Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Greenpeace Beats Neste in Sweden

Another win for Greenpeace.

Sweden's top filling station operator OKQ8 on Wednesday gave up its plans to sell biodiesel refined by Finland's Neste Oil.

OKQ8, owned by Swedish cooperative OK and Kuwait Petroleum, had been under pressure from Greenpeace.

Neste uses Malaysian palm oil as a raw material of its biodiesel. According to Greenpeace, Malaysian tropical forest is cleared to make way for palm tree plantations.

Greenpeace calls biodiesel made from palm oil "deforestation diesel."

Neste is investing heavily in biodiesel processing at the company's existing oil refineries, The company, which wants to be to biodiesel what Nokia is to mobile phones, says it intends to transition from palm to jatropha oil as a primary feedstock.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

China Disappoints Israel

Israel's Foreign Minister has urged China to support more sanctions against Iran for its refusal to stop its nuclear programs. As Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing, however, China has rejected new sanctions....

Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told a press briefing the time is ripe for more sanctions against Iran.

She said Iran's nuclear programs and support for terrorist groups were a threat not only to Israel, but also to the world.

"We believe that there is a need for more sanctions in the United Nations Security Council," Livni said. "China supported, of course, the past two decisions in the Security Council. We believe that there is a need to enhance the sanctions in order to stop Iran since sanctions are influential when it comes to the needs of Iran."

Livni made the comments at the end of a three-day visit to China where she hoped to persuade Beijing to moderate its longstanding relationship with Tehran. Iran is a key supplier of crude oil to energy-hungry China.

China has veto power in the United Nations Security Council and has supported past sanctions against Iran. But China, along with fellow veto-wielding member Russia, has been reluctant to support further sanctions.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao Tuesday rejected any immediate sanctions.

"We think at the moment relevant parties are seeking dialogue with Iran to solve the nuclear issue," Liu said. "[We] should [therefore] all the more avoid using sanctions so as not to further complicate the issue."

Monday, October 29, 2007

Second Thoughts On Biofuels? Follow the Money

Wall Street is going country--kind of. More accurately, some of the biggest players in global finance are moving into agrofuels. Our London correspondent reports....

1. The Carlyle Group. The global private equity behemoth, which has over $75 billion under management, has made a number of agrofuels-related acquisitions over the past few years through its clean energy investment units. Its portfolio includes one of Brazil’s largest sugar-cane ethanol groups and numerous agrofuel plants in the United States and Europe. The Carlyle Group manages the plants with agribusiness giants like Bunge and ConAgra. In January 2007, the Carlyle Group joined Goldman Sachs and Richard Morgan, in taking over the energy distribution corporation Kinder Morgan, which handles roughly 30 per cent of the ethanol sold in the US.

2. George Soros. The legendary billionaire bought the Argentine company Pecom Agribusiness in 2002, which gave him over 100,000 hectares of land in Argentina for beef and dairy cattle, soya, maize, wheat, rice, and sunflowers production. Then, in 2004, his company, now called Adenco, expanded into Brazil, buying 27,000 hectares of land in the states of Tocantins and Bahia for the production of cotton and coffee. In 2006, Adenco entered into a partnership with Brazil’s Vieira family, a coffee-growing clan from Minas Gerais state, to set up a mill with a productive capacity of one million tonnes of sugar cane per year. The Vieira family are now shareholders in Adenco and manage the group’s Brazilian operations. The group continues to expand, and soon its four sugar processing plants in Brazil expect to be milling 12 million tons of sugar cane, converting much of it into ethanol. Meanwhile, in the US, Soros announced that his company is constructing a plant for corn-based ethanol, which will process 50 million tons of corn, harvested from an area of 50,000 hectares, with similar plants under consideration for Argentina.

3. Goldman Sachs. One of the world’s largest investment banks, it not only handles the financing for many of the major agrofuel ventures, but is also one of the leading investors in clean energy, having invested upwards of $1 billion already, with much of it going into agrofuels. Goldman Sachs co-owns leading cellulosic ethanol developer Logen, as well as energy distribution companies Kinder Morgan and Green Earth Fuels, which are working together on an 86 millio gallon a year biodiesel plant and storage terminal in Texas that can handle 8 million barrels of biodiesel. Moving even more directly into agribusiness, Goldman Sachs became a co-owner in 2006 of China’s two largest meat companies, making the investment bank China’s largest investor in this sector.

Chen: No Need to Fear UN Referendum

Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian used a meeting with members of the foreign media in Taipei to assert that a referendum on the island's United Nations membership bid is about the will of its residents. Jacques van Wersch reports from Taipei....

Chen told foreign media Monday that more than more than 1.8 million signatures have been collected for the referendum on joining the UN. He predicted that by the end of this month, the target of two million signatures will be collected.

The referendum will ask voters if they want to join the UN using the name "Taiwan" instead of "Republic of China," the island's formal name. Until 1971, the island was a UN member under that name. It was expelled when other members voted to grant the seat to Beijing government in mainland China.

Beijing, which claims Taiwan as its territory and says it will use force to reunify if necessary, objects to the referendum, calling it a step toward independence. The United States also objects, saying neither side should make unilateral moves to change the situation.

Chen said the referendum is about the will of Taiwan's people, rather than independence.

"We think that China can have objections," he said. "And the United States and Japan don't necessarily have to support it; they may even oppose it. None of this really matters. What really matters is whether Taiwan's 23 million people have thought about and are ready for Taiwan to be a sovereign country."

Chen said he expects the referendum to be approved by a majority of voters, with no negative consequences.

The referendum will be held at the same time as next year's presidential election. Whatever the outcome, it is unlikely that the UN will grant Taiwan membership in the next few years; past applications have been rejected.

Chen said he delayed seeking a referendum until late in his term because his government had to move gradually to build a consensus. He pointed out that Taiwan's system did not allow for a referendum until four years ago, and that holding a vote then might have been too provocative.

Chen went on to reject speculation that Taiwan might use new weapons rashly. Taiwan's military recently has acquired cruise missiles that could hit China. Chen stressed they would never be used against civilian targets and that Washington would be consulted.

"For any use, we must first communicate with the United States ahead of time and ask their opinion before actually using them," Chen said.

Chen is constitutionally limited to two terms as president. He leaves office next May. He says perhaps his greatest legacy will have been helping to raise the percentage of Taiwan residents who identify themselves as Taiwanese rather than Chinese from just over 30 percent in 2000 to the current 70 percent.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Israel Seeking China's Help with Iran

Israel's top diplomat is heading to China to press for tougher action against Iran's nuclear program. As Robert Berger reports from Jerusalem, Israel fears that a nuclear Iran would pose a threat to its existence....

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is bringing a clear message to China: Israel will not allow Iran to get the atom bomb.

The Jewish state is concerned that China and Russia, which are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, have opposed calls by the United States for tougher sanctions on Iran.

Israel has grown increasingly alarmed about Iran's nuclear program since late 2005, when the Iranian president threatened to wipe the Jewish state "off the map."

Livni says the world must stop Iran before it is too late.

"These are the days in which the international community, the free world, is being watched," Livni said. "The international community must not show any kind of hesitation."

President Bush has warned that a nuclear Iran could lead to World War III. And Israel seems to agree.

"Iran is not only a threat to Israel, and it is not only a threat to the region," Livni said. "The world cannot afford a nuclear Iran."

Israeli officials have warned time and again that if diplomacy fails, Israel could take military action against Iran's nuclear facilities. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert traveled to Russia, France, and Britain this month to tell them that time for diplomacy is running out.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Halloween Comment: the Situation is Scary

The international situation is worse than at any time since the 1930s.

With the possible exception of the Korean Peninsula, diplomacy is failing on all fronts, incapable, it seems, of fulfilling its traditional peace-preserving role in the Internet/TV era. It is as if the two most disruptive technologies in human history have conspired to sap the diplomats of their remaining powers, turning them into mere messengers for politicians addicted to pandering to a global electronic mob.

Accent on politicians: there isn't a statesman (or stateswoman) in sight on the world stage.

Imperial rivalry rules. Not in the Marxist sense but according to the classical political realist definition of the term imperialism as set forth by the late, preeminent American political scientist, Hans J. Morgenthau--namely, a foreign policy that aims to upset the status quo and change the power relations among nations.

Following Morgenthau's definition, the United States responded to 9/11 with an openly imperialist policy (initially obfuscated by the weapons of mass destruction issue). Instead of simply taking swift and decisive military action to defend the nation and utterly defeat the enemy that had attacked it in the worst-ever assaults on US soil--and worst-ever terrorist outrages--Washington used the Al Qaeda attacks as a launching pad for an at best misguided crusade to remake the Middle East by installing a friendly democracy in Iraq. A different kind of domino theory--the opposite of that which was used in Vietnam--was deployed to rationalize the US intervention. Democracy was supposed to spread from Iraq to other nations in the region, radiating outward, even, to neutralize radical tendencies across the Muslim world.

The US project failed; in fact, it has strengthened the hand of the world's leading and most dangerous Islamist nation, nuclearizing Iran, which is pursuing an imperialist foreign policy that aims at nothing less than a historic shift in the Muslim world's relationship with the West. Iran's intentions are anything but peaceful. Attempts to prevent war by appeasing the regime are bound to fail. Barring a last-minute miracle, such as a military coup in Iran or a mass rebellion against the monstrous mullahocracy, aerial attacks by the US and, very possibly, also by Israel, to destroy Tehran's nuclear program and menacing missile installations--as well as its terrorist-sponsoring, regime-propping Revolutionary Guard and Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah--seem increasingly inevitable.

Nobody knows how America's other imperial rivals--rising China and resurgent Russia--will react to the all-but certain coming conflict with Iran, which they have protected for various reasons. The US has inexplicably driven the two former Communist competitors closer together. US relations with Russia are worsening by the day as Moscow moves to counter policies that seem to have been deliberately designed to intensify traditional Russian fears of Western encirclement. From Central Asia to Cuba--President Bush took time this week to lash out at Havana and practically threaten the aging Castro brothers with regime change--US foreign policy suddenly seems to be at odds with most of the world. The Secretary of State's stern visage as she lectures and warns and pontificates from place to place is almost too painful to observe.

Making matters worse, the above-described game of nations is being played out against the backdrop of global warming and shrinking energy and other natural resources. Not for nothing did Germany's Foreign Minister this week warn of a new "cold war" at the North Pole. Melting ice caps are accelerating the international race to tap oil and gas deposits in the Arctic Sea and control of fabled Polar passages by Canada and Russia.

Peak oil, peak grain, peak water ... and proliferating atomic arms ... the picture that is coming into focus is far more frightening than any Halloween horror movie. Something to keep in mind as the holiday nears: news is now stranger ... and scarier ... than entertainment.

Friday, October 26, 2007

China Buys Big Stake in South African Bank

In the largest post-apartheid-era direct investment deal in South Africa, the state-controlled Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, ICBC, has purchased 20 percent of Standard Bank, South Africa's largest lender.

The $5.5 billion deal is the largest investment China has made into any foreign market. The deal also signifies China's determination to invest in resource-rich regions where it can acquire the necessary raw materials China needs for its burgeoning economy.

The deal will see some $4.3 billion flow directly into the South African economy, while Standard Bank has earmarked the rest for investment in Africa, China and some smaller developing economies.

Peak Oil Only the First of Many Coming Crises

For those who are already tired of reading about peak oil, comes this dispatch, from our London correspondent, concerning peak grain and peak water....

1. Peak Grain. Global grain stockpiles are down to their tightest levels in three decades after two years of unusual weather patterns. Heatwaves have wilted crops in the granaries of the world while floods and other environmental scourges have devastated some of the poorer "self-sustaining" regions.

Global wheat stockpiles will fall to a 34-year low by June 2008, according to the International Grains Council. US stockpiles will fall to lowest level since 1951-52.

The price of a bushel has more than doubled in the past year.

The bushel of woes includes rice, barley, soybeans, sorghum, oats and lentils as well, and they are all sagging under record prices. The grapes of wrath have gone on to stalk eggs, cheese, milk, and meat.

In Europe, milk is now known as "white gold."

It is not just bad weather to blame. Rising demand from China is pushing up prices, despite the fact that only half of its urban population has basic health insurance. Processed food re-exported through Beijing's food chain is causing a global health nightmare.

Moreover, the current biodiesel craze is inducing farms to purpose-plant crops for the booming biofuels industry.

2. Peak Water. There is not enough freshwater around to sustain the planet's inland ecosystem and its human population. Rivers that help supply drinking water are laden with toxic industrial wastes. Population growth is already straining the capacities of water treatment plants worldwide while desalination plants remain the prerogative of wealthy nations.

According to the Pacific Institute: "Over 1 billion people don't have access to clean drinking water; more than 2 billion lack access to adequate sanitation; and millions die every year due to preventable water-related diseases. Water resources around the globe are threatened by climate change, misuse, and pollution." The organization estimates that "over 34 million people might perish in the next 20 years from water-related disease--even if the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which aim to cut the proportion of those without safe access by half, are met."

Water will increasingly be diverted to industries and agriculture, or to the highest bidder, as privatization of water supply gains currency. Water diversion in one country may precipitate conflict with a neighbor.

China May Have Helped Build Syrian Reactor

China--working in close cooperation with its ally, Iran, and vassal, North Korea--may have helped Syria to develop the nuclear reactor that Israel wiped out in an air attack on September 6.

It is also possible that North Korea supplied Iran with nuclear materials for use in the manufacture of dirty bombs. If this is true, China must have known what North Korea was doing.

Iran, which is engaged in an increasingly tense standoff with the West over its suspect nuclear program, has threatened devastating counterattacks against Israeli cities and American bases if it is attacked by the United States or Israel. In addition to unleashing massive missile barrages, the Islamist regime could be preparing to use dirty bombs, directly or indirectly, via proxies and terrorists, including Hezbollah.

Nor can defense planners rule out the the possibility of sea-launched missile strikes against US and Israeli targets. Iran has successfully test-fired rockets from civilian cargo ships, most likely with North Korean assistance. Unfortunately, however, there is no known defense against this kind of an attack.

Beijing Smog Could Delay Olympic Events

The International Olympic Committee says Beijing's air pollution could force some outdoor events to be postponed at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

A United Nations report issued Thursday criticized Beijing's progress on cleaning its air, 10 months before the Games begin in August.

An IOC Inspection team said air quality is a leading concern. Team leader Hein Verbruggen said the pollution's impact on elite athletes is of particular concern.

IOC president Jacques Rogge said some events--especially endurance events like marathon running or cycling--could be postponed to preserve the athletes' health. Neither Rogge nor Verbruggen said pollution is a threat to Beijing's hosting next year's Olympics.

The UN report said that the average level of pollutants in Beijing's air in 2006 was eight times higher than the level recommended by the World Health Organization.

The UN report was generally positive about other environmental aspects of Beijing's preparations, including waste management, transportation and water treatment.

China has one of the world's fastest-growing economies, but its cities have paid a high environmental price. Beijing often is covered in a shroud of haze and smoke from factory and automobile pollution.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

IFC Seeking Chinese Partners for Carbon Cutting

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) is seeking more Chinese companies as partners to push for more projects that will reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

IFC, the private sector branch of the World Bank, is synchronizing 30 national projects between local companies and the Industrial Bank designed to reduce 6 million tons of carbon dioxide discharge.

The Industrial Bank has lent $56.13 million (420 million yuan) to Chinese firms pursuing energy efficient projects. Most of the enterprises are heavy power users such as cement, power and steel plants.

Aside from green loans, China is resorting to other means to encourage companies to reduce their emission. The Beijing State Council pledged to refund all taxes to be paid by the nation's biggest steel maker, Beijing Shougang Group from 2006 to 2009.

This is in exchange for cutting by half its production during the Olympic Games to ensure athletes and tourists breathe cleaner air. The taxes expected to be given back to Shougang is estimated at $5.7 million (3.8 billion yuan).

For 2007, the steel plant will reduce its annual output to 4 million tons from 8 million. This will result to 18,000 tons less of particulate matters each year or the equivalent emission of 100 medium-sized production plants.

Since 1995, Shougang had spent $267 million (2.1 billion yuan) to make its operations more environment friendly. By 2006 it has succeeded in lessening soot by 82 percent, dust 84 percent and sulfur dioxide discharge 78 percent compared to 1995 levels.

The steel company is also building a new plant on an island in Hebei province 200 kilometers east of Beijing. The new plant is expected to be finished by 2010.

Leading Physicist and Greenpeace Founder: Nuclear Power is Only Realistic Answer to Global Warming

Attention: China. Nuclear power is “the only realistic way of staving off global warming,” according to a leading Irish physicist.

Phillip Watson, Emeritus Professor of Physics at University College Galway, says nuclear energy represents the cleanest and safest option for mankind.

His views are supported by Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore, who said scientific evidence supports the view that nuclear power is “an environmentally sound and safe option.”

Watson warns that the biofuel drive of recent years is limited, because of the huge impact it is having on grain and corn prices--key food stuffs required to feed the growing global population.

D1 Oils Denies Jatropha Biopiracy Allegation

The wonder crop jatropha is at the center of a controversy in India, which is investing heavily in cultivation of the hardy, perennially growing plant for use in biodiesel production.

UK-based D1 Oils, which is dedicated to jatropha-based biodiesel, has been accused of biopiracy. Two years ago, one of India's leading agricultural scientists allegedly arranged for the removal of elite varieties of jatropha from the Indira Gandhi Agriculture University in Chhattisgarh to D1's nearby farm. A few weeks later, he joined the company. Local protests followed, and a report by a state government inquiry into the affair concluded that both the scientist and D1, by accepting the plants without the necessary authority, had breached India's new biodiversity laws, designed to protect the country's bioresources from foreign exploitation.

The Indian government's National Biodiversity Authority recently blocked D1's application to do research on jatropha in India because of the case.

D1 insists it that has not breached any laws, that it is all the result of a misunderstanding, and its Indian operations aren't threatened.

Meanwhile, criticism of the jatropha drive is growing. Aruna Roy, the noted social activist says: "It's amazing that a programme for the mass cultivation of jatropha has been launched without its feasibility being tested, and the people whose lands are being acquired haven't been informed."

The Indian Railways have started to use jatropha oil blended with diesel to power the company's diesel engines.

Several states have distributed plants free of charge to small farmers, encouraging private investment in jatropha plantations and setting up biodiesel processing plants. The ministry of rural development, which is to coordinate the national mission on biofuel when it is approved, estimates that there are already between 500,000 to 600,000 hectares of jatropha growing across India.

India is not alone. China claims to have 2 million hectares of jatropha under cultivation, and has announced plans to plant an additional 11 million hectares across its southern states by 2010. Burma has plans to plant several million hectares, and the Philippines, and several African countries have initiated large-scale plantations of their own. So far there are 200,000 hectares of jatropha in Malawi and 15,000 hectares in Zambia, almost all under a formal leases or agreements with D1-Oils.

Jatropha has never been domesticated. Its yield is not predictable, the conditions for optimum growth is not well defined, and the potential impacts of large-scale cultivation not known.

Is Algae the Answer?

The holy grail of biodiesel production--use of inedible algae oil as a feedstock for making the fuel--may be within reach.

Netherlands-based AlgaeLink announced today that it has developed patented photobioreactor systems for algae that are not built out of pre-manufactured tubes, but out of specially manufactured UV-protected, transparent sheets, which are equipped with a type of zipper.

When the 4 to 6 mm thick sheets arrive on the building site, they are easily and automatically folded into a durable and sturdy, perfectly round tube with a diameter of 64 cm. The tube automatically seals water tight.

The system supposedly cuts construction costs by 90 percent.

“If it were easy, most of the world’s biodiesel would already be made from microalgae grown on non-agricultural land,” Hans van de Ven, president of AlgaeLink, told China Confidential. “But it is not that easy to grow algae at low costs. But with our newly developed and patented AlgaeLink photobioreactors, it is now possible.”

According to van de Ven, success comes from knowing how to select the right algae species, develop an optimal photo-biological formula for them and build a cost-effective, commercial sized photobioreactor that can precisely deliver the right formula to each unique algae cell, no matter the size of the photobioreactor, or the geographical location where it is built.

AlgaeLink is a global developer and manufacturer of scalable photo-bioreactors for the production of biodiesel.

China's Surging Economy Shows No Signs of Slowing

China's economy continues to surge, growing more than 11 percent in the first three-quarters of this year even as the government continues to search for ways to slow it down. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing....

China's juggernaut economy has grown by 11.5 percent so far this year, defying government efforts to slow the rapid expansion. The continued growth has put China on track to surpass Germany as the world's third largest economy, by as early as December.

Growth was fueled by foreign trade that rose by 23 percent, and investment in fixed assets, such as factories and roads, which were up by nearly 26 percent.

The government has instituted numerous changes in an attempt to rein in the economy, including tightening credit and allowing a slow rise in the value of the currency. But growth continues to remain in the 11 percent range, extremely high by world standards.

Nevertheless, a spokesman for the National Bureau of Statistics, Li Xiaochao, maintained Thursday that the government's efforts had brought the economy under control, from an economy that is overheating to one of "speedy growth."

Consumer prices--a key inflation indicator--were up by six-point-two percent in September. Overall inflation for the first three-quarters was four-point-one percent, significantly above the government's target of three percent.

Food prices have increased by more than 10 percent so far this year, with meat and poultry up by 29 percent--a warning signal that inflation could get out of control. The public is already complaining about a large increase in the price of pork, a basic part of the Chinese diet.

On a brighter note, Li says incomes have risen more than 13 percent in the cities and 14 percent in the countryside, and companies are more profitable. But he acknowledged that the economy still faces serious challenges.

He says institutional, systematic, and structural problems in economic performance continue, including rapid economic growth, price rises, high pressure on energy consumption, the need to reduce pollution, and the uncertainty of the world economy.

Chinese officials have tried and failed to tighten the money supply to prevent overheating and speculative investment. They say they want to reduce the risk of borrowers defaulting on loans, by curbing credit and restricting land use.

However, even though interest rates have been raised five times this year and bank reserve requirements eight times, government figures showed cash in circulation was up by 13 percent, and outstanding loans increased 19 percent.

China's politically sensitive trade surplus was also up by $75 billion for the period, to $185 billion. This will likely lead to more international pressure on China to further revalue its currency, the yuan.

The country's foreign currency reserves, already the largest in the world, rose by 45 percent to more than $1.4 trillion.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

China Launches Lunar Probe

China has successfully launched its first lunar probe in its most ambitious bid yet for a presence in space. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing....

China sent its Chang'e 1 lunar probe into space Wednesday night from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in eastern Sichuan Province.

National television broadcast the countdown and launch.

The 5,070-pound satellite is expected to transmit its first photo back to China in late November, and to conduct explorations of the moon for a year.

The satellite is part of a program aimed at putting an unmanned vehicle on the moon by 2012 and eventually sending humans there.

China promotes its space program as a peaceful and scientific enterprise; but Beijing raised considerable international concern when it destroyed an old satellite with a missile-launched weapon earlier this year.

In 20003, China became the third country in the world to send a man in to space.

Study Finds Faster Than Expected CO2 Growth

A team of scientists has found that atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) growth has increased 35 percent faster than expected since the year 2000.

The study found that inefficiency in the use of fossil fuels increased levels of CO2 by 17 percent, while the other 18 percent came from the decline in the efficiency of natural land and ocean sinks that soak up CO2 from the atmosphere.

The research by the Global Carbon Project, the University of East Anglia and the British Antarctic Survey shows that improvements in the carbon intensity of the global economy have stalled since 2000 after improving for 30 years, leading to the unexpected growth of atmospheric CO2.

The study also states that global CO2 emissions were up to 9.9 billion tons of carbon in 2006, 35 percent above emissions in 1990 (used as a reference year in the Kyoto Protocol).

Author Dr. Corinne Le Quéré of the University of East Anglia and British Antarctic Survey says: "The decline in global sink efficiency suggests that stabilisation of atmospheric CO2 is even more difficult to achieve than previously thought. We found that nearly half of the decline in the efficiency of the ocean CO2 sink is due to the intensification of the winds in the Southern Ocean."

The study's lead author, Dr Pep Canadell, executive director of the Global Carbon Project, adds: "In addition to the growth of global population and wealth, we now know that significant contributions to the growth of atmospheric CO2 arise from the slow-down of natural sinks and the halt to improvements in the carbon intensity of wealth production."

The study, titled "Contributions to Accelerating Atmospheric CO2 Growth from Economic Activity, Carbon Intensity, and Efficiency of Natural Sinks," was published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

The authors analysed atmospheric CO2 observations and CO2 emissions data since 1959 and compared observed and projected trends. They found that Southern Ocean winds have increased in response to greenhouse gases and ozone depletion. The increase in winds has led to a release of natural CO2 stored in the deep ocean, which is preventing further absorption of the greenhouse gas.

German FM: Global Warming Could Cause Cold War

As reported by China's official news agency, Xinhua, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Tuesday that climate change has led to territorial claims by some countries in the Arctic that could turn into a Cold War.

"There's a cold war at the North Pole that we have to prevent," the foreign minister told a conference on climate change in Berlin.

"Climate change is a threat to worldwide peace and security," he said.

The foreign minister noted that the ice melting triggered by climate change has made it easier for some countries to exploit the natural resources in the Arctic.

In August, a Russian submarine planted its national flag on the seabed at the North Pole in August, claiming the potentially energy-rich area. Denmark has also claimed part of the Arctic through its Greenland province.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Good News for Jatropha Biodiesel Boosters

A milestone for renewable energy research in the Philippines.

The Technological University of the Philippines and Chemrez Technologies, the country's leading producer of biofuels, announced the successful conversion of oil from locally grown jatropha seeds to a high-quality biodiesel.

"The Philippines is capable of producing jatropha biodiesel that can pass international standards. What is more important to note is that we used seeds from the local jatropha variety," said Philip Argamosa, director of the university's Integrated Research and Training Center, which extracted the jatropha oil.

Chemrez was responsible for the esterification process to convert the oil to methyl ester, commonly known as biodiesel.

The properties of the jatropha-based biodiesel were within the specifications of EN 14214 (European Biodiesel Standards) and ASTMD 6751 (American Biodiesel Standards).

Jatropha is increasingly regarded as an ideal, inedible feedstock for biodiesel production. The plant is a hardy, drought-resistant perennial that can be grown on marginal land.

The Philippines aims to be a major jatropha oil producer. This May, the government signed a $1.3 billion deal with UK-based NRG Chemical Engineering to build biodiesel refineries and jatropha plantations. The news followed reports that another British biofuel company, D1 Oils, is expanding its plantation base in the Mindanao region.

State-owned Philippine National Oil Company said its biofuels unit would form a joint venture with NRG.

China's biodiesel feedstock strategy is based on jatropha and waste vegetable oil.

Paulson Prods China on Product Safety

Beijing's best friend in the Bush administration--Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson--says recent reports of tainted food and products from China have caused fear among American consumers.

Speaking at a conference of US-China trade relations in Washington Tuesday, Paulson urged China to address safety issues that he said are hurting the "Made in China" brand in the United States.

The US government has recalled a number of Chinese products this year for safety concerns, including children's toys products that contain dangerous amounts of lead.

Paulson reiterated the US position that China should allow its currency, the yuan, to appreciate at a quicker pace, and to eventually implement a market-determined currency.

The US contends that China keeps the value of the yuan artificially low, giving an advantage to Chinese exporters. Paulson said currency reforms will help China balance and sustain its rapidly growing economy.

Israeli Analysts: Iran Poised to Produce Bombs

Countdown to conflict....

Israeli intelligence experts believe that Iran is poised to produce nuclear weapons, having crossed a key threshold in its suspect uranium enrichment program.

There is also growing concern in Israel that Iran has secretly obtained North Korean technology and materials to produce plutonium bombs.

Absent a miracle---say, sudden regime change in Iran owing to a military coup or mass uprising--it is hard to imagine a peaceful outcome to the prolonged nuclear standoff. The war of words with Tehran is rapidly coming to an end. Massive military strikes on Iranian nuclear and missile sites--and the elite Revolutionary Guard on which the regime rests--are all but certain. It's really a matter of when--not if--the shooting starts.

China Confidential forecasts: the mullahocracy and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, will pay dearly for its repeated threats to reduce Israeli cities and American bases to ashes. Syria may sit out the conflict; if not, the Alawite-controlled, secular Baathist regime will be removed along with its Shiite Islamist allies.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Food or Fuel? European Economist Says Using Cropland for Feedstock is Illogical and Unethical

Another blow to the biofuels boom.

Germany's top economist says food prices are rising in Europe (a) because the climate has been too hot and dry, and (b) because farmland is increasingly being used for biofuels instead of food production.

Hans-Werner Sinn, President of the Institute for Economic Research and Professor of Economics and Finance at the University of Munich speculates that food prices may one day be coupled to energy prices.

He contents that current German environmental policy is "deficient" as it seeks to reduce the greenhouse effect by promoting biofuels, and cites the Mexican situation, where the price of maize has more than doubled in the space of a year due to its increased production for use as a feedstock for ethanol production.

Sinn claims that until it is made clear where the extra land to be used for production will come from, "it is hard to see the logic in the promotion of biofuels."

He outlines three ways of procuring land to cultivate biofuels: "Firstly, land can be withdrawn from the production of food. Secondly, from the production of natural materials, wood in particular. And thirdly from nature."

There is no surplus food production on a global scale, so withdrawing land from producing food in order to grow biofuels "cannot be done with a clear conscience," Sinn says. Moreover, he says, growing crops for biofuels increases food prices.

Sinn concludes that "it makes little sense to take land in whatever form and use it for the production of biofuels," and adds that their production is only justified in environmental and social terms if they can be produced without the use of additional land.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Iran Escalates War of Words

Is Iran itching for war?

It is beginning to look that way. Following recent praise for Hitler--the regime's supposed moderate, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani said Nazi Germany's leader "saved Europe"--a Revolutionary Guard commander reportedly boasted yesterday that Iran had the capability of firing 11,000 rockets at enemy bases--meaning Israeli cities and American troops in Iraq--within a minute of any attack on his country.

"We will reduce our enemies to ashes," said Brigadier General Mahmoud Chaharbaghi, who is commander of artillery and missiles of the Guards' ground forces, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

The commander's comments followed a statement by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki that the United States was too weakened by its war in Iraq to attack Iran.

Iran could be seeking to increase its regional influence by boldly standing up to the US, which Iranian leaders starting with the late Ayatollah Khomeini have sought to depict as a paper tiger. Iran could also be trying to boost the price of oil by raising tensions in the Middle East. Either way, the regime is playing a dangerous game. Israel, the nation that Iran has vowed to destroy, is a known, non-declared nuclear power. Should the Jewish state come under a massive missile assault, Jerusalem would use any and all available weapons to defend itself.

Like Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, whose miscalculations over 40 years ago led to the Arab world's disastrous defeat at the hands of the Israeli military, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems bent on intensifying and accelerating a dangerous and potentially deadly dynamic. He and his fellow Hitler-admiring (but Holocaust-denying) tyrants would be well advised to spend more time studying history than trying to repeat it.

Threats and taunts have a way of backfiring.

CNOOC Finishing First Offshore Wind Station

China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), will complete the installation of an offshore wind power station in Bohai Bay in October 2007, the first one in the country.

The wind power station with total capacity of 1,500KW is 60 kilometers away from the coast. It is a landmark for both the oil producer and the country--a sign that CNOOC is extending its reach to power generation field as it positions itself as an energy company rather than only an oil company.

The station starts up China's wind power industry. China aims to generate 20,000,000KW of wind power by 2020. Development of offshore wind power is a key focus: capacity is expected to reach 1,000,000,000KW, three times the power on the land.

CNOOC is China's dominant offshore oil and gas producer. The company said Sunday that it plans to build around 1,000 petrol stations by 2010 as it enhances its downstream operations.

CPC Ends 17th National Congress

China's ruling Communist Party ended its 17th National Congress Sunday, after endorsing leadership changes to the party's Central Committee that solidify President Hu Jintao's grip on power.

Chinese state media say Vice President Zeng Qinghong stood down along with Wu Guanzheng, the head of the party's disciplinary committee, and security chief Luo Gan after they were not chosen to join the new Central Committee.

Vice Premier Wu Yi also was not included on the Central Committee list.

Without a place on the committee, the politicians cannot be reappointed to the nine-member Standing Committee--the most powerful government body in China.

The party's newly elected 204-member Central Committee will hold its first plenary session Monday. The Committee will endorse a new Standing Committee, which is expected to guarantee Hu's second five-year term in office.

China's ruling Communist Party holds its National Congress every five years.

The seven-day party congress included 2,200 delegates.

At the start of the meeting, Hu outlined his plans for the next five years. He said he wants China to move more delicately toward what he called a "moderately prosperous society" with balanced and sustainable development.

China Confidential forecasts: Hu will try to balance breakneck growth and unbridled crony-capitalism with measures of socialist reform, discipline and idealism. For example, although the party will foster the development of the non-public sector with a first-ever amendment of this kind to the party constitution (along with a first-ever mention of religion), the party, acting through the government, will remain firmly in control of the economy.

Among the 73 million party members nationwide, only three million come from the private sector.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Pressured by the PLA, Hu Leans to the Left

Chinese President Hu Jintao is leaning to the Left.

Correction: China's military is leaning on Hu to lean leftward. The People's Liberation Army--which really rules rising China--fears the country could be spinning out of control. This explains why Hu, in his address to China's 17th Communist Party Congress, four times hailed the "Four Cardinal Principles," which were cited by Deng Xiaoping to justify the PLA's crackdown on the 1989 student movement. The principles--Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedong thought, strict party leadership, the socialist road and the "proletariat dictatorship"--contradict China's embrace of free-wheeling, state-sponsored capitalism.

The PLA wants Hu to get tough with all domestic dissidents and perceived foreign foes--from envelope-pushing journalists and protesting peasants to Taiwan and Tibet.

Budapest Bracing for Violent Protests

Budapest is bracing for violence. Between October 21 and November 4, Hungary's capital will be the scene of more than 100 events that will commemorate the 51st Anniversary of the 1956 Revolution. During this period, protestors will stage demonstrations against the Hungarian Government.

Police will be posted throughout the city in large numbers to monitor the different events and demonstrations. The police are preparing for the possibility of violence. One threat: hooligans infiltrating peaceful, legal demonstrations, trying to cause disturbances.

On October 23, 2006, a large riot occurred in the Astoria section (in Pest) that ended with many injuries and arrests. During that demonstration, police used tear gas, rubber bullets, and water canons to control the rioting.

Niger Delta Rebels Planning New Attacks

The US Embassy in Nigeria said Friday that it had received information that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), an armed militant group located in the Niger Delta, is preparing to launch attacks against unspecified oil installations and pipelines in Delta, Rivers, and Akwa Ibom States. The attacks may be preceded by the taking of hostages to be used as human shields.

The Embassy recommended that all Americans review their security procedures and remain vigilant to their surroundings. The Embassy also encouraged Americans to report specific incidences of targeted violence to the Embassy in Abuja or to the US Consulate General in Lagos.

Perfect Storm: Mideast Tension, Chinese Growth and Global Warming Will Drive Energy Prices Ever Higher

Crude oil for November delivery rose to $90.07 a barrel in after-hours electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange Thursday, the highest since trading began in 1983. Prices were up 39 cents on the day at $89.86 at 12:06 PM in London.

What's driving the surge? The near-term answer is heightened tension in the Middle East combined with a sagging US economy. Oil hit a new record high as the US dollar touched a new all time low against the euro of $1.43.

Long term, however, the China factor is probably the key driver. An energy exporter until just a few years ago, China is now the world's second largest importer of oil after the United States. China is also the fastest growing oil importer.

China's leaders seem to think that they can offset the negative consequences of rising oil prices by using China's giant, state-run oil companies to lock in long-term supply and preferential access agreements with anti-Western oil producing nations such as Iran and Sudan.

Some Chinese analysts and policymakers--particularly in the military--actually regard higher oil prices as a positive development. Taking a zero-sum view of China's relationsip with the United States, these nationalists like anything that gradually makes "the Hegemon" relatively weaker (without ruining its economy altogether because of its importance to China's economic expansion).

Internally, China controls and subsidizes oil prices; so ordinary people are insulated from the crisis (for the time being).

Climate change is another long-term factor. Policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming are certain to add to energy costs. Alternative energy tends to be more expensive than traditional power and fuel. Vast resources--like heavy crude and tar sands--could remain permanently untapped for environmental reasons. Peak oil theorists, therefore, could be proven right regardless of whether the world is really running out of oil and gas or simply using up readily available and relatively inexpensive reserves (running into the wrong kind of oil, in other words).

The price of oil has quadrupled over the past seven years. $100 per-barrel no longer seems so shocking.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Experts Focused on Maritime Atomic Threat

Early warning.

Western anti-terrorism experts are increasingly focused on one of the ultimate nightmare scenarios-- a maritime atomic attack by Al Qaeda or Iran (or Iranian-backed terrorists).

The United States has no known or planned defense against a sea-borne assault by a seemingly innocent, foreign flagged civilian cargo ship carrying a containerized, nuclear-tipped ballistic missile. Using simple mechanical triggering devices or more sophisticated technology based on the global positioning system, a cargo container could be transformed into a precision-guided weapon system. Several containers, perhaps arriving on opposite coasts, could be configured to attack selected cities in different parts of the US with near simultaneity.

Nuclear-arming, Islamist Iran has successfully test-fired a missile from a cargo ship--almost certainly, as China Confidential has reported, with the help of its nuclear-armed, Stalinist/Kimist/criminal ally, North Korea.

Conceptually, Cuba and Venezuela could make it possible for Iran to more or less maintain an ongoing sea-based missile threat against the US.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Tomorrow's Climate is Today's Challenge

Fifth Generation Leaders Sort of Meet the Press

Two so-called Fifth Generation Communist Party leaders--men born in the 1950s who are widely considered future leaders of China--have made a rare appearance before the media. Not surprisingly, however, they avoided questions on their political prospects....

Shanghai Communist Party chief Xi Jinping (pictured on the left) and his counterpart in northeastern Liaoning province, Li Keqiang, spoke to reporters Tuesday after overseeing meetings of their delegations at the 17th Communist Party Congress in Beijing.

Both men were careful to refer to Chinese President Hu Jintao and his key themes at the Party Congress, including Hu's call for "scientific development" that balances economic growth with protecting the environment.

The 52-year-old Li and 54-year-old Xi are seen as possible contenders to replace Hu and other leaders when they step down five years from now.

Hu opened the Party Congress on Monday by saying political reform and economic growth in China must continue. He also emphasized that the Communist Party will remain in charge.

Hu pledged to allow more public participation in politics but offered few details. He warned that the Communist Party will not tolerate corruption.

China's Communist Party has been rocked in recent years by high-level corruption cases, including the arrest of a party boss in Shanghai.

The seven-day Party Congress is taking place at a time of increasing social unrest in China. Security is tight in Beijing, with reports of dissidents and other activists being detained to prevent unrest during the meeting.

The Party Congress is a crucial moment for Hu, as he sets Chinese policy for the next five years.

Party delegates are expected to re-elect Hu to another five-year term. They also will choose nine new members for the party's executive organization, the Political Bureau Standing Committee.

Post Script: The fifth generation of leaders consists of many “sent-down youth,” who are often referred to as members of “the lost generation” of the Cultural Revolution.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

China Links Cooperation on Iran to Tibet Issue

VOA reports that a US official says international talks in Germany on the Iranian nuclear crisis have been postponed after China canceled in protest....

The unidentified official told reporters Monday that the move seems to reflect China's displeasure over a visit by the Dalai Lama to the United States.

The US Congress will award the exiled Tibetan leader its highest honor in a ceremony Wednesday--the same day the Berlin talks were scheduled.

The unnamed official said China's cancelation will probably push the talks off until next week.

The meeting between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States and Germany is supposed to discuss whether to impose new sanctions on Iran.

China also canceled this year's annual human rights talks with Germany that were to be held in December.

After German Chancellor Angela Merkel signaled she would meet the Dalai Lama last month over China's protests, Beijing called off talks with German officials scheduled for the same day.

President Bush is expected to attend Wednesday's award ceremony and meet with the Dalai Lama at the White House. China has objected to the Dalai Lama's visit, which it says interferes in its internal affairs.

On Friday, China accused the Dalai Lama of instigating protests by Tibetan exiles that damaged its embassy in New Delhi last week.

China challenges attempts by the Dalai Lama to meet with world leaders, accusing him of secretly promoting separatism.

The Dalai Lama denies the charge. Since the late 1980s, he has been calling on Beijing to hold talks to negotiate an autonomous status for Tibet.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Chinese President Addresses Party Congress

China's week-long Communist Party Congress has opened in Beijing. Chinese President Hu Jintao promised to deliver balanced economic development, greater environmental protection and moderate political reforms. As VOA's Heda Bayron reports from the Chinese capital, this is the country's most important political meeting in five years.

In a two-and-a-half hour speech at the Great Hall of the People Monday, Chinese President Hu Jintao promised to improve living conditions for millions of poor Chinese.

Hu acknowledged that China's rapid but lopsided economic development over the past two decades has made life difficult for many.

Among the related problems, he mentioned the growing income gap between rich and poor, inadequate social welfare, corruption, and pollution.

In the next five years, Hu wants China to move more delicately toward what he called a "moderately prosperous society" with balanced and sustainable development.

Hu's speech to the 2,200 delegates to the Congress was partly aimed at appeasing growing rural discontent that has, at times, erupted into violent protests. He promised social security reforms, such as a medical cooperative for rural residents, plans for an old-age insurance system, and increased subsistence allowances to the poor.

Hu also promised to improve the public complaints system, fight corruption and increase democracy within the Communist Party by introducing a voting system to decide on major issues and official appointments to local party committees.

The Chinese leader also said Beijing wants a "peace agreement" to end the "state of hostility" with Taiwan, but only under the "one-China" principle. China considers Taiwan part of its territory that must be reunified with the mainland eventually, by force if necessary.

Security is extremely tight around the Great Hall of the People. The usually crowded Tiananmen Square is cordoned off and blanketed with police.

Human rights groups say many dissidents, petitioners and whistleblowers were detained and harassed weeks ahead of the Congress to prevent them from disrupting the proceedings.

Political analysts say a lot is riding on Hu's successful implementation of his agenda for the next five years. He is expected to retire in 2012 and this 17th Party Congress will likely encapsulate his legacy.

The delegates will later elect new senior party officials, who will take over from the current leadership.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Understanding Iran's Neo-Nazi Line

There is a method to the mullahs' madness....

One of the puzzling aspects of Iran's nuclear standoff with the West is the Islamist regime's repeated threats to destroy Israel in the context of praise for Hitler (by the supposed regime moderate, former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani) and denial of the Holocaust (by Iran's present President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad).

Given the suspect nature of Iran's uranium enrichment effort--Iran is clearly developing atomic weapons under cover of a civilian power program--why does Tehran go out of its way to provoke and threaten America's ally?

The answer is all to obvious: Iran aims to redefine its standoff as a confrontation with Israel. Tehran's turbaned tyrants are betting that the West's advocates of appeasement will win the day--meaning, the United States and Europe will ultimately decide that they can abide a nuclear armed Iran, even if it threatens the survival of the Jewish state.

Unfortunately ... for Iran and the rest of the world ... the mullahs may be right. Just as the prewar world tried to appease Hitler Germany by sacrificing Czechoslovakia, today's democracies could be tempted--or bullied--into condemning Israel to live with an Iranian nuclear threat.

The fatal flaw in Iran's strategy is that Israel is not Czechoslovakia. Nor can Israel be compared with the defenseless European Jewish communities of the 1930s. Israel is a sovereign state and a formidable military power--with a modern nuclear arsenal. The country that attained independence in the aftermath of the Holocaust will not hesitate to unilaterally destroy Iran's nuclear installations. Should Iran retaliate by raining missiles down on Israeli cities, Jerusalem can be expected to use any and all military means--including atomic arms--to utterly destroy and defeat its Islamist foe.

Iran, in other words, is playing with nuclear fire.

Hitler once seemed invincible. But he ended his days by blowing his brains out in a Berlin bunker. Iran's leaders seem to be heading for an even worse windup.

North Korean's Syria Visit Raises Suspicions

North Korean media say a top official is planning to visit Syria, heightening suspicions that the two countries are cooperating on a secret nuclear program.

In a brief statement Saturday, the official North Korean Central News Agency said the speaker of North Korea's parliament, Choe Thae Bok, has left for a trip that will take him to Italy and Syria. The report gave no other details.

In September, US media reports said Pyongyang has secretly offered nuclear cooperation to Syria, and that the two nations are working on some sort of nuclear facility. Both have denied the allegations.

North Korea conducted a nuclear weapons test last year, but has since been compliant in six-nation talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program.

North Korea is a secretive, one-party state ruled by one of the world's worst tyrants, Kim Jong-il. Choe is a senior leader of the regime, but relatively low-level in terms of the top-down foreign policy decision-making process.

Tight Security Ahead of Communist Party Congress

Beijing is blanketed with tight security ahead of the Communist Party Congress, a gathering that will set policies and promote new leaders for the next five years. VOA's Heda Bayron reports from the Chinese capital.

Over the past few days, the area around Tiananmen Square and the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing, where more than 2,000 communist party delegates will gather Monday, has been awash with police and security forces.

They are ready to prevent dissidents and petitioners, mostly aggrieved rural residents, from disrupting the proceedings.

The Communist Party Congress, held every five years, will elect new senior party leaders and decide on policies that will guide China's development in the next five years.

The Congress is expected to endorse President Hu Jintao's "harmonious society" concept that envisions a stable China despite bubbling social discontent.

China faces wide-ranging problems arising from its rapid economic development such as corruption, pollution, high prices and land disputes. These problems have resulted in violent protests and riots in the countryside.

On Sunday, Party Congress spokesman Li Dongsheng told reporters that Chinese society is harmonious and stable on the whole.

Li says there have been in his words, "bad incidents", arising from China's development. But he said they are regional and individual in nature.

Li adds the "bad incidents" taking place in individual localities have been solved. He says there is social progress and people are satisfied.

But last week, 12,000 petitioners signed an open letter to the country's leaders demanding reforms and help for their problems.

Activists say the leader of the petitioners was detained Thursday.

Last week, the chief of China's public security bureau said "no efforts would be spared" by police from all over the country to "resolve disputes and uncertainties at grassroots levels".

Human rights groups say several dissidents, whistleblowers and petitioners have been detained or harassed in the weeks leading up to the Congress. Since September, the government has been demolishing an area known as the petitioners' village in suburban Beijing. There, people who come from outside the city stay while waiting for officials to consider their grievances.

In cyberspace, bloggers complain of tighter controls, with their posts disappearing or Web sites shut down by government censors.

The Congress opens on Monday, and ends on October 21.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Video Vault: The Unchained Goddess

The year was 1958.

The first-ever film about man-made global warming--a 16mm educational documentary--was being screened in classrooms across the United States.

Al Gore was 10 years old.

Titled The Unchained Goddess, the film was produced by Bell Telephone and directed by Frank Capra.

Here's the trailer.

UN Official Demands 5-Year Biofuels Ban

Move over, Cuba; step aside, Fidel. Havana may have started the anti-biofuels crusade; but Switzerland is becoming the leader in alerting the world to the alleged dangers of the emerging industry....

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food--Switzerland's Jean Ziegler--is demanding an international five-year ban on producing biofuels to combat soaring food prices.

Ziegler said the conversion of arable land for plants used for green fuel had led to an explosion of agricultural prices that was punishing poor countries forced to import their food at a greater cost.

"232kg of corn is needed to make 50 litres of bioethanol," Ziegler said Thursday. "A child could live on that amount of corn for a year."

Using land for biofuels would result in "massacres", he said, predicting a reduction in the amount of food aid sent to developing countries by richer ones.

"It's a total disaster for those who are starving," said Ziegler, a former Swiss Parliament member who is a tenured professor of sociology at the University of Geneva and the Sorbonne.

Ziegler's proposal for a five-year moratorium, which he plans to submit to the UN General Assembly on October 25, is aiming to ban the conversion of land for the production of biofuels.

Ziegler said he hoped that by the time the moratorium was lifted science would have made sufficient progress to be able to create "second generation" biofuels, made from agricultural waste or from non-agricultural plants such as jatropha, which grows naturally on arid ground.

Taking Brazil as an example, Ziegler said he deplored the fact that sugar cane plantations, whose products were used for biofuels, were spreading at the expense of food-producing land.

He said 10 hectares of food-producing land could sustain an average of seven to ten farmers, whereas the same area could only produce enough sugar cane for one farmer.

Only two years ago, with the twin spectres of peak oil prices and climate change looming, biofuels seemed the ideal alternative energy.

Now it is the poor who have to contend with the flip side of biofuels--spiralling cereal prices--say critics of the industry.

"The days of cheap food are over," said Joachim von Braun, director of the International Food Policy Research Institute, in an article for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in September.

Over the past decade, while production of biofuels using corn, sugarcane, soybean and other staples has risen dramatically, malnutrition has continued. Nearly 900 million people worldwide suffer hunger, 70 per cent of them food producers, peasants and rural dwellers.

Von Braun warned this figure could hit 1 billion in just a few years and that rising demand and increased bioenergy costs are affecting food prices.

"The bioenergy market receives considerable state funding and is dominated by the heavyweights in the oil, cereal and automobile industry," he said.

"Barring technological progress and enactment of regulations based on transparent standards, we are looking at a 20-40 per cent increase in food prices between now and 2020. And the poorest, some of whom live on 50 cents a day, will be unable to foot the bill."

A study commissioned by the Swiss authorities in May also concluded that biofuels might not be the panacea for the world's fossil-fuel woes.

Such fuels, touted as an ecologically friendly source of energy, might be more harmful for the environment than their fossil counterparts, it said.

According to the authors, while it was true that biofuels might emit less greenhouse gases than fossil fuels when consumed, producing them was generally more stressful on the environment.

Growing and processing crops for energy purposes or feedstock can have the heaviest environmental impact, as soil quality can be affected adversely, for example, through fertilizer overuse.

Friday, October 12, 2007

China Undermined: Coal Mines Threaten Villages

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following article was written by Duane Moles, a student at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California Berkeley, concentrating on documentary film. His enterprising PBS documentary, China Undermined, is a "Rough Cut" online offering, part of the network's pioneering Frontline/World series. Visit the Frontline/World website to view the video.

As part of a class at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, I traveled to China last spring with an assignment to report on the country's environment. Having grown up in a coal-mining region in West Virginia, I was really interested to see what life was like in China's coal belt.

More than in any other country, coal is the lifeblood of China's booming economy. Coal-fired power plants provide 70 percent of the country's electricity, and more than 30,000 mines operate throughout the country--about 20 percent of which are illegal and, thus, unregulated.

China is also the most dangerous place in the world to be a coal miner. On average, 13 people a day die in mine accidents there, and more than 80 percent of mining deaths worldwide happen in China.

I headed west from Beijing to coal country, Shanxi Province, as part of a team of three reporters. Our plan was to see what life was like in a small village in the region. We knew that in November 2006 a villager named Hao Hualin had talked to Chinese news outlets about how the mines were burrowing beneath his village, causing homes to collapse. But we had no idea about the consequences of his speaking out.

The unrelated death of a reporter looking into illegal mines earlier that year was certainly in the back of my mind as we headed toward Hualin's village, Hao Jiazhai. Mining bosses killed the reporter after he threatened to expose their operation. The story became international news, and the talk had been that the reporter was trying to blackmail the company. But was that just a convenient excuse for the killers? And in this dangerous atmosphere, would anyone really talk to us?

To establish some common ground, I brought with me my family's West Virginia mining pictures--my father having worked in the coal mines when I was a child. Whenever people were suspicious of my interest in coal, I just pulled out the photographs and started talking about West Virginia. Almost always I was instantly offered a cigarette.

While China's environment has taken a serious beating as the country bulls its way forward, I was surprised by peoples' disgust when I talked with them about the mountaintop removal mines that are slowly leveling West Virginia. One former miner asked me why we would destroy the mountains that way when we could use an underground mine and leave the mountains intact. I didn't have a good answer.

Within minutes of arriving in Hao Jiazhai, we found Hualin's home in the largely deserted village. When Hualin's mother opened the large tin doors to their courtyard, she was reluctant to speak with us. She broke into tears, but waved us into their home. Sitting on a platform in the main room of the house, she recounted how the intimidation against her family accelerated from broken windows to physical attacks on her and her son. Despite her initial reluctance, it was clear that she wanted to tell people about her experience. By the next day, though, fear won out: She left to stay with her sister while we interviewed Haulin and other villagers.

What began as an investigation of environmental degradation turned into a story of whole villages being literally undermined by an aggressive coal industry--and of people who faced brutal retaliation when they blew the whistle on what is happening to their communities.

-- Duane Moles

War and Peace in a Warming Global Village: Gore's Nobel Prize Reflects Recognition of Looming Threats

A new morning, maybe a ew era.

Former US Vice President Al Gore and a United Nations panel--the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change--will share the Nobel Peace Prize for raising awareness of the threat of climate change.

The Oslo-based Nobel Committee said the winners were honored for "their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about manmade climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."

The announcement, which follows a summer of melting glaciers and ice sheets, elevates efforts to protect the gobal environment to the level of peace preservation and conflict resolution.

Which is only logical. Wars over energy, food, water--or simply a safe place to live far from floods--are no longer the stuff of science fiction or political fantasy. Millions of people are likely to perish--before the end of this century--if the world does not adopt and stictly follow urgently needed climate change policies. Time is working against the planet; humanity's survival is at stake.

With this in mind, it is not hard to imagine that when the history of the struggle to combat global warming is written, the terms BG and AG--before and after Gore's Nobel win--will be used. Today's news is that significant.

Rafsanjani Says Hitler Saved Europe from Zionism

The argument for attacking Iran grows stronger by the day.

As if to confirm that there are no moderate Islamists, Hashemi Rafsanjani, former Iranian president and current Chairman of the Assembly of Experts, said Friday that Hitler’s treatment of Jews in Europe was due in part to their being “a pain in the neck.”

Rafsanjani is a darling of American appeasement advocates, including the American father of the Iranian revolution, Jimmy Carter, and his former National Security Advisor--Zbigniew Brzezinski--who is advising American Presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Rafsanjani’s comments came during a sermon for "International Jerusalem Day" on Iranian TV. He said that Jews caused problems for European governments because they “had a lot of property” and “controlled an empire of propaganda.” He also said that the Nazis were successful in saving Europe from the evil of Zionism.

Rafsanjani served as president from 1989 to 1997, and was succeeded by Mohammad Khatami. Rafsanjani ran for a third term in office in 2005, but lost to current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has embraced Holocaust denial and vowed to destroy Israel.

Argentina has issued an arrest warrant for Rafsanjani over the 1994 bombing of the Buenos Aires Jewish Center in which 85 people were killed.

Rafsanjani has rejected the charge, calling it s a "Zionist plot."

Iran is developing nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian power program.

Rafsanjani has boasted that Iran has missiles capable of striking Europe.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Water Study: Ethanol Threatens China and India

A study by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Sri Lanka warns that ethanol production in India and China would severely impact the two countries' water supplies.

Charlotte de Fraiture, an IWMI scientist and lead author of the ethanol study says that India and China "account for almost 70 percent of projected worldwide growth in oil demand between now and 2030. Yet, the two countries are already struggling to find enough water to grow the food they need."

Ethanol factories gulp down huge quantities of water. In the United States, a corn-based ethanol plant capable of producing 100 million gallons a year, which is fast becoming the US norm, annually requires at least 400 million gallons of water. Some facilities consume double that amount--a staggering amount dwarfed only by paper mills, which have historically been built along rivers because of their water needs.

China and India presently produce ethanol from sweet sorghum.

Wheareas China, as this blog has reported, intends to stick with the crop as a primary feedstock, Beijing's giant Asian rival has big plans for making ethanol from sugarcane--the feedstock of choice in the world's leading ethanol producing nation, Brazil.

The South American country's success with ethanol has inspired it to invest heavily in another biofuel--biodiesel--which is made from vegetable oils or animal fats.

Growing oilseed crops could further drain already thirsty nations, which is why (a) China and India are looking to drought-resistant jatropha as an advanced biodiesel feedstock, and (b) environmentally friendly US biodiesel producers are increasingly pinning their hopes on algae, a feedstock that could be grown in soilless (hydroponic) greenhouses with relatively small demands on local water supplies.

Comment: North Korean-Syrian Dirty Bomb Threat

Media reports that North Korea may have supplied Syria with nuclear materials for deployment on Syrian missiles with so-called airburst capabilities are worrisome for American and Israeli defense planners.

A radiological dirty bomb exploding over an Israeli city could be devastating for the tiny Jewish State.

Analysts focused on possible sea-launched threats to US coastal cities--the firing of missiles from specially made systems aboard civilian cargo ships--are also deeply concerned. North Korean nuclear materials and airburst technology and know-how in Syrian hands could end up in a terrorist organization's arsenal via Iran's terrorist-sponsoring Revolutionary Guard.

North Korea, as China Confidential has reported, has assisted Iran in developing and testing a sea-launched (Scud-in-a-bucket) missile firing system, against which there is no known defense.

Alarmed by Hillary's NAFTA Vow, Mexico Readies Retaliation; NY and Vermont Farms Could Suffer

Hillary Clinton's controversial campaign promise to reevaluate and probably renegotiate all US free trade pacts every five years has raised red flags in both Mexico and the United States.

The Bush administration is concerned that Clinton's vow could complicate tenuous talks with Mexico aimed at improving bilateral cooperation in combating the country's cross-border drug gangs.

And the Mexican government, which has been steadily exporting its poverty to the US, fears that Clinton's fellow US presidential candidates could adopt variations of her proposal in order to woo voters who feel increasingly threatened by illegal immigration.

With this in mind, China Confidential has learned that the Mexican government has made contingency plans to retaliate against any attempt to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which, ironically, President Bill Clinton signed in 1993.

The centerpiece of the plan: Mexico will demand open immigration as part of a renegotiated NAFTA.

Mexico is also prepared to launch a sophisticated, well financed public relations campaign--to be managed by a large US PR firm--to aggressively expose alleged exploitation of illegal immigrants, especially in US states and industries that depend on immigrant labor. Media outlets are to be bombarded with suggested stories, talking points and other materials.

For candidate Clinton, who represents New York State in the US Senate, one story in particular could be especially embarrassing because of its potential to bring economic ruin to many of her rural constituents and their neighbors--namely, the surprisingly crucial role that illegal immigration plays in agriculture in the Northeast, where the term border crossing typically refers to the US boundary with Canada, not Mexico.

Vermont is a case in point. Dairy farming in the state, which is best known for its bucolic scenery, first-class skiing, and liberal outlook, would come to an immediate halt--the industry could all but disappear in a matter of months--if the Latin American immigrants living and working on Vermont farms were to suddenly leave or be forced home.

The situation is not so different in neighboring New York.

Mexico's message: tampering with NAFTA is tantamount to playing with fire.


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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Memo to the Media

Memo to the US Media:

Subject: Presidential Debates

A few questions to consider asking the candidates:

1. Do you believe that China manipulates its currency to give it an unfair trade advantage with the United States?

2. Are you troubled by China's military buildup?

3. Do you think Taiwan should be allowed to join the United Nations?

4. What would you do to improve relations with Russia?

5. How would you balance America's need for energy with its need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? What would you do, specifically, to reduce the US reliance on imported oil?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

US Signals Possible Attack on Iranian Force

The United States seems to be preparing the public for military strikes against Iran's Revolutionary Guard, which the Iranian regime relies on to stay in power.

Following recent reports that Washington could formally brand the Guard a foreign terrorist organization, the top US military commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, has accused Iran's ambassador to Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, of belonging to the Guard's most seretive and elite unit--the Quds Force.

Intelligence experts agree that the primary mission of the Quds Force is to organize, train, equip, and finance foreign Islamist movements.

Although Shiite Iran has strong theological differences with the Sunni Taliban and Al Qaeda, the Quds Force has bridged the divide by providing both groups with assistance, including arms and shelter for fugitive leaders.

The Quds Force reports directly to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Gen. Petraeus said he had no doubt Iran was behind attacks that had led to the deaths of US soldiers.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Video Vault: The Competition for Energy

Greenpeace Opposing Neste Palm-Based Biodiesel

As recently reported, Finland's third largest company, Neste Oil, has attracted attention from China, which wants to know more about the company's refinery-based biodeisel technology. Unfortunately for Neste, which wants to be to biodiesel what Nokia is to mobile phones, the proprietary process has also attracted attention from a formidable foe, the mere mention of which can cause large companies to tremble with fear--Greenpeace.

The international environmental organization strongly objects to Neste's use of palm oil, which stems from Southeast Asian rainforests.

Greenpeace is asking people "not to fill their tanks with rainforest."

Neste, which generally gets high marks for ethical standards and policies--and aims to phase in jatropha oil and other more environmentally friendly feedstocks--is on the Greenpeace international hit list.

The organization has a case. Vast areas of rain forest are cleared to make way for palm harvests, causing carbon-dioxide to be released into the atmosphere. In Malaysia and Indonesia, which are both leading palm oil producers, the production is likely to lead to further rainforest destruction ... in the name of producing a renewable fuel.

Just last month, Neste opened its first big biodiesel plant--a 60 million-gallon-per-year (MMGY) facility located inside the company's Porvoo oil refinery. The plant cost an estimated $125 million to build, much more than a typical biodiesel plant. A second, identical, 60 MMGY plant is under construction and is expected to open next year. It, too, is located in the Porvoo refinery. The company's third 60 MMGY plant, identical to the first two plants, is scheduled for completion at another Neste refinery site in Finland in 2009.

And Neste is working with Austrian oil refiner OMV Aktiengesellschaft on a 65 MMGY biodiesel plant that will be built on a site near Vienna.

There is a reason for the 60-plus MMGY figure. Neste aims to enter and eventually dominate the US biodeisel market, and has therefore designed its plants and business models accordingaly--that is, to take advantage of the US federal government's $1 per-gallon subsidy for producers or users of both biodiesel and so-called renewable diesel, which is made by mixing refinery petroleum with vegetable oils or animals fats to produce a cleaner-burning petro-diesel substitute. The renewable diesel subsidy--in the form of a tax credit or direct cash payment from the government--expires in 2008 but is widely expected to be renewed by the US Congress for at least another two years.

The law limits the subsidy to 60 MMGY--per facility. In principle, then, a company like Neste can own and operate several 60 MMGY plants and collect a dollar on every gallon of renewable diesel it sells. Alternatively, it can pass the subsidy along to its customers.

Although Neste calls its alternative fuel biodiesel because it is (for the time being, at least) made only from vegetable oils, the product is technically not biodiesel because it is not made by the classic (century-old) transesterification method, which mixes vegetable oils or animal fats with methanol and a chemical agent to produce pure biodiesel, known as B100.

The Neste technology is similar to renewable diesel processes developed by Italy's ENI, Brazil's Petrobras, the UK's BP, and ConocoPhillips. All these companies are seeking to leverage their petroleum reserves, along with their refining, distribution and transportation capabilities, to exploit demand for green fuels.