[Coral-List] Don Baker Mystery Event and oil palm pollution

Gene Shinn eshinn at marine.usf.edu
Mon Aug 27 13:30:41 EDT 2007

Don, Your story about pollution from the oil palm plantation 
pollution 26 km from  Lankayan Island reminded me of an article I had 
read about the Netherlands using this oil as a green source of energy 
for power plants. Here is the story. I did not write it. I just pass 
it along as an example of "be careful of what you wish for". Gene
>January 31, 2007
>Once a Dream Fuel, Palm Oil May Be an Eco-Nightmare
>AMSTERDAM, Jan. 25 - Just a few years ago, politicians and 
>environmental groups in the Netherlands were thrilled by the early 
>and rapid adoption of "sustainable energy," achieved in part by 
>coaxing electrical plants to use biofuel - in particular, palm oil 
>from Southeast Asia.
>Spurred by government subsidies, energy companies became so 
>enthusiastic that they designed generators that ran exclusively on 
>the oil, which in theory would be cleaner than fossil fuels like 
>coal because it is derived from plants.
>But last year, when scientists studied practices at palm plantations 
>in Indonesia and Malaysia, this green fairy tale began to look more 
>like an environmental nightmare.
>Rising demand for palm oil in Europe brought about the clearing of 
>huge tracts of Southeast Asian rainforest and the overuse of 
>chemical fertilizer there.
>Worse still, the scientists said, space for the expanding palm 
>plantations was often created by draining and burning peatland, 
>which sent huge amounts of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
>Considering these emissions, Indonesia had quickly become the 
>world's third-leading producer of carbon emissions that scientists 
>believe are responsible for global warming, ranked after the United 
>States and China, according to a study released in December by 
>researchers from Wetlands International and Delft Hydraulics, both 
>in the Netherlands.
>"It was shocking and totally smashed all the good reasons we 
>initially went into palm oil," said Alex Kaat, a spokesman for 
>Wetlands, a conservation group.
>The production of biofuels, long a cornerstone of the quest for 
>greener energy, may sometimes create more harmful emissions than 
>fossil fuels, scientific studies are finding.
>As a result, politicians in many countries are rethinking the 
>billions of dollars in subsidies that have indiscriminately 
>supported the spread of all of these supposedly eco-friendly fuels 
>for vehicles and factories. The 2003 European Union Biofuels 
>Directive, which demands that all member states aim to have 5.75 
>percent of transportation run by biofuel in 2010, is now under 
>"If you make biofuels properly, you will reduce greenhouse 
>emissions," said Peder Jensen, of the European Environment Agency in 
>Copenhagen. "But that depends very much on the types of plants and 
>how they're grown and processed. You can end up with a 90 percent 
>reduction compared to fossil fuels - or a 20 percent increase."
>He added, "It's important to take a life-cycle view," and not to 
>"just see what the effects are here in Europe."
>In the Netherlands, the data from Indonesia has provoked 
>soul-searching, and helped prompt the government to suspend palm oil 
>subsidies. The Netherlands, a leader in green energy, is now leading 
>the effort to distinguish which biofuels are truly environmentally 
>The government, environmental groups and some of the Netherlands' 
>"green energy" companies are trying to develop programs to trace the 
>origins of imported palm oil, to certify which operations produce 
>the oil in a responsible manner.
>Krista van Velzen, a member of Parliament, said the Netherlands 
>should pay compensation to Indonesia for the damage that palm oil 
>has caused. "We can't only think: does it pollute the Netherlands?"
>In the United States and Brazil most biofuel is ethanol (made from 
>corn in the United States and sugar in Brazil), used to power 
>vehicles made to run on gasoline. In Europe it is mostly local 
>rapeseed and sunflower oil, used to make diesel fuel.
>In a small number of instances, plant oil is used in place of diesel 
>fuel, without further refinement. But as many European countries 
>push for more green energy, they are increasingly importing plant 
>oils from the tropics, since there is simply not enough plant matter 
>for fuel production at home.
>On the surface, the environmental equation that supports biofuels is 
>simple: Since they are derived from plants, biofuels absorb carbon 
>while they are grown and release it when they are burned. In theory 
>that neutralizes their emissions.
>But the industry was promoted long before there was adequate 
>research, said Reanne Creyghton, who runs Friends of the Earth's 
>campaign against palm oil here.
>Biofuelswatch, an environment group in Britain, now says that 
>"biofuels should not automatically be classed as renewable energy." 
>It supports a moratorium on subsidies until more research can 
>determine whether various biofuels in different regions are produced 
>in a nonpolluting manner.
>Beyond that, the group suggests that all emissions arising from the 
>production of a biofuel be counted as emissions in the country where 
>the fuel is actually used, providing a clearer accounting of 
>environmental costs.
>The demand for palm oil in Europe has soared in the last two 
>decades, first for use in food and cosmetics, and more recently for 
>fuel. This versatile and cheap oil is used in about 10 percent of 
>supermarket products, from chocolate to toothpaste, accounting for 
>21 percent of the global market for edible oils.
>Palm oil produces the most energy of all vegetable oils for each 
>unit of volume when burned. In much of Europe it is used as a 
>substitute for diesel fuel, though in the Netherlands, the 
>government has encouraged its use for electricity.
>Supported by hundreds of millions of euros in national subsidies, 
>the Netherlands rapidly became the leading importer of palm oil in 
>Europe, taking in 1.7 million tons last year, nearly double the 
>previous year.
>The increasing demand has created damage far away. Friends of the 
>Earth estimates that 87 percent of the deforestation in Malaysia 
>from 1985 to 2000 was caused by new palm oil plantations. In 
>Indonesia, the amount of land devoted to palm oil has increased 118 
>percent in the last eight years.
>In December, scientists from Wetlands International released their 
>calculations about the global emissions caused by palm farming on 
>Peat is an organic sponge that stores huge amounts of carbon, 
>helping balance global emissions. Peatland is 90 percent water. But 
>when it is drained, the Wetlands International scientists say, the 
>stored carbon gases are released into the atmosphere.
>To makes matters worse, once dried, peatland is often burned to 
>clear ground for plantations. The Dutch study estimated that the 
>draining of peatland in Indonesia releases 660 million ton of carbon 
>a year into the atmosphere and that fires contributed 1.5 billion 
>tons annually.
>The total is equivalent to 8 percent of all global emissions caused 
>annually by burning fossil fuels, the researchers said. "These 
>emissions generated by peat drainage in Indonesia were not counted 
>before," said Mr. Kaat. "It was a totally ignored problem." For the 
>moment Wetlands is backing the certification system for palm oil 
>But some environmental groups say palm oil cannot be produced 
>sustainably at reasonable prices. They say palm oil is now cheap 
>because of poor environmental practices and labor abuses.
>"Yes, there have been bad examples in the palm oil industry," said 
>Arjen Brinkman, a company official at Biox, a young company that 
>plans to build three palm oil electrical plants in Holland, using 
>oil from palms grown on its own plantations in a manner that it says 
>is responsible.
>"But it is now clear," he said, "that to serve Europe's markets for 
>biofuel and bioenergy, you will have to prove that you produce it 
>sustainably - that you are producing less, not more CO2."


No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
------------------------------------ -----------------------------------
E. A. Shinn, Courtesy Professor
University of South Florida
Marine Science Center (room 204)
140 Seventh Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
<eshinn at marine.usf.edu>
Tel 727 553-1158---------------------------------- 

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