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April 04, 2007 10:47PM
http://freeinternetpress.com/story.php?sid=11198

Palm Oil: The Biofuel Of The Future Driving An Ecological Disaster Now

The numbers are damning. Within 15 years 98% of the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia will be gone, little more than a footnote in history. With them will disappear some of the world's most important wildlife species, victims of the rapacious destruction of their habitat in what conservationists see as a lost cause.
Yet this gloomy script was supposed to have included a small but significant glimmer of hope. Oil palm for biofuel was to have been one of the best solutions in saving the planet from greenhouse gases and global warming. Instead the forests are being torn down in the headlong rush to boost palm oil production.

More startling is that conservationists believe the move to clear land for this "green fuel" is often little more than a conspiracy, providing cover to strip out the last stands of timber not already lost to illegal loggers. In one corner of Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, a mere 250,000 hectares or 1,000 square miles - almost twice the size of Greater London - of the 6 million hectares of forest allocated for palm oil by the government have actually been planted.
"When you look closely the areas where companies are getting permission for oil palm plantations are those of high-conservation forest," said Willie Smits, who set up SarVision, a satellite mapping service that charts the rainforest's decline. "What they're really doing is stealing the timber because they get to clear it before they plant. But the timber's all they want; hit and run with no intention of ever planting. It's a conspiracy."............

.............Yet palm oil, mixed with diesel to produce biofuel, was hailed as a potential saviour for the environment. Put simply, the argument runs that the palm oil plants produce organic compounds that when burned in engines do not add to overall carbon dioxide levels. The CO2 absorbed by the plant in its life-cycle should balance the amount it gives out when burned.

However, the more the ecological fairytale is scrutinized the more it begins to look like a bad dream. Researchers from the Dutch pressure group Wetlands International found that as much as half the space created for new palm oil plantations was cleared by draining and burning peat-land, sending huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The sodden peat of central Kalimantan acts as a vast organic sponge that stores huge amounts of carbon. But as it dries while being drained for plantation, or by roads being cut through to remove timber, it releases the stored carbon. In Indonesia alone, the peat releases 600 million tons of carbon a year. Worse, it is often set alight to speed clearing, adding to the CO2 from the huge forest fires that blanket much of southeast Asia in haze. Estimates say Indonesia's fires generate 1,400 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, pushing it to the world's third-largest producer of CO2 from 26th, if both factors are considered.

Conservationists also fear that placing all eggs in one basket could prompt an ecological disaster. A palm oil monoculture would be unable to support the rich diversity of wildlife and leave the environment vulnerable to catastrophic disease, while local people dependent on the crop could be left high and dry if it fell out of favor.

"There are bad biofuels in the world and palm oil is often the very 'baddest'," said Ed Matthew, biofuel specialist at Friends of the Earth.............

I saw a documentary recently, showing huge swaths of mono-culture Palm Oil plantations in Borneo, which have taken the place of the once incredibly diverse and rich rain forest that was there before. In this documentary, the sounds of life in filming done in the rain forest was full of the sounds of living things, and there myriad calls. Another segment was taken in in the Palm groves, and it was completely silent. Obviously, miles after mile of mono-culture palm groves, is no place for rich and diverse animal and bird life. The big push is on for Bio Fuels, and as a consequence, poor people in the third world countries will decimate en-masse, whats left of the world's rain forest, to make a buck, and to feed the affluent countries voracious appetitie for fuel.
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