Assaulting Biodiversity and Our Livelihoods
By Hwaa Irfan
This is based on a report by ETC Group entitled: The New Biomass(ters): Synthetic Biology and the Next Assault on Biodiversity and Livelihoods
Biomass, is living matter which will provide fuel instead of fossil fuels. The problem with that is manifold, including the fact that like most of the natural resources that provide wealth for the global North, i.e. the developed countries, much of biomass is located in the global South. The reason why biomass is mainly in the global South is because nature is more abundant with many species the benefit of which remains unknown to the global North, and may have gone ‘out of fashion’ out of the mistaken belief that modernization is Westernization. This means potential food for humans, animals and for the maintenance and sustenance of biodiversity will be sold off as fuel at a time when climate change could reduce food supply by 25% by 2050 in the global South, currently with eyes on Brazil, ,Malaysia, Mexico, and South Africa.
The stock brokers of Wall Street already have their hands on 24% of the global biomass the purposes for which provides the stock market with commodities such as fuel, plastics, food, textiles, pharmaceuticals, paper , building and industrial supplies to the tune of $17 trillion. These products from biomass are achieved by the scientific manipulation of DNA to create new, but artificial self replicating organisms. This is mainly driven by the U.S. Department of Energy, BP, Shell, Exxonmobil, Dupont, Cargill, Tate & Lyle, and others.
The arguments to support the transfer of biomass from the South for the economic benefit of the North is neocolonialism, which is quite literally not only stealing from the poor for the benefit of the rich, but is also stealing from the land underneath them, which in turn imbalances the earth, and all life supporting systems globally for all things on earth are interconnected. They are able to do so with some consent because basically, most people are unaware that is what is happening; because the assumption is, is that finally some governments are trying to tackle the issues underlying climate change. It may be that the likely scenario is that governments of the developed nations are looking at various ways to maintain their economic development in light of climate change, and to maintain the same economic system which is guilty of so many human injustices as well as an injustice to the earth ignoring that the earth is like a well that if we keep extracting water from at the rate we are doing – i.e. in excess, will one day go dry. However, the new technologies of nanotechnology and synthetic biology, opens new avenues for the global North to repeat imperial history.
“Many think of biomass mainly as a source for liquid fuel products such as ethanol and biodiesel. But biomass can also be converted to a multitude of products we use everyday. In fact, there are very few products that are made today from a petroleum base, including paints, inks, adhesives, plastics, and other value-added products, that cannot be produced from biomass.”
– David K. Garman, U.S. Under Secretary of Energy for Energy, Science and Environment under George W. Bush
Companies currently involved in development of genetic information:
Amyris Biotechnologies – Genencor – Microsoft – Monsanto – Novozymes – Synthetic Genomics Inc.
- “As we looked at the world and looked at where the lowest cost, largest scale biomass was, we found that Brazil really was the Saudi Arabia of renewable.” – John Melo, CEO of Amyris Biotechnologies
Companies partnering in bio-entrepreneurs and changing means of production:
BASF – BP – Chevron – Duke Energy – Dupont – DSM – ExxonMobil – Shell – Total Oil
- Example – Dupont is working on converting sugar and maize into bioplastics, textiles, and chemicals.
Financial services involved in trading in biomass:
Goldman Sachs – Microsoft – JP Morgan
- Interestingly, JP Morgan, one of the companies trading in biomass currently also sponsored Hilary Clinton in her election campaign, and also has former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as their senior advisor who is also heavily involved in the next Olympics in Brazil, one of the countries being targeted for biomass!
Consumer products turning to biomass products:
Coca Cola – Proctor & Gamble – Unilever
Progress or Regress?
We compare the present with the past and believe that we have made great strides in progress. When confronted with the wisdom of Truth, and the realities of the Laws of Nature, we disregard the timeless knowledge and understanding that it continually presents to us, but consider the information we receive today in the form of ‘education’ as knowledge, yet it is continually changes because it is of the affectations of man, temporary, unfounded and separates all what is whole into separate pieces with each piece containing a piece of the puzzle we have created in the form of the mounting crises we face today both on a personal level, and a public level. We fail to connect because we have become disconnected ourselves! We have had hundreds and thousands of years as societies which lived off the land – only the land sustained us – trade was honest because it was based on direct buying and selling i.e. bartering. Then we had/have the industrial age, which in fact has only really lasted just over 200 years. The information age has literally lasted less than 100 years, if one considers the lack of/control of information today, and that it has hit its curve in terms of innovation. If one is not too convinced of this, then take another look at the companies mentioned above, namely Microsoft – one of the key innovators of the information age, and see what else they are doing to survive which is far from related to information technology! Each age has become shorter and shorter as man seeks to take control of the world we live in to his material benefit. With each age, (accept for when all lived off the land), the resources for development came from the global South. The only age that arose and was sourced by the global North has been the information age, which has been very short-lived. With each age, food has become more available to the global North, and less available to the global South, and hunger is becoming a glaring reality for many in both the global North, and the global South! The irony is that it takes much more biomass to achieve the same output of fossil fuels, and in the process much more carbon monoxide is produced.
Many reasons have been given for the food price crisis which began in 2008, but if one observed with interest in the early days of the crisis, the root was Wall Street. With the help of mainstream media, the root cause became disguised without any real explanation with global bodies along with the U.S. not making themselves accountable to those they say they represent. The one reason given was the use of biofuels, the extent to which, the impact of which has raised a controversy which did not unearth the extent. The food riots in Africa and parts of Asia were not paid attention to, and as governments of the developed world behave with increasing lack of transparency, their citizens accept the situation because they can afford to, or grow complacent, starve, or make demands when they are hit on a personal level, with the pace of life today making it difficult to look beyond one’s personal sphere of existence.
Raiding the Global South
Outside of the onslaught of “do this” and “do that” in developed societies, parts of the global South have never moved away from the biology of nature. One should give thanks for this, because the state of biodiversity for the planet would be worse than it is now. As such their knowledge base of their environment, and the plant kingdom is precious. Yet, the global North under the guise of bio-economy will once again plunder that wealth to the detriment of the indigenous peoples of the world who have survived to maintain their cultures which goes hand-in-hand with the land they have protected. 86% of biomass is in the tropics and sub-tropics, and is where biomass replenishes the fastest, but if, as is our habit, we take more than nature can replenish, sooner rather than later, we will no better off than as we are now!
“A new international division of labor in agriculture is likely to emerge between countries with large tracts of arable land – and thus a likely exporter of biomass or densified derivatives – versus countries with smaller amounts of arable land (i.e. biomass importers, e.g. Holland). The biggest biomass exporter hubs are expected to be Brazil, Africa, and North America.”
– David King: “The Future of Industrial Biorefineries” World Economic Forum 2010.
Maybe now it makes sense to those who wondered why there is all this sudden interest in Brazil, and Africa. To those in the ‘trade’, it is “geographic destiny”, or is it according to the ever-living “Doctrine of Destiny” that led to slavery, colonialism, and the industrial revolution?
The food price crisis is a result of the early days of the new age, the age of bio-economy, which is based on biomass, which consists of the forests, the plants, the soil, and the genetic material which all of this produces and has been maintained by the indigenous peoples of the world who have not moved from living off the land. These are the people looked down upon the city dwellers of their respective countries – the peasants, the farmers, the pastoralists, and the fisher-folk. Biomass might be referred to non-fossilized fuel, to allay any fears of the reality of further degradation of the global environment at the cost of one for the benefit of the other. The U.N. refers to biomass as follows:
“Biomass includes organic matter available on a renewable basis, such as forest and mill residues, agricultural crops and residues, wood and wood residues, animal wastes, livestock operation residues, aquatic plants, fast-growing trees and plants, and the organic portion of municipal and relevant industrial wastes.”
This is not too encouraging if it includes sewerage, and chemical waste!
By reducing nature to biomass = living carbon reserves, i.e. a resource to be exploited in place of fossil fuels is in indicative enough of the intentions behind a bio-economic age. For example, an essential component of nature is cellulose, which provides food and heat for both animals and mankind. The argument of biomass entrepreneurs is that the cellulose can be separated from what constitutes food chemically modified for production into polymers etc, but the problem with that argument is cellulose cannot be separated from its food source makes the food source of no value to human health. Regardless, regardless, research marches forward because big money is involved! A 2008 USDA report stated that $400bn worth of products (paper, pulp, lumber, paints, greases and lubricants) has been produced. The U.S. already makes $45bn from biomass electricity (2010). The land grab is on, and its somebody else’s land! In sub-Saharan Africa, 46.6 million hectares have been bought by 464 foreign projects in a region where there is growing hunger. Friends of the Earth found that land grab has taken place in 11 African countries involving 5 million hectares.
“The expansion of biofuels on our continent is transforming forests and natural vegetation into fuel crops, taking away food growing farmland from communities, and creating conflicts with local people over land ownership”
– Marianne Bassey, Food and agriculture coordinator for Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria.
Having gone through one period of colonialism, and still in recovery, is Africa ready to take on a challenge that can make or break them? That question may not only apply to Africa, but apply to the developed world, as they struggle to maintain an unsustainable lifestyle and impose it on the rest of the world!