

On Saturday, hundreds of men prowled a section of the city with six-foot iron bars, poisoned swords, clubs, knives and crude circumcision tools. Boys carried gladiator-style shields and women strutted around with sharpened sticks.

The police were nowhere to be found. Even the residents were shocked.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said David Macharia, a bus driver.

One month after a deeply flawed election, Kenya is tearing itself apart along ethnic lines, despite intense international pressure on its leaders to compromise and stop the killings.

Nakuru, the biggest town in the beautiful Rift Valley, is the scene of a mass migration now moving in two directions. Luos are headed west, Kikuyus are headed east, and packed buses with mattresses strapped on top pass one another in the road, with the bewildered children of the two ethnic groups staring out the windows at one another.

In the past 10 days, dozens of people have been killed in Molo, Narok, Kipkelion, Kuresoi, and now Nakuru, a tourist gateway which until a few days ago was considered safe.

In many places, Kenya seems to be sliding back toward the chaos that exploded Dec. 30, when election results were announced and the incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, was declared the winner over Raila Odinga, the top opposition leader, despite widespread evidence of vote rigging.

The tinder was all there, even before the voting started. There were historic grievances over land and deep-seated ethnic tensions, with many ethnic groups resenting the Kikuyus, Mr. Kibaki’s group, because they have been the most prosperous for years.

The disputed election essentially served as the spark, and opposition supporters across Kenya vented their rage over many issues toward the Kikuyus and other ethnic groups thought to have supported Mr. Kibaki.

In the Rift Valley, local elders organized young men to raid Kikuyu areas and kill people in a bid to drive the Kikuyus off their land. It worked, for the most part, and over the past month, tens of thousands of Kikuyus have fled.

More than 650 people, many of them Kikuyus, have been killed. Many of the attackers are widely believed to be members of the Luo and Kalenjin ethnic groups.

What is happening now in Nakuru seems to be revenge. The city is surrounded by spectacular scenery, with Lake Nakuru and its millions of flamingos drawing throngs of tourists each year. The city has a mixed population, like much of Kenya, split among several ethnic groups including Kikuyus, Luos, Luhyas and Kalenjins.

On Thursday night, witnesses and participants said, bands of Kikuyu men stormed into the streets with machetes and homemade weapons and began attacking Luos and Kalenjins.

Paul Karanja, a Kikuyu shopkeeper in Nakuru, explained it this way: “We had been so patient. For weeks we had watched all the buses and trucks taking people out of the Rift Valley, and we had seen so many of our people lose everything they owned. Enough was enough.”

In a Nakuru neighborhood called Free Area, hundreds of Kikuyu men burned down homes and businesses belonging to Luos, Mr. Odinga’s ethnic group. The Luos who refused to leave were badly beaten, and sometimes worse. According to witnesses, a Kikuyu mob forcibly circumcised one Luo man who later bled to death. Circumcision is an important rite of passage for Kikuyus but is not widely practiced among Luos.

The Luos and the Kalenjins, who have been aligned throughout the post-election period, then counterattacked, resulting in a citywide melee with hundreds wounded and as many as 50 people killed.

By Friday night, the Kenyan military was deployed for the first time to intervene. Local authorities also placed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on Nakuru, another first.

Many people in Free Area, which is now almost totally Kikuyu, say it will be difficult to make peace.

“We’re angry and they’re angry,” said John Maina, a stocky butcher, whose weapon of choice on Saturday was a three-foot table leg with exposed screws. “I don’t see us living together any time soon.”

That is the reality across much of Kenya, and it seems to be nothing short of so-called ethnic cleansing. Mobs in Eldoret, Kisumu, Kakamega, Burnt Forest and countless other areas, including some of the biggest slums in Nairobi, have driven out people from opposing ethnic groups. Many neighborhoods that used to be mixed are now ethnically homogeneous.

Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the United Nations, visited the Rift Valley on Saturday. He called it “nerve-racking.”

“We saw people pushed from their homes and farms, grandmothers, children and families uprooted,” said Mr. Annan, who is in Kenya trying to broker negotiations between Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga.

He called for the Kenyan government to investigate the attackers and increase security.

On Saturday, Kenyan soldiers in Free Area escorted Luos back to their smoldering homes and stood guard with their assault rifles as the people sifted through the ruins and salvaged whatever they could before leaving.

Many Luos said they had no choice but to go to far western Kenya, the traditional Luo homeland, just as many Kikuyus who have been displaced said they would resettle in the highlands east of Nakuru, their traditional homeland.

Mr. Macharia, the bus driver, who is Kikuyu, conceded that many Kikuyus were feeling vengeful. But he said it does not mean they actually want to fight. “I saw it myself,” he said. “The elders called ‘Charge!’ but not all the boys charged.”

Still, enough did charge that the Luos who used to live in Free Area were not taking any chances. On Saturday afternoon, hundreds of people carrying trunks on their heads and bags of blankets streamed toward a government office that was protected by a few soldiers.

Nancy Aloo, a Luo, was guiding four frightened young children.

“God made all of us,” Ms. Aloo said. “We need his help.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ontario bidding to be the world leader in offshore wind energy

It really is just a matter of time before offshore wind energy takes off in North America in a very big way. The question is: exactly where will it happen first and who will be the recipient of the economic benefits resulting from its development?

As I noted in a post a week ago, after seven grueling years, Cape Wind is in the final stages of its federal review here in the U.S. According to Jim Gordon, the project's developer 130 turbines could be in full operation off the coast of Cape Cod as soon as 2011. With projects off the coasts of Long Island, New York and San Padre Island, Texas having been shelved Ontario, Canada may be Cape Wind's main competition to be the first offshore wind project on this side of the Atlantic. (GW)

Offshore wind power project will make Ontario a global leader
Construction challenges posed by Ontario’s largest offshore wind development are an opportunity to harness building expertise in this area, says the project’s president.

“A signature project like ours will help put Ontario into the global sphere of renewable energy,” says John Kourtoff, Trillium Power president and chief administrative officer. “There is an opportunity to not just set up a construction and supply chain for North America but it could help Europe as well.”

The provincial government has lifted a 14-month moratorium on offshore development after studying the potential environmental impacts on wildlife, aquatic species and bird migration routes. Offshore wind farms have been built and are on the books for Denmark, the United Kingdom and British Columbia.

Trillium intends to build a 140-turbine offshore wind farm between 20 to 25 kilometres from the Prince Edward County shoreline in Eastern Ontario. The wind farm would generate 710 megwatts of power, enough to power 250,000 homes in Ontario.

When news of the moratorium being lifted broke, some companies with construction and development expertise in offshore wind farms warned that a wait-and-see approach was needed. AIM Group and Northland Power said the construction and logistical costs for building offshore in the Great Lakes need to be investigated.

A three-year worldwide backlog in turbine supply and the Great Lakes not having a jack-up barge readily available were cited as two main challenges.

Kourtoff is confident that the Trillium project is big enough to meet these challenges.

“We never expected to buy our turbines and towers from Europe,” says Kourtoff. “We never counted on that. Current offshore projects have been relatively small and not large enough to induce a manufacturer to come here. There is a lot of capacity in the North American steel and manufacturing sectors.”

Kourtoff says turbines could be built at DMI Industries’ Fort Erie location, Ontario’s first wind-tower plant. Steel towers could also be built in Ontario thanks to steel availability in Hamilton. A tower’s composite fibre blades could be built in Sarnia. Ontario companies such as Bermingham Foundations, which specialize in project planning, supplying equipment, contracting and testing foundations worldwide, are also available locally to connect with.

Trillium intends to build a jack-up barge of its own to help with construction of its wind farm, notes Kourtoff. A jack-up barge can stand still on a lake bed, move up and down via hydraulics, and act as a diving or construction platform. “For a project our size, we will need a barge also for servicing and maintenance,” says Kourtoff. “We could also look at leasing out our barge to help other projects building offshore.”

Wind at Trillium’s project site has been measured at nine metres per second and in recent storms reached top speeds of 110 km/h. There are no shipping lanes in the area and the wind farm will create a “reef effect” for aquatic life. Also, bird flight patterns on the Great Lakes are generally along the shore and rarely reach out into the middle of the lake, Kourtoff says.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The promise of "green collar" jobs

I'm not sure if it's purely an American phenomenon, but it seems as if every time a new promising idea emerges that has the potential for addressing a serious problem we either hail it as the solution or criticize it for not being a panacea.

Renewable energy is a case in point. Technologies such as wind, solar and biomass are clearly part of the answer to meeting the nation's energy needs and addressing the threat of global climate change. But in order to realize their full potential, these technologies must be joined at the hip with major energy efficiency/conservations initiatives.

Likewise with clean energy (aka "green collar") jobs. In many states the clean energy sector (jobs related to the planning, development, production and installation of energy efficiency/conservation measures and renewable energy technologies) is growing by leaps and bounds. It's important that every effort be taken to prepare the locally unemployed population to take full advantage of the significant employment opportunities this offers. It's equally important (always) not to put all of one's eggs into one basket. (GW)

Engine of growth: clean-tech jobs

Clean energy work is a rapidly growing industry, but critics say it's no panacea for unemployment.

The Christian Science Monitor
January 24, 2008

Richmond, Calif.

On the campaign trail and during Monday's debate, the Democratic presidential candidates touted "green-collar jobs" as a solution to unemployment. These are manual labor jobs within new clean-technology industries that the politicians say cannot be outsourced. Or, as former President Bill Clinton put it recently, to green a building "somebody's got to be standing on that roof."

Angela Greene is that person on the roof. After losing her job within the printing industry, she finds herself atop a home in Richmond, Calif., installing solar panels.

"I saw I would be able to make a stable income for myself," says Ms. Greene, "and at the same time be able to help my community and the environment."

Clean energy has become a $55-billion-a-year industry worldwide, and its rapid growth is fueling a shortage of workers in emerging hubs like California's Bay Area. Advocates for the poor say there's an opportunity here to rebuild an industrial base of well-paying, low-skilled jobs, but some critics question whether they are overstating the job potential of the sector.

"Nearly every city is vying to become a hub of clean technology or green-collar jobs. Every community college that has any budget to develop a new program is looking at a lot of these new technologies," says Joel Makower, executive editor of in Oakland, Calif.

Germany's clean energy effort has resulted in 235,600 jobs in 2006. Convinced similar job creation can happen here, Congress last month authorized $125 million for green-collar job training.

The Democratic presidential candidates would go further:

•Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina wants to train and employ at least 150,000 workers a year in new green- energy related jobs.

•Sen. Barack Obama would use some of the $150 billion generated over 10 years by a cap-and-trade program on greenhouse-gas emissions to fund green job-training programs.

•Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has proposed $5 billion of spending on clean-technology investments as part of an economic stimulus package.

GOP contender Sen. John McCain also mentioned the need for job training in green technology.

Some critics are skeptical.

"The people who talk about green-collar jobs as the solution to low-skilled unemployment overestimate the number of jobs and underestimate the supply of labor," says Marcellus Andrews, an economist at Columbia University in New York.

Such jobs may be outsource proof, he says, but aren't immigration proof, meaning native workers could be displaced.

Advocates say they are focused on returning manual-labor jobs to inner cities and the heartland.

Twenty-two different sectors of the economy already involve green-collar jobs, according to a new study by Raquel Pinderhughes at San Francisco State University. Some examples include biodiesel vehicle repair, nontoxic printing, home weatherizing, and sustainable landscaping.

The study looked at green-collar jobs within Berkeley and found most paid good wages, offered benefits, and were open to workers with low skills and little experience. The average hourly wage for a green-collar worker in Berkeley is $15.80 an hour plus benefits – $4.00 more than the city's minimum "living wage."

Most employers face labor shortages and were willing to train workers on the job, the study found. A green-collar job summit last week in San Francisco revealed that California faces a shortage of solar panel installers and workers qualified for renewable power projects.

In Oakland, the mayor's office and community groups have partnered to train locals for green jobs. The city gave $250,000 to the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights for a program linking green-job trainees with employers.

"As the green economy takes off, we have the opportunity from the beginning to lock in the people who have tended to be locked out of the workforce," says Ian Kim with the Ella Baker Center.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

"Showing that ecology and economics are not contradictions motivates us all"

I've been following the progress of the tug-kite with great interest ever since I first read about it as a concept in the New York Times Magazine "Year In Ideas" issue back in 2006. I've posted twice on this project within the past 14 months. It's great to see that the maiden voyage got off without a hitch.

Hopefully the rest of the trip will proceed as smoothly. That would be good news not just for those concerned about energy efficiency and climate change, but it would also serve as inspiration for all those free-thinking entrepreneurs and inventors working on bold and seemingly outrageous ideas designed to address serious and seemingly insurmountable problems. (GW)

Huge kite fitted on container ship

Inventor expects major drop in fuel costs and warming emissions

January 22, 2008

BERLIN - Oil at more than $90 a barrel is concentrating minds in the shipping industry. Higher fuel costs and mounting pressure to curb emissions are leading modern merchant fleets to rediscover the ancient power of the sail.

The world's first commercial ship powered partly by a giant kite set off on a maiden voyage from Bremen to Venezuela on Tuesday, in an experiment that inventor Stephan Wrage hopes can wipe 20 percent, or $1,600, from the ship's daily fuel bill.

"We aim to prove it pays to protect the environment," Wrage told Reuters. "Showing that ecology and economics are not contradictions motivates us all."

The 10,000-ton 'MS Beluga SkySails' — which will use a computer-guided kite to harness powerful ocean winds far above the surface and support the engine — combines modern technology with know-how that has been in use for millennia.

German-based Beluga Shipping has already ordered two more vessels and Wrage's company has a total of five orders in hand.

If the maiden voyage is a success, Wrage hopes to double the size of its kites to 320 square meters, and expand them again to 600 square meters in 2009. The company hopes to fit 1,500 ships by 2015.

But if Skysails is a relatively elaborate solution, another development shows the march of progress is not always linear: shipping companies seeking immediate answers to soaring fuel prices and the need to cut emissions are, simply, slowing down.

The world's 50,000 merchant ships, which carry 90 percent of traded goods from oil, gas, coal, and grains to electronic goods, emit 800 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. That's about 5 percent of the world's total.

Also, their fuel costs rose by as much as 70 percent last year.

That dramatic increase has ship owners clambering onto a bandwagon to reduce speed as a way to save fuel and cut the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, said Hermann Klein, an executive at Germanischer Lloyd classification society.

"The number of shipping lines reducing speed to cut fuel costs has been growing steadily," Klein, whose organization runs safety surveys on more than 6,000 ships worldwide, told Reuters.

Big savings in lower speeds

"Slowing down by 10 percent can lead to a 25 percent reduction in fuel use. Just last week a big Japanese container liner gave notice of its intention to slow down," he added.

Shipping was excluded from the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol to slow climate change, and many nations want the industry to be made accountable for its impact on the climate in the successor to Kyoto, which runs to 2012.

In Hamburg, the Hapag-Lloyd shipping company is not waiting for 2012. It reacted to rising fuel prices by cutting the throttle on its 140 container ships traveling the world's oceans, ordering its captains to slow down.

The company in the second half of last year reduced the standard speed of its ships to 20 knots from 23-1/2 knots, and said it saved a "substantial amount" of fuel.

The calculation used in shipping is complex: longer voyages mean extra operating costs, charter costs, interest costs and other monetary losses. But Hapag-Lloyd said slowing down still paid off handsomely.

"We've saved so much fuel that we added a ship to the route and still saved costs," said Klaus Heims, a spokesman at the world's fifth-largest container shipping line. "Why didn't we do this before?"

Climate change was an additional motivating factor.

"It had the added effect of cutting carbon dioxide emissions immediately," Heims said. "Before, ships would speed up to 25 knots from the standard 23-1/2 to make up if time was lost in crowded ports. We calculated that 5 knots slower saves up to 50 percent in fuel."

Slowing down has not involved a decrease in capacity for the company. For container ships carrying mainly consumer goods from Hamburg to ports in the Far East, the round-trip at 20 knots now takes 63 days instead of 56, but to make up for this it added a vessel to the route to bring the total to nine.

Hapag-Lloyd board member Adolf Adrion told a news conference in London on Jan. 10 speeds are now being cut further, to 16 knots from 20, for journeys across the Atlantic: "It makes sense environmentally and economically," he said.

'Only appropriate on certain routes'

The world's largest container shipping operator, Danish group A.P. Moller-Maersk, is also going slower to cut emissions — although Eivind Kolding, chief executive of the group's container arm, told the January event this would mean a delay to clients of 1-1/2 days. He added he believed that was a price customers were willing to pay for the sake of the environment.

"We reduce speeds where it makes sense," said Thomas Grondorf, Moller-Maersk spokesman in Copenhagen. "It entails careful planning and is only appropriate on certain routes."

At Germanischer Lloyd, Klein said the classification body has urged ship owners to explore other simple ways to save fuel, including using weather forecasts to pick optimum routes for vessel performance, regularly cleaning their vessels' hull and propeller to remove sediments that cause resistance, and using fuel additives to improve combustion efficiency.

He also saw scope for designers to create slower speed engines with better fuel efficiency rather than just having ship owners operate fast-propulsion engines at reduced speeds.

"Ship efficiency is of paramount importance considering a fuel bill for a big container ship over a 25-year lifespan adds up to nearly $900 million," he said.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Think global, eat local

Where and how our food is grown, transported and sold have major energy, environmental and health implications. Today in the U.S. the average distance that food travels from farm to dinner table is 1,500 miles! If that food came from large corporate agribusiness operations (I can't bring myself to call them farms), you can bet that it was grown using large amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

The trucks transporting the produce consume millions of gallons of gasoline. The fertilizers and pesticides required to support monoculture practices are made from petroleum. With this in mind, U.S. agricultural policy still offers perverse subsidies designed to preserve this nonsustainable system. Meanwhile the government's energy policy (even more perverse) adds insult to injury by providing incentives that encourage corporate "farms" to substitute fuel crops for food crops.

Local agriculture, regional currency, barter systems and community -based energy projects are no longer the exclusive domain of the counterculture. (GW)

On Martha’s Vineyard, Using Scallops as Currency

FOR year-round residents of this Martha’s Vineyard village, winter is time to relax. In summer, when the island’s population soars from 15,000 to 75,000, locals like Jan Buhrman have to make a year’s living in just a few short months. Ms. Buhrman, who is 50, caters weddings and dinner parties for the seasonal crowd. When winter comes, she tends a local school library, among other jobs, and she cooks.

Even in January, her hours in the kitchen have a purpose. Sitting in the bright oak post-and-beam room built by her husband, Richard Osnoss, a carpenter, Ms. Buhrman explained that she tries to eat only food raised on Martha’s Vineyard and to go down island to the grocery store in Vineyard Haven as little as possible.

Some of her groceries she grows herself. For much of the rest, she trades with her neighbors.

Following Ms. Buhrman for a day or two as she gathers ingredients is a lesson in how to eat locally, even in the coldest days of winter. Because she seems to know everybody on the island who raises, catches or forages for food, it is also a glimpse of an alternative economy of eating, one in which modern capitalism takes a back seat to a looser, island-grown style of bartering.

In summer, for instance, Ms. Buhrman hands out ice from her freezers to help the local fishermen keep their catch cold. In winter, they repay her with fish, oysters and bay scallops.

“It’s just the way we do it here,” she said.

“Swapping and borrowing isn’t institutionalized on the Vineyard,” said Carl Flanders, a fisherman in summer and a carpenter in winter. “If I catch some fish in summer, I’ll sell it to Larsen’s Fish Market but I’ll just give the rest away to friends. I don’t expect anything in return.”

Ms. Buhrman will take those bay scallops and sauté them with lemons she preserved last summer. (She sold the lemons at the West Tisbury Farmer’s Market, along with popovers, spice rubs and salsas.) Since Ms. Buhrman likes to cook and knows a lot of people who like to farm, she has no trouble getting food. She trades soups and stews for vegetables and lamb from her friends Mitch Posin and Clarissa Allen, who run Allen Farm in Chilmark.

“I live out of Mitch’s root cellar,” Ms. Buhrman said. “Mitch will give me a big batch of cabbage or beets. He has a big abundance of food. I don’t know why he doesn’t run a farm stand in summer.” His beets will find their way into her curried beet soup, simmered with chicken or vegetable stock from her freezer and seasoned with a few spoonfuls of the curry paste she learned to make after a trip in the ’80s to Southeast Asia and India.

Ms. Allen’s 100-acre property has been in her family since 1762. It is one of more than 30 rural farms on Martha’s Vineyard with a combined 8,000 acres of cultivated land.

“Some of the farms are the size of a postage stamp,” said Carlos Montoya Jr., a landscaper. “But there are people in agriculture who have really led the way.”

The concentration of small farms has made the island a model for eating locally in the region. “There is a movement for food on the island and it is just embryonic on Cape Cod,” said Gus Schumacher, former Massachusetts Commissioner of Food and Agriculture, who spends summers on the Cape.

“Unlike Cape Cod, which bought farms and maintained them as costly open space as conservation land, the Vineyard fathers protected their farmers by purchasing the development rights and keeping the farmers on the land, thereby providing food throughout the summer and fall season.”

Across the island, there is a determination to protect the Vineyard’s rural character. Last year, when a 43-acre farm that leased land to the island’s Community Sponsored Agriculture program, hundreds of summer and winter residents banded together to try to prevent it. Moved by the protest, a new buyer came forward who promised to keep the property as working farm.

Ms. Buhrman is a staunch supporter of several groups that back agriculture on the Vineyard, like Slow Food and Island Grown Initiative, a nonprofit group. Last year she taught baking and stock-making at a fundraiser for the Farm Institute, a foundation in Edgartown that teaches young people about where food comes from. In return the institute supplied her with chicken feet for stock and livers for chopped liver.

In addition to the working farms, Martha’s Vineyard has untold numbers of kitchen gardens. In Ms. Buhrman’s, animals grow as well as vegetables.

For the last four years her backyard has been home to a colorful array of chickens that her son Oliver, 17, ordered over the Internet. “By mistake we got one rooster,” she said, watching the birds peck feed from the ground near a portable chicken house. Her younger son, Oren, 10, collects eggs each morning before going to school.

Outside her house live two heritage breed pigs, which she buys every year from S.B.S. Grain Store in Vineyard Haven for $65 each. Most years she sends the pigs off island to a slaughterhouse, but this year, with some workers’ help, she slaughtered them in her backyard and sent some of the pork to a smokehouse in New Hampshire to be made into bacon and hams. She also makes pork sausages, and this year she is making a venison-pork sausage with ground venison given to her by Bobby Brown, a hunter in winter and caretaker in summer.

“I have fatback and the expertise in making sausage, and Bob has meat that needs the fat to make the sausage,” she said. “So we split the final product.”

Ms. Buhrman’s recipe is now also being used for the sausage at Morning Glory Farm, a popular farm stand on the island.

Not far from Ms. Buhrman’s home, her friends Rebecca Miller and Matthew Dix run a year-round vegetable stand at their North Tabor Farm, selling only eggs and honey in winter. The two purchased a six-acre lot from the town of Chilmark at an affordable price.

“We had to submit a business plan giving an idea of how we would use the land as an agricultural base,” said Mrs. Miller, 43. “There were 10 other people who wanted it.” In summer she sells greens, flowers and shiitake mushrooms at her stand as well as to restaurants, supermarkets, and the twice weekly farmers market in nearby West Tisbury. In the off season, she practices hypnotism and, she said, gives “a lot of talks about buying local and supporting local agriculture.”

For Caitlin Jones, who operates the seven-acre Mermaid Farm with her husband, Allen Healy, fall and winter go to saving seeds. At harvest time, she takes the best specimens of her crops and dries them. Later she will sort them into envelopes inside a house she built with a friend, a refurbished barn with a black locust tree serving as a post to hold up the beams in the center.

“I am a collector,” she said one day last fall, showing off the stacks of seeds in one room. “I cannot help it. Your plants will adapt to your bio-region and if you save the best stuff in your microclimate, then they will keep adapting for the Vineyard,” she said. “I am very into the taste of heirloom varieties.”

Experimentally, Ms. Buhrman has made wheels of Camembert-style cheese with raw milk from Mermaid Farm’s small herd of six cows. The leftover whey went into biscuits and ricotta cheese. She liked the results and wants to make more, so she is planning to buy her own cow. Mr. Healy and Ms. Jones offered to keep it at the farm and milk it for her if she pays for feed.

“I get my nourishment from people like Caitlin,” said Ms. Buhrman. “She and other local farmers teach me how to preserve this way of life with its hardships and joys. In the summer I can pay them whatever price they are asking because the taste of their food is so remarkable,” she said.

“You can buy heirloom tomatoes in the winter from God knows where and they don’t taste anything like the ones from Caitlin’s farm on Middle Road in Chilmark.”

The contrast between summer produce at its peak and what is available off season drives Ms. Buhrman to find new ways of putting up summer fruits and vegetables. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Once, she froze a surplus of broccoli.

“It was awful. Then I tasted Birds Eye and it tasted the same,” she said. “I guess I just don’t like frozen broccoli.”

Friday, January 25, 2008

EU revises renewable energy strategy

EU leaders have shown that they are willing to admit when they've made mistakes with regard to their strategy for deploying renewable energy technologies to combat climate change. Earlier this month they reconsidered their commitment to biofuels based on an assessment of the environmental and socioeconomic impacts that would result if current targets were achieved.

One thing that has not change is the EU's overall commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. When it became apparent that they would fall short of the goal to meet 20% of their energy needs from renewables, EU officials re-calibrated and challenged each member state to try harder. (GW)

EU states handed ambitious renewable energy targets

24 January 2008

The European Commission put forward ambitious targets yesterday (23 January) to boost the EU's overall consumption of renewable energies to 20% by 2020. But while the plans to promote technologies such as solar and wind were largely welcomed, Brussels faces widespread criticism over controversial biofuels targets.


In March 2007, EU leaders committed to increasing the share of renewable energies in the EU's final energy consumption to 20% by 2020, and promised to up the use of biofuels in transport to 10% by the same date.

Since then, the Commission has been charged with formulating policy proposals to reach the targets, triggering a flurry of stakeholder activity.

In the weeks leading up to the publication of the proposals, controversy surrounded the Commission's plans to promote renewables through the trading of guarantees of origin (GOs - EurActiv 16/01/08), and the sustainability of the biofuels target was questioned by the Commission's own scientists (EurActiv 18/01/08).


Differentiated targets for EU member states

A proposal for a new EU directive , published on 23 January, mandates each member state to increase its share of renewable energies - such as solar, wind or hydro - in an effort to boost the EU's share from 8.5% today to 20% by 2020.

A separate target to increase biofuels use to 10% of transport fuel consumption is to be achieved by every country as part of the overall EU objective.

To achieve these objectives, every nation in the 27-member bloc is required to increase its share of renewables by 5.5% from 2005 levels, with the remaining increase calculated on the basis of per capita gross domestic product (GDP). EU countries are free to decide their preferred 'mix' of renewables in order to take account of their different potentials, but must present national action plans (NAPs) outlining their strategies to the Commission by 31 March 2010. The plans will need to be defined along three sectors: electricity, heating and cooling and transport.

Member State

Share of renewables in 2005

Share required by 2020













Czech Republic










































The Netherlands












Slovak Republic












United Kingdom



The Commission has also set a series of interim targets, in order to ensure steady progress towards the 2020 targets:
  • 25% average between 2011 and 2012;
  • 35% average between 2013 and 2014;
  • 45% average between 2015 and 2016, and;
  • 65% average between 2017 and 2018.

While only the 2020 target is legally binding, a senior Commission official on 22 January said that the Commission could pursue earlier legal action in cases where a member state's progress is so limited that it is clear the final target cannot be reached.

Virtual power flows

The Commission's proposal allows for the virtual trade in renewable energies involving Guarantees of Origin (GOs), which certify the renewable orgin of electricity produced. This provision already features in existing EU renewables legislation (see EurActiv's LinksDossier), but has hardly been utilised, according to the Commission.

Under the system, member states may invest in renewable energy production in another member state in exchange for GOs, which can be counted towards the renewables target. But the Commisson has attached the condition that a member state must have already reached its own interim target before being allowed to receive investments and transfer GOs to another member state.

Physical trade in renewable energies is permitted and encouraged in the EU's internal market, but currently accounts for less than 6% of the electricity traded between EU member states, according to the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC).

Buildings and district heating

While the focus of the directive is on the promotion of large scale renewable energy installations, member states are nevertheless requested to use "minimum levels of energy from renewable sources in all new or refurbished buildings", and the text makes provisions for the mutual recognition of certifications for technicians who install renewable technologies in buildings (see also our LinksDossier on EU buildings legislation).

Architects and planners are also to benefit from member state 'guidance' when planning new constructions, while local and regional administrative bodies should be required "to consider the installation of equipment and systems for the use of heating, cooling and electricity from renewable sources and for district heating and cooling when planning, designing, building and refurbishing industrial or residential areas".

Grid access

Many smaller producers of renewable energy argue that a lack of transparency and blocked access to energy grids are preventing them from competing on the market (EurActiv 06/07/07).

The text seeks to address the problem by requesting member states to ensure that the transmission and distribution system operators provide "priority access to the grid system of electricity produced from renewable energy sources."

Biofuels and sustainability

Brussels has come under acute pressure from green politicians, NGOs and the scientific community to provide robust sustainability criteria to ensure that the 10% biofuels target does not lead to ecosystem loss, deforestation, population displacement, food price increases and even higher CO2 output.

The Commission's text includes the following criteria:

  • Land use - old forest with no or limited human intervention cannot be used for biofuels cultivation, nor can 'highly biodiverse grasslands', or lands with a 'high carbon stock' like wetlands or 'pristine peatlands';
  • CO2 impact - the overall greenhouse gas (GHG) savings from biofuels production must be at least 35% in order for cultivation to be considered sustainable.

The Commission will put forward sustainability criteria for energy use of biomass by the end of 2010.

Paying the bill

Revised state aid guidelines were published along with the renewables proposal, paving the way for an increase in state funds to the renewable energy sector, including for biofuels producers, whereby the Commission's sustainability criteria will be tied in with state aid eligibility.

In order to qualify for state aid, projects must in general have excessively high investment costs, with companies that want to go beyond community environmental requirements being particularly eligible for subsidies.

Much of the state support envisioned by the Commission can be handed out in the form of tax breaks. The new guidelines do not, however, propose a revision of value added tax (VAT) schemes, despite previous calls for new 'green' VAT rules by France and the UK (EurActiv 23/07/07).

The Commission predicts that the energy and climate package as a whole (see also EurActiv's related coverage) will cost less than 0.5% of the EU's GDP. The Commission has also repeatedly cited the 'cost of inaction' made in the Stern report (EurActiv 31/10/06), and argues that rising oil and gas prices mean that gains from promoting renewables will be 'much higher' than current Commission calculations.


Oliver Schäfer, Policy Director of the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC), told EurActiv that the renewables proposal "looks pretty good now", following in particular changes made to the renewables trading structure and conditions. EREC, along with Spain, Germany and other member states, had raised serious objections to an earlier draft of the directive (EurActiv 16/01/08).

Senior members of the Commission told journalists in Brussels on 22 January that the changes to the renewables trading regime were made as a result of internal discussions within the EU executive, and not in direct response to industry and member state pressure.

The European Solar Thermal Industry Federation (ESTIF) welcomed the proposal enthusiastically. "For the first time, an EU legislative proposal has the explicit purpose of supporting all renewables, including solar heating and cooling", said ESTIF President Gerhard Rabensteiner in a statement.

Makers of wind power turbines also appeared satisfied, with the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) saying the Commission had "provided a powerful response to the imminent energy and climate crisis". The organisation predicts that wind energy will be "the biggest contributor" to the targets.

Reactions to the biofuels target and to the sustianability criteria were much less favourable, however, with a number of green groups slamming the plans. The Greens in the Parliament have promised to "get rid" of the 10% target in the upcoming negotiations. Green MEP Claude Turmes called the targets "nonsense".

During his presentation of the proposals on 23 January, EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso said that the criteria put forward by the Commission will foster the promotion of international sustainability standards in biofuels trade where previously none have existed. The safeguards are "simple enough to be workable, robust enough to be credible", he said.

Latest & next steps:

  • The proposal is now forwarded to the EU Council and Parliament for approval.
  • 1st half 2009: Target date for the adoption of the legislation.
  • 31 March 2010: Deadline for EU states to present National Action Plans (NAPs) on renewables.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

“Water is the nuclear industry’s Achilles’ heel”

The European heatwave in the summer of 2006 forced nuclear power plants to reduce or halt production. Rivers that supply the water reactors rely upon for cooling became too hot to do the job following consecutive days of record-breaking temperatures.

Now there is concern that some nuclear plants in the US southeast may be forced to shut down due to inadequate water supplies resulting from the severe drought that has
gripped that part of the country for the better part of a year. (GW)

Drought could close nuclear power plants

Southeast water shortage a factor in huge cooling requirements

The Associated Press
January 23, 2008

LAKE NORMAN, N.C. - Nuclear reactors across the Southeast could be forced to throttle back or temporarily shut down later this year because drought is drying up the rivers and lakes that supply power plants with the awesome amounts of cooling water they need to operate.

Utility officials say such shutdowns probably wouldn’t result in blackouts. But they could lead to shockingly higher electric bills for millions of Southerners, because the region’s utilities could be forced to buy expensive replacement power from other energy companies.

Already, there has been one brief, drought-related shutdown, at a reactor in Alabama over the summer.

“Water is the nuclear industry’s Achilles’ heel,” said Jim Warren, executive director of N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, an environmental group critical of nuclear power. “You need a lot of water to operate nuclear plants.” He added: “This is becoming a crisis.”

An Associated Press analysis of the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors found that 24 are in areas experiencing the most severe levels of drought. All but two are built on the shores of lakes and rivers and rely on submerged intake pipes to draw billions of gallons of water for use in cooling and condensing steam after it has turned the plants’ turbines.

Because of the yearlong dry spell gripping the region, the water levels on those lakes and rivers are getting close to the minimums set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Over the next several months, the water could drop below the intake pipes altogether. Or the shallow water could become too hot under the sun to use as coolant.

“If water levels get to a certain point, we’ll have to power it down or go off line,” said Robert Yanity, a spokesman for South Carolina Electric & Gas Co., which operates the Summer nuclear plant outside Columbia, S.C.

Limits on intake pipes

Extending or lowering the intake pipes is not as simple at it sounds and wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem. The pipes are usually made of concrete, can be up to 18 feet in diameter and can extend up to a mile. Modifications to the pipes and pump systems, and their required backups, can cost millions and take several months. If the changes are extensive, they require an NRC review that itself can take months or longer.

Even if a quick extension were possible, the pipes can only go so low. It they are put too close to the bottom of a drought-shrunken lake or river, they can suck up sediment, fish and other debris that could clog the system.

An estimated 3 million customers of the four commercial utilities with reactors in the drought zone get their power from nuclear energy. Also, the quasi-governmental Tennessee Valley Authority, which sells electricity to 8.7 million people in seven states through a network of distributors, generates 30 percent of its power at nuclear plants.

While rain and some snow fell recently, water levels across the region are still well below normal. Most of the severely affected area would need more than a foot of rain in the next three months — an unusually large amount — to ease the drought and relieve pressure on the nuclear plants. And the long-term forecast calls for more dry weather.

Lakes nearing their minimums

At Progress Energy Inc., which operates four reactors in the drought zone, officials warned in November that the drought could force it to shut down its Harris reactor near Raleigh, according to documents obtained by the AP. The water in Harris Lake stands at 218.5 feet — just 3½ feet above the limit set in the plant’s license.

Lake Norman near Charlotte is down to 93.7 feet — less than a foot above the minimum set in the license for Duke Energy Corp.’s McGuire nuclear plant. The lake was at 98.2 feet just a year ago.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. We know we haven’t gotten enough rain, so we can’t rule anything out,” said Duke spokeswoman Rita Sipe. “But based on what we know now, we don’t believe we’ll have to shut down the plants.”

During Europe’s brutal 2006 heat wave, French, Spanish and German utilities were forced to shut down some of their nuclear plants and reduce power at others because of low water levels — some for as much as a week.

If a prolonged shutdown like that were to happen in the Southeast, utilities in the region might have to buy electricity on the wholesale market, and the high costs could be passed on to customers.

“Currently, nuclear power costs between $5 to $7 to produce a megawatt hour,” said Daniele Seitz, an energy analyst with New York-based Dahlman Rose & Co. “It would cost 10 times that amount that if you had to buy replacement power — especially during the summer.”

At a nuclear plant, water is also used to cool the reactor core and to create the steam that drives the electricity-generating turbines. But those are comparatively small amounts of water, circulating in what are known as closed systems — that is, the water is constantly reused. Water for those two purposes is not threatened by the drought.

Instead, the drought could choke off the billions of gallons of water that pass through the region’s reactors every day to cool used steam. Water sucked from lakes and rivers passes through pipes, which act as a condenser, turning the steam back into water. The outside water never comes into direct contact with the steam or any nuclear material.

At some plants — those with tall, Three Mile Island-style cooling towers — a lot of the water travels up the tower and is lost to evaporation. At other plants, almost all of the water is returned to the lake or river, though significantly hotter because of the heat absorbed from the steam.

Progress spokeswoman Julie Hahn said the Harris reactor, for example, sucks up 33 million gallons a day, with 17 million gallons lost to evaporation via its big cooling towers. Duke’s McGuire plant draws in more than 1 billion gallons a day, but most of it is pumped back to its source.

Nuclear plants are subject to restrictions on the temperature of the discharged coolant, because hot water can kill fish or plants or otherwise disrupt the environment. Those restrictions, coupled with the drought, led to the one-day shutdown Aug. 16 of a TVA reactor at Browns Ferry in Alabama.

The water was low on the Tennessee River and had become warmer than usual under the hot sun. By the time it had been pumped through the Browns Ferry plant, it had become hotter still — too hot to release back into the river, according to the TVA. So the utility shut down a reactor.

David Lochbaum, nuclear project safety director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, warned that nuclear plants are not designed to take the wear and tear of repeatedly stopping and restarting.

“Nuclear plants are best when they flatline — when they stay up and running or shut down for long periods to refuel,” Lochbaum said. “It wears out piping, valves, motors.”

Both the industry and NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said plants can shut down and restart without problems.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

...or not to bee

Stop and think for a second what would happen if there were no honeybees to pollinate flowers and food crops. Society would be up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

Now think about what it would take for humans -- with all our ingenuity and sophisticated technology -- to take over the honeybees pollination tasks. Plant by plant. Flower by flower.

We simply would not be able to do it.

And this is precisely why it is impossible/futile to try and calculate the true costs of the "services" Nature's provides that together maintain the health of the planet's ecosystems.

Meanwhile this represents another major threat to the world's beleaguered agricultural systems.

Honeybees may be wiped out in 10 years

By Jasper Copping
Telegraph UK
January 20, 2008

Honeybees will die out in Britain within a decade as virulent diseases and parasites spread through the nation's hives, experts have warned.

Whole colonies of bees are already being wiped out, with current methods of pest control unable to stop the problem.

The British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) said that if the crisis continued, honeybees would disappear completely from Britain by 2018, causing "calamitous" economic and environmental problems.

It called on the Government to restart shelved research programmes and to fund new ones to try to save the insects.

Tim Lovett, the association's president, said: "The situation has become insupportable and the Government is unwilling to take steps to avoid disaster.

"We're increasingly unable to cope with threats as they arise. No bees means a huge cost to agriculture, without touching on the ecological and environmental issues. We're facing calamitous results."

Last year, more than 11 per cent of all beehives inspected were wiped out, although losses were higher in some areas.

In London, about 4,000 hives - two-thirds of the bee colonies in the capital - were estimated to have died over last winter. Of the eight colonies inspected so far this year, all have been wiped out.

The losses are being blamed on Colony Collapse Disorder, a disease that has severely affected bee populations in America and Europe, and a resistant form of Varroa destructor, a parasitic mite that affects bees.

The decline in honeybees is risking the sustainability of home-grown food. They pollinate more than 90 of the flowering crops we rely on for food. They are estimated to contribute more than £1 billion a year to the national economy yet the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), spends an average of only £200,000 a year on research to protect them.

The BBKA will this week launch a campaign aimed at forcing ministers to take the plight of the bee more seriously, and to spend the £8 million over the next five years which it believes is essential to guarantee its survival.

At their annual meeting held earlier this month, the association's 11,200 members voted unanimously to condemn the Government's position.

At a showdown meeting, between Lord Rooker, the farming minister, and the BBKA last month, the minister refused to increase the spending, even though in November, he appeared to admit the severity of the threat, when he said: "If we do not do anything, the chances are that in 10 years' time we will not have any honeybees."

Mr Lovett added: "Defra has been alerted, but chooses to take no action. If nothing happens, we may not even have to wait 10 years."

Professor Francis Ratniek, a bee expert at Sheffield University, said: "If there was to be a bee collapse the effect on Britain would be huge.

"In Britain we haven't had our fair share of bee research funds and research into bee disease has decreased just as the threat to colonies is increasing. A complete die-off is a worst case scenario."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Jamaica joins the biofuels debate

What more can be said? The debate over biofuels continues to expand both substantively and geographically. The real lesson here is that "renewable" and "sustainable" are not necessarily synonymous. (GW)

Debate over ethanol heats up as food prices rise

By Petre WIlliams
The Jamaica Observer
January 20, 2008

As rising food prices continue to take huge bites out of the paycheques of Jamaicans, environmentalists, geographers and other interests remain locked in a heated debate over whether the country should be pressing ahead with the production of biofuels such as ethanol.

Biofuels are products that can be processed into liquid fuels for transport and heating purposes. They include bioethanol and biodiesel, which have been lauded by some as the answer to the world's energy crisis, at a time when scientists agree the planet is under threat from climate change.

Environmentalist John Maxwell is staunchly against Jamaica's endorsement of biofuel production, noting that it comes at too great a cost.

"We should be growing food and looking at solar and wind energy and forget all this craziness about biofuels. It is madness. You can't be growing gas while people are starving. It doesn't make any sense," he told the Sunday Observer.

Maxwell's comments come at a time when global agricultural production for energy is driving costs, while threatening food security in some parts of the world. His statements also come on the heels of the Jamaican government's move to ease the burden of rising food prices. The government recently announced the move to limit retail prices on at least five basic food items, among them flour, baking powder, cooking oil and milk powder. As such, some $500 million will be spent by the government over the next three months to contain prices.

Raymond Wright, consultant with the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), agreed that the global production of corn for biofuels was driving the local cost of food. But he insisted that Jamaica had nothing to fear from its own pursuit of biofuel production through sugarcane.

"Biofuels have caused a rise in food prices, particularly because of corn in the United States. Corn is not necessarily the best provider of ethanol. The energy input from producing ethanol is one to three. For one unit of energy from corn, you get three units of energy," said Wright. "For one unit of energy from sugarcane you get eight units of energy so it is more than two times as efficient as corn. Unfortunately, in the United States they don't have enough sugarcane so they have had to develop corn."

There are two ethanol plants currently in operation in Jamaica.

One is operated by the PCJ and the other by Jamaica Broilers. The PCJ plant (Petrojam Ethanol) was set up in 2005, in collaboration with the Brazilian firm Coinex. At the time of its completion in the latter part of 2005, the plant was to supply the United States with 150 million litres of ethanol per year, while Coinex supplied the feedstock.

Jamaica Broilers invested just over a billion dollars into the construction of the second plant. This plant was built to supply 60 million gallons of ethanol to be produced by Jamaica Broilers, while complementing operations at Petrojam Ethanol.

Marolyn Lucy Gentles, a geographer and chair of the National Environmental Education Committee (NEEC), while not disputing that there were benefits to be gained from producing biofuels locally, said perhaps the island would be better off investing in solar and hydro energy.

"We are not ready for this sugarcane ethanol thing. We don't have enough land to produce it and if you can't produce enough, it makes no sense investing in it. Research has to go into it. But the sun is there, and the sun is not running out at all," Gentles told the Sunday Observer.

Beyond that, she said Jamaica needed to look into better managing its garbage, which could prove a lucrative source of energy. One way in which this is possible, Gentles said, was through the trapping of methane gas.

But Wright, a former head of the PCJ, said Jamaica had more than enough land on which ethanol production could be undertaken, while ensuring food security.

"There is still significant amounts of land that can be developed for biofuels that would not typically be used for food," the consultant said. "It includes the mined-out bauxite lands, which are not at the moment being put to adequate use. Some of these lands can be used to produce fuel. And in this regard it can be used to produce biodiesel."

Clifford Mahlung, Jamaica's chief negotiator on climate change, agreed with Wright that there was nothing to fear from the way in which Jamaica has gone about, and is proposing to continue, its production of ethanol. In fact, he said that the use of sugarcane to produce the fuel was timely, given the realities of the international trade in sugar, which leaves the island at a disadvantage.

"The opportunities now offered from using sugarcane to produce biofuel ethanol is timely and works to our benefit because we now have another means of selling a product from the sugarcane for foreign exchange," he said.

"The problem with biofuels is with those countries using other products to produce it, and we are talking here particularly about countries using corn and soy beans. Corn is used to make cornmeal; and corn is used for feedstock so it means therefore that the higher cost of corn is translating into higher cost of foodstuff made from corn."

Maxwell insisted, however, that Jamaica was on a wrong course.

"Biofuels are already having an effect on us because of the rising prices on wheat and corn, which is driving up the costs of other foods. We are mad if we are going to make it worse out here by (investing further in) biofuels," he said.

A paper produced by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) last year, has meanwhile, attested to the positions articulated by Wright and Mahlung and the potential socio-economic benefits.

"A potential benefit associated with biofuels is their positive impact on agricultural employment and livelihoods. Sugarcane - based bioethanol in Brazil, for instance, already employs around one million workers and this number if expected to grow by 20 per cent in the next five years," said the report, entitled "International trade in biofuels: Good for development? And good for the environment?."

It is, however, the same paper - authored by Annie Dufey - that notes the potential for protectionism undermining the achievement of environment and development goals and the risk of unfair distribution of benefits, underscoring the concerns raised by Maxwell and Gentles.

"The many sustainable development potentials associated with biofuels are contingent upon international trading, since most efficient producing countries are or will be developing countries, while the main consumers are developed countries," Dufey noted.

"The bad news is that, under current trading conditions, there are several policy problems preventing developing countries from reaping the benefits of the biofuels trade, not to mention the negative environmental and social impacts that these policies may have."

Beyond that, Dufey noted that the benefits of pursuing the trade in biofuels for developing countries would depend in large part on how the "value chain" is managed.

"Studies of several agricultural commodity markets assert that benefits from export production in the developing world have increasingly accrued to actors in upper parts of the chain, while primary producers have received comparatively little," she said. "Many biofuels supply chains are, or would be, targeting export markets with the risk that the value added process takes place in importing countries."

Given these realities, Maxwell is insistent that Jamaica needs to focus on growing its own food to ensure its own reliance on food imports is reduced.

"We should be growing food to reduce our dependence on these other guys. Biofuels will drive up the cost of all the foods we import and, if that happens, we are going to have riots," he said.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Love not power

Do not dishonour Martin Luther King Jr

By Buri Edward

January 20, 2008

Quite often some of our political leaders have been heard to cite Martin Luther King Jr, the great American civil rights movement leader, as their inspiration in calling for and holding demonstrations.

Some have even quoted lines from MLK’s speeches as if they were their own.

Using MLK as a platform for justifying the mess in Kenyan demonstrations is an absolute embarrassment and dishonour to this highly respected man who was a leader, not only of black people but of America and the world.

Love, not power

Inspired by his religious convictions, MLK’s starting point was not to be president; it was to be in a free human being. The quest on Kenya’s centre stage is for the presidency. The spirit evident in the sentiments of the leaders who allude to MLK is that of hatred cooked to an outrageous degree.

If we were to assess MLK, we would put him on the opposite side of the continuum with an outrageous love that made him a target of many critics who thought that he had dug too deeply into his love trench. In one of his expression of love he said “ not let anyone bring you so low as to hate him.”

What our leaders have led us into is a quagmire of hatred. They have deliberately polluted Kenyans with hatred and continue to saturate their minds with tribal animosity; the results are clear.

MLK’s marchers were enlightened on non-violence, not masters of violence.

Having scrutinised the path of violence and its yields, and inspired by the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, MLK took a road less travelled and constructed the philosophy of non-violence.

In keeping with his belief in the power of non-violent protest, those who took part in his freedom marches were thoroughly coached in the philosophy of peace that informed MLK’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The marchers even made an official commitment to non-violence.

MLK’s non-violence was not in any way pacifism; he was just using peace as the context in which to make a powerful point.

The coaching was as advanced as equipping the marchers with
the attitude with which to respond when their non-violent spirit encountered violent opposition. These were not only marchers, they were philosophised marchers.

The marchers we’ve seen on Kenyan streets are violent people, many of whom are armed, at the very least with stones. Peace is their enemy. When peace is present, they generate incitement to tamper with it.

At the very best, they use peace not for it’s sake but as a guise, waiting for the right moment to show their true colours, which, going by our flag code, is not white!

To them, an opportunity to go to the streets is an opportunity to “go shopping,” code for a call to thuggery and looting.

He had the church as a fortress

In the current madness, the church has been a target, not a refuge. People who have sought refuge in a church have been the victims of a more cruel death than those in the farms or streets.

What words can we use for people who torch a place of worship?

What name would we give to their sponsors? What words should be used to describe the leaders who affirm their action by playing down the act, or try to pass by it as insignificant? What do we call the leaders who publicly renounce the act but silently laud it?

Somebody help me on this one.

For MLK, the church was a haven since his childhood. His spirituality was nurtured by his service in the Black Church. During his time, acts of burning churches were done by the enemies of freedom, in this case the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

He never used the poor

It is common knowledge that most of the marchers in Nairobi are mobilised from the slum areas. Their economic vulnerability makes them easy prey for shallow promises.

A carrot is dangled before them, luring them into the streets into something they could under normal circumstances not agree to do. The leaders use them as a display of the massive following they claim.

They also use them as potential statistics of injuries and deaths which they can wave at the international media when they clash with the police.

The hypocrisy of these leaders is exposed when they are dispersed by police.

MLK did not retreat into a five-star hotel or hop into a bulletproof limousine while his followers fled on foot for dear life.

He stuck with them and was ready to die with them because he was not different from them; what his non-violent followers embodied he also embodied, what they represented he also represented.

The marchers were not his tools as is happening on the Kenyan scene. He was in authentic solidarity with them.

MLK did not stand for disintegration. He stood for integration.

It is unfortunate, in fact it is truly teary, that leaders who are quoting MLK are fuelling tribal hatred and animosity.

The best they have been seen to do is to stand by, watch and say nothing, meaning that whatever comments they give on the matter are not rooted in any conviction, but it is a public relations gimmick to conceal their affirmation of and mileage from the same.

In reality, they know it is to their political advantage that tribal hatred brews and that our beloved nation continues to be drunk with the blood of innocent people.

Therefore, claiming to find a peer in MLK while being a disintegration machine on the other is a pure contradiction.

Fought for integration

Togetherness was his sincere gospel. He was boldly clear that he dreamt of a time when white people and black people would coexist respectfully, equally and productively.

But truth be told, the possibility of a united Kenya is a nightmare to some of these leaders whose creativity thrives in divisive politics.

The writer is a Nairobi theologian and religious minister.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The world has only 11 weeks of consumable corn reserves - the lowest level ever

Lost in the discussions of global climate change, ongoing war in Iraq, the erupting conflict in Kenya, the tragedy in Darfur and impending recession looms what may be the most serious near-term crisis of all: the possibility of a food crisis beginning with the collapse of Mexico's agricultural system.

Their are a number of culprits responsible for this, but the single biggest factor is clearly the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In his book "Making Globilzation Work" Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz points out that "In part, free trade has not worked because we have not tried it: trade agreements have been neither free nor fair."

Specifically with regard to Mexico he notes:

Not only did NAFTA not lead to robust growth, it can even be argued that in some ways it contributed to Mexico's poverty...A fairer trade agreement would have eliminated America's agricultural subsidies and its restrictions on imports of agricultural goods..into the United States."

I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that to happen. (GW)

NAFTA and Mexico's Agrarian Apocalypse: Zero Hour

By John Ross
January 17, 2008

At the stroke of midnight this past January 1st, a hundred or so farmers and day laborers from both sides of the border converged on the hump of the Cordoba Las Americas bridge that connects up El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, to mark the demise of Mexican agriculture. In accordance with the timetables set by the North American Free Trade Agreement signed by Mexico, the U.S. and Canada 14 years ago, as of January 1st 2008, all tariffs on corn, beans, powdered milk, sugar and 200 agricultural products were reduced to zero, setting in motion a doomsday scenario that farmers organizations here say will inevitably lead to crisis in the Mexican "campo" or countryside, mass abandonment of unsustainable plots, increased hunger, and even armed rebellion by the nation's beleaguered small farmers.

"If they build steel walls to keep our people from entering the United States, we will make walls of people to keep their products out of Mexico," a grizzled leader of the militant farmers' front El Barzon Popular growled into his bullhorn as the protestors spread out in the frigid dark to block the lanes of the bridge over the river the U.S. calls the Rio Grande and Mexico the Rio Bravo. But traffic was slow and few trailers were lined up to ferry the thousands of tons of U.S. agricultural products that pass over the Cordoba Las Americas into Mexico every day.

Strung across the roadway, each protestor carried a letter of the alphabet in his or her hand but despite the palpable fear and loathing afoot out in the Mexican countryside as the tariffs plummet to nothing, the farmers could barely muster enough troops to spell out "Sin Maiz No Hay Pais - Y Tampoco Sin Frijol", including the appropriate spacing between words ("Without Corn, There Is No Country - And Also Without Beans.")

Despite the midnight deadline, the immediate impacts of this premeditated apocalypse may be postponed for a while - at least until the spring planting when farmers have to calculate how many hectares they can afford to put under crops. Unlike the U.S., farm subsidies are a thing of the past here, stripped away years ago in the rush to NAFTA.

Reduction to zero tariffs is not in fact a steep drop. 14 years of incremental decreases had wiped out 90% of all protectionist barriers by 2007 and U.S. corn growers were only shelling out 18% of the value of their exports to get their grain into Mexico. Moreover, NAFTA-driven dumping by lavishly subsidized U.S corn growers that allowed them to drop their loads in Mexico below cost and still make a boodle is being blunted by skyrocketing ethanol subsidies as maize climbs to record quotes on U.S. commodity markets - the grain hit an all-time record $177 USD a metric ton last spring but has begun to slide as storage capacity for ethanol corn is saturated and distribution lags far behind production.

Meanwhile, the uptick in world corn prices ripples out in the global marketplace with tortillas topping out at nine pesos the kilo on New Year's Day here - tortilla prices in Mexico have risen 126% under NAFTA from 1994 to 2007 despite - or because of - massive corn imports from the U.S. (44 million tons in the same period.) The tortilla remains the household measure for basic food prices in Mexico.

According to the World Food & Agricultural Organization or FAO, the world has only 11 weeks of consumable corn reserves left, the lowest inventory since record keeping began. Corn prices will remain unstable until producers can sort out the relationship between food cropping and biofuels, the FAO cautioned in a recent report. Low reserves and high prices are a sure formula for social upheaval, underscores the U.N. organization, pointing out that grain riots broke out in Morocco, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Guinea, Mauritania, and Senegal last year.

Despite the farmers' New Years protest on the Cordoba Bridge, the truth of the matter is that formal notice of the death of Mexican agriculture is long overdue. The damage was done long before NAFTA (or the Treaty of Free Trade With North America - TLCAN - here in Mexico) was a gleam in Ronald Reagan's eyeball. As Mexico decapitalized the "campo" following the 1982 default crisis, which allowed the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to annex the Mexican economy and initiate "structural readjustment" of the agricultural sector, the nation ceded its nutritional sovereignty to U.S. imports.

The migration of impoverished subsistence farmers from southern Mexico that swelled the Mexico City misery belt in sprawling slums like Nezahualcoytl was the first concrete evidence of the evisceration of the "campo", ventures Harvard professor John Womack in a recent e-mail. Womack is the author of the definitive biography of Emiliano Zapata, the incorruptible farmer-general who remains emblematic of the campesinos' struggle for land.

NAFTA-TLCAN, which, after all, is an integral part of the same scheme of "structural adjustments" to globalize Mexico's agricultural sector and force dependence on export cropping, has only accelerated the stampede from the countryside and into the migration stream. By the trade treaty's 10th anniversary in 2004, NAFTA-TLCAN had driven 1.2 million farmers off the land, according to a Carnegie Endowment evaluation of the pact's impacts issued that year. Since each farm family averages out to six people, the total number of expulsees from the campo hovers around 6 million.

In 1993, just before NAFTA-TLCAN became fact, Mexico's Secretary of Agriculture contracted UCLA professor Raul Hinojosa to calculate the fallout amongst poor farmers. The researcher's worst-case scenario was the diaspora of 10 million campesinos. Now, with the reduction of NAFTA-TLCAN tariffs to zero, that "goal" is just around the corner.

Where do they go? During ex-president Vicente Fox's six year term in office, 2.4 million Mexicans, 70% of them reportedly displaced farmers, migrated to the U.S. despite the formidable barriers erected by Washington to keep them out. U.S. anti-immigration pundits like Lou Dobbs and Republican and Democratic presidential hopefuls that beat up on undocumented Mexican workers might do better to pin the tail on the correct donkey - the North American Free Trade Agreement.

According to CONAPI, Mexico's Council on Population, 29 million Mexicans and Mexican descendants now live in the United States, two million more than live out in the Mexican campo from which so many of them have fled. Ironically, those 27 million who remain on the land back home are sustained by the $22,000,000,000 USD in "remisas" that those who have gone north send back, Mexico's second source of Yanqui dollars behind $100 barrel petroleum. Which is to say the Mexican agricultural sector is supported by those who have abandoned it.

Since NAFTA-TLCAN kicked in January 1st 1994, the same night the Zapatistas rose in Chiapas to remind Washington just how desperately poor and unstable its new trading partner really was, four Mexican presidents - Carlos Salinas, Ernesto Zedillo, Vicente Fox, and now Felipe Calderon, apparently rendered dumb by Washington's dominance, have turned a deaf ear to demands by farmers' organizations to re-open the treaty-agreement's agricultural chapters for renegotiation. Indeed, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's insistence on renegotiating NAFTA-TLCAN was a nuts and bolts factor in the campaign to deny him the presidency.

For Calderon, who was awarded high office amidst widespread fraud, NAFTA-TLCAN has been a net gain for Mexico's farmers. The president and his cohorts like Agriculture Secretary (SAGARPA) Alberto Cardenas never tire of chanting the mantra that the trade pact has nearly tripled Mexican agricultural exports to the U.S. But what these neo-liberal mouthpieces forget to point out is that Mexico has run a $2,000,000,000 USD deficit in Ag exports to the U.S. every year since the late '90s as U.S. imports overwhelm the Mexican market.

Moreover, the Calderon-Cardenas happy stats disingenuously inflate the numbers - for example, Mexican beer on its way to transnational distributors who now invest heavily in breweries south of the border, accounts for 18% of $8.5 billion USD in Ag exports to the north through October 2007.
Under NAFTA, beer is considered an agricultural export.

Nor does the President and his cronies identify who it is that is actually benefiting from the NAFTA-TLCOM boom. According to the National Farmers Confederation or CNC, a creature of the once-ruling (71 years) PRI party and once gung-ho for the trade treaty, only 2% of all Mexican producers are sharing the largesse. The other 98%, including 3.5 million corn farmers, 85% of whom grow on five hectares or less (average U.S. corn spreads are 270 acres), have no access to the NAFTA-TLCAN market whatsoever. The big winners? About 20,000 corporate tomato growers, avocado and tropical fruit moguls, and specialty crop niche market sharpies (organic coffee -but organic anything) - plus, of course, the beer barons.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ledger, two out of the three top chicken suppliers to Mexico are U.S. headquartered - Pilgrim's Pride and Tyson. Mexico now imports 22% of its corn, 55% of its wheat (which went to zero tariff in 2003), and 72% of its rice from U.S. growers. Wal-Mart, with over 700 megastores and now the largest employer and retail food seller in the country, provides a ready-made distribution system for getting U.S. Ag products into Mexican homes. Wal-Mart, now Mexico's leading tortilla seller, is the poster boy for the NAFTA-TLCAN credo of "convergence" - selling the same product in the same stores at the same price on all sides of the border.

But if Mexico's agricultural apocalypse has already come to pass, new ones are lighting up the radar screens. The zero tariff deadline will particularly play out on southern Mexico's mid-level sugar growers, mostly "pequenos proprietarios" or "small land owners" and their huge workforces of underclass campesinos. In respect to the beloved "frijol", although Cardenas's SAGARPA insists that Mexicanos no longer eat beans and the inundation of U.S.-grown legumes will have little impact on diet, beans are an emblematic commodity which combined with maiz form a protein that has sustained the Mexican "raza" (race) since its birth.

But the most lethal blow from zero tariffs will be a speeded-up abandonment of their plots by small corn farmers and their immersion in an already-swollen migration stream, a tale that does not presage a happy ending. Traditional migration routes to The Other Side are now shut down by U.S. militarization of the border, ICE raids in U.S. Mexican communities, and the anti-Mexican hysteria sweeping that northern neighbor as the presidential campaigns peak.

With this safety valve shut off, rural youth have little option but to turn to drug cropping. "It's the only sector where there is any profit," writes National Autonomous University researcher Simon David Avila Pacheco. A hectare under poppy ("amapola") yields 11 kilos of heroin worth about $3.5 million pesos. Marijuana, which is bulkier and harder to transport, brings in about $1.7 million pesos, ten times what a campesino will make with a legitimate crop. But even drug cropping runs the risk of confronting U.S. market forces - Uncle Sam's land is swimming in cut-rate Afghani heroin, the bitter fruit of Washington's war in that devastated country, and homegrown now accounts for the bulk of marijuana reserves in El Norte.

Mexico produces no cocaine and is a "trampoline" for springboarding Colombian coke into the U.S. - NAFTA-TLCAN trade actually opened new routes for the transfer of the Colombian export across the border (the cartels went shopping for trucking firms in Juarez in late 1993.) Mexico does manufacture and export tons of methamphetamine or "speed" but that's a non-agricultural item.

Increased cropping of marijuana and amapola in the impoverished outback is guaranteed to increase militarization of the countryside. Calderon has sent 30,000 troops into the campo in a permanent war on drugs that cost 2000 Mexican lives in 2007 alone.

Violence has been pandemic in the Mexican campo ever since the European Conquest. Massacres and bloody land battles like Acteal in Chiapas (49 killed) and Rio Frio in Oaxaca (29) are contemporary expressions of the eternal war for the land here. Mexico's many guerrillas historically have incubated inside farmers' movements and still do. The Calderon-Cardenas strategy of deliberate denial of the crisis in the countryside is a little like whistling past the graveyard.

Secretary of Agriculture Alberto Cardenas, a former governor of Jalisco state, is an agro-tycoon from the central Mexican "Bajio", a fertile swatch of land from which big growers reap fortunes in export agriculture. A holdover from the Fox administration (Fox too made his fortune in Bajio export agriculture), he is a stocky, pugnacious and not very bright man who represents the right wing of the right wing PAN party, the "Yunque", a secretive Catholic cabal based in the Bajio from which Fox drew many of his cabinet members.

So when he had to sell Mexicans on the "benefits" of zero tariffs, Cardenas came up with the brilliant gimmick of getting Lorena Ochoa, the world's number one woman golfer and a Guadalajara native, to extol the health of the Mexican "campo" - an unfortunate play on words (a "campo de golf" is a golf course) - which has incited farmers' organizations to schedule a national march on Mexico City this January 31st.

For the Mexican underclass, "campos de golf" are the playgrounds of their "patrones" or bosses. 10 years ago, speculators secretly bought community land in Tepotzlan up in Zapata country in Morelos state to build a country club and golf course and began sucking up what little ground water the farmers still had left. Wild protests - the so-called "Golf War" - ensued. In the midst of flying rocks and burning construction machinery, a U.S. reporter asked the newly-elected mayor (the old one had sold out to the golfers) why the people were so agitated about a golf course. Lazaro Rodriguez paused, put his hand on the reporter's shoulder, and stared him in the eye like he was a nincompoop from Mars. "John," the exasperated mayor made it clear, "we don't play golf here."