Sunshine Recorder

Link: Brazilian President Vetoes Controversial Changes to Forest Code

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has vetoed critical revisions to the nation’s Forest Code that environmental advocates said would lead to rampant deforestation of the Amazon. Speaking to reporters, government officials said Rousseff had vetoed vetoed 12 of the 84 articles in the controversial land-use legislation that was passed by the Brazilian congress last month, including provisions that would grant partial amnesty to landowners who illegally cleared forests and would reduce the size of forested buffer zones along rivers. Those revisions had been seen as a key victory for Brazil’s powerful agribusiness lobby. Today, however, Environmental Secretary Izabella Teixeira said the proposed changes posed threats to ecosystem preservation and sustainable agriculture production. Opponents had contended the legislation would create loopholes that would enable landowners to clear significantly more forest, require them to restore only half as much forest as mandated under existing laws, and send a dangerous message about Brazil’s commitment to forest preservation. The presidential veto comes just two weeks before global leaders descend on Brazil for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20.

Link: The Myth of Sustainable Meat

The industrial production of animal products is nasty business. From mad cow, E. coli and salmonella to soil erosion, manure runoff and pink slime, factory farming is the epitome of a broken food system.

There have been various responses to these horrors, including some recent attempts to improve the industrial system, like the announcement this week that farmers will have to seek prescriptions for sick animals instead of regularly feeding antibiotics to all stock. My personal reaction has been to avoid animal products completely. But most people upset by factory farming have turned instead to meat, dairy and eggs from nonindustrial sources. Indeed, the last decade has seen an exciting surge in grass-fed, free-range, cage-free and pastured options. These alternatives typically come from small organic farms, which practice more humane methods of production. They appeal to consumers not only because they reject the industrial model, but because they appear to be more in tune with natural processes.

For all the strengths of these alternatives, however, they’re ultimately a poor substitute for industrial production. Although these smaller systems appear to be environmentally sustainable, considerable evidence suggests otherwise.

Grass-grazing cows emit considerably more methane than grain-fed cows. Pastured organic chickens have a 20 percent greater impact on global warming. It requires 2 to 20 acres to raise a cow on grass. If we raised all the cows in the United States on grass (all 100 million of them), cattle would require (using the figure of 10 acres per cow) almost half the country’s land (and this figure excludes space needed for pastured chicken and pigs). A tract of land just larger than France has been carved out of the Brazilian rain forest and turned over to grazing cattle. Nothing about this is sustainable.

Link: Busting the Forest Myths: People as Part of the Solution

The long-held contention that rural forest communities are the prime culprits in tropical forest destruction is increasingly being discredited, as evidence mounts that the best way to protect rainforests is to involve local residents in sustainable management.

Some forest campaigners have been saying it for years, but now they have the research to prove it: Local communities are the most effective managers of their forests, best able to combine sustainable harvests with conservation. A series of studies unveiled in the past year have skewered the long-held view — still espoused by many governments and even some in the environmental community — that poor forest dwellers are the prime culprits in deforestation and that the best conservation option is to combine strict ecosystem protection in some areas with intensive cultivation elsewhere. Here are seven myths punctured by recent research.

Link: The Devastating Costs of the Amazon Gold Rush

Spurred by rising global demand for the metal, miners are destroying invaluable rainforest in Peru’s Amazon basin.

In Peru alone, while no one knows for certain the total acreage that has been ravaged, at least 64,000 acres—possibly much more—have been razed. The destruction is more absolute than that caused by ranching or logging, which accounts, at least for now, for vastly more rainforest loss. Not only are gold miners burning the forest, they are stripping away the surface of the earth, perhaps 50 feet down. At the same time, miners are contaminating rivers and streams, as mercury, used in separating gold, leaches into the watershed. Ultimately, the potent toxin, taken up by fish, enters the food chain.

The new Peruvian gold-mining operations are expanding. The most recent data show that the rate of deforestation has increased sixfold from 2003 to 2009. “It’s relatively easy to get a permit to explore for gold,” says the Peruvian biologist Enrique Ortiz, an authority on rainforest management. “But once you find a suitable site for mining gold, then you have to get the actual permits. These require engineering specs, statements of environmental protection programs, plans for protection of indigenous people and for environmental remediation.” Miners circumvent this, he adds, by claiming they’re in the permitting process. Because of this evasion, Ortiz says, “They have a claim to the land but not much responsibility to it. Most of the mines here—estimates are between 90 or 98 percent of them in Madre de Dios state—are illegal.”

Link: Biodiesels Pollute More Than Crude Oil, Leaked Data Show

Greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels such as palm oil, soybean and rapeseed are higher than those for fossil fuels when the effects of Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) are counted, according to leaked EU data seen by EurActiv.

The default values assigned to the biofuels compare to those from Canada’s oil sands – also known as tar sands – according to the figures, which should be released along with long-awaited legislative proposals on biofuels in the spring.

A spokesperson for the European Commission said she could “not comment on leaked documents, such as impact assessments which have not been published.”

But industry and civil society sources described the data as credible and in line with other studies. One said it would sound a death knell for the biodiesel industry, if published.

“I think the science has proved clearly that because of the link to deforestation in places such as South East Asia, a lot of the biodiesels have significantly negative impacts on the climate,” Robbie Blake, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth, told EurActiv.

ILUC happens when forests and wetlands are cleared to compensate for lands taken to grow biofuels elsewhere.

One recent report predicted that all of Malaysia’s tropical peatswamp forests would be destroyed by the end of the decade because of ILUC - with alarming consequences for greenhouse gas emissions - unless the expansion of palm oil production was halted. 

To measure the climate impact of fuels, Brussels favours assigning default values based on a calculation of their full lifecycle emissions, hence the debate over ILUC factors and biofuels.

In its recent review of the Fuel Quality Directive, the EU proposed a default value of 107g CO2 equivalent per megajoule of fuel (CO2/mj) for oil from tar sands, as compared to 87.5g CO2/mj for crude oil, reflecting the greater environmental harm that its production causes.

Yet while advanced ‘second generation’ biofuels comfortably outperform fossil fuels in the EU’s new data, palm oil is ascribed a value of 105g, soybean 103g, rapeseed 95g, and sunflower 86g, once ILUC is factored in.

The data propose ILUC-incorporating CO2/mj values for biofuels as follows:

• Oil from tar sands - 107g
• Palm Oil - 105g
• Soy bean – 103g
• Rapeseed – 95g
• Crude oil - 87.5g
• Sunflower – 86g
• Palm Oil with methane capture – 83g
• Corn (Maize) – 43g
• Sugar Cane – 36g