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Global Justice Ecology Project Raises Question of Biofuels at U.S. Social Forum

ATLANTA, GA, June 27-July 1, 2007–The First ever U.S. Social Forum, with the slogan “Another World Is Possible, Another U.S. is Necessary,” was held with thousands of people from all across the U.S. and around the world attending.

Two workshops organized by Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP) and a third by Grassroots International addressed the social and environmental impacts of biofuels. The first workshop, “Large Scale Biofuels: False Solutions to Climate Change” was a collaborative presentation by Global Justice Ecology Project, Dogwood Alliance and Rainforest Action Network that focused on deforestation, monoculture plantations (conventional and genetically engineered), loss of biodiversity and the struggle of the poor and Indigenous Peoples in biofuel production areas. An overview was also provided that connected the threats to food security and food sovereignty from redirecting food crops into gas tanks. The workshop explored biofuel issues from the international level, such as the situations in South America and Southeast Asia to the regional level of the impacts of the first cellulosic ethanol plant in Georgia. 

GJEP’s Biofuels Specialist, Rachel Smolker provided an overview of the problems, Shannon Coughlin from Rainforest Action Network (RAN) focused on some specifics on deforestation impacts, Maisa Mendonia, from Rede Social in Brazil spoke about the impacts on Brazilian and indigenous peoples and also on the need to focus on reducing consumption in the north. Lee Worden from the “Stop BP” campaign at Berkeley spoke about the corporate stranglehold that is driving biofuels development forward, and Eva Hernandez and Lydia Carey from Dogwood Alliance explained the potential impact of massive tree plantations for cellulosic ethanol planned for the southeastern U.S., where pulp plantations are already a huge problem. 

GJEP board member Soren Ambrose helped to pull things together and keep the workshop on track. He also pulled his magic strings to get a press release to the Institute for Public Accuracy, which resulted in a flood of media attention from “talk show” radio. 

Rachel Smolker gave 10 interviews, including WZBC Boston, KPPO San Francisco, WBAI New York, KOPN Missouri Public Radio, Air America Radio, WPFW Satellite Radio, WSKY FM Gainesville, FL., KPFA Berkley, CA., WZNZ Jacksonville, FL. and Vancouver Coop Radio, very important since it is absolutely imperative that we do everything we can to educate people about the realities of biofuels! Here in the U.S. people have little idea what is happening due to the lack of accurate media coverage surrounding the global impacts of biofuels. It helped that there were several biofuels developments in the days leading up to the U.S. Social Forum that were very major and very relevant including:

  • APHIS permitting of ArborGen’s biofuel “franken-eucalyptus”
  • A patent application for the first ever completely artificially synthesized life form, a microbe for cellulosic ethanol production
  • The Senate passage of a disastrous bill that would mandate 36 billion gallons per year of biofuels, while only raising auto efficiency to a pathetic 35 mpg by 12 years from now, and only if the auto industry “can do so without economic hardship”
  • An announcement from the DOE that they will grant 375 million dollars for establishment of 3 bioenergy research institutes in the U.S. (again usurping publicly funded university research efforts)
  • An announcement from BP and Dupont that they will build a 400 million dollar “world class” biofuel refinery in the UK
  • A report from the UN about the dire emergency of desertification and loss of freshwater resources worldwide
  • A call from European Union groups for a moratorium on targets and imports of biofuels.

This was the week’s news for the emerging disaster of biofuels, against which we held our workshops. The scale of the biofuels juggernaut is monumental and the pace staggering!  Getting the word out and fast is essential if we are going to make headway.

Our second workshop, “A Round Table Discussion on the Future of Biofuels,” was an opportunity for people working on biofuels to discuss strategies to carry forward. Many of the same people participated, including GJEP, Dogwood Alliance, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Friends of the Earth U.S., Friends of the MST, Grassroots International, Rainforest Action Network and a representative from the Stop BP campaign at UC Berkeley that is opposing the $500 million biofuels research project funded by British Petroleum. 

The group discussed increasing pressure to maintain the current tariff on imported ethanol and working to minimize the damages caused by the energy bill that passed the U.S. Senate.  There was also discussion about provisions within the Farm Bill that we can collectively try to influence, some of which relate to corporate control of agriculture in general and others specifically to biofuels. Participants also spoke about development of  a corporate campaign to oppose the industrialization of biofuel crop production in the Global South to fuel automobiles in the North, and about how to strengthen links with groups in the south, particularly Via Campesina and the MST (Brazil’s Rural Landless Workers’ Movement) who are working hard to maintain some control of their lands and food growing capabilities. Upcoming changes with NAFTA and CAFTA were touched on briefly as major issues that need to be addressed due to their impact on whether Latin America grows biofuels for the North or food for people of the South.

The event was absolutely inspiring. So many smart and colorful and dedicated people gathered in one place with a common purpose. To reclaim the world for the good of the people. Another world IS possible and another U.S. is ESSENTIAL since the corporations mostly belong to us.