Far from the expected development, forestry plantations and other carbon market initiatives in Uganda have severely compromised ecologies and livelihoods of the local people.
By Kristen Lyons and Peter Westoby · The Conversation · September 19, 2015
In recent years there has been significant movement toward land acquisition in developing countries to establish forestry plantations for offsetting carbon pollution elsewhere in the world. This is often referred to as land grabbing.
These carbon trading initiatives work on the basis that forestry plantations absorb carbon dioxide and other polluting greenhouse gases. This helps to undo the environmental damage associated with modern western lifestyles.
Carbon markets are championed as offering solutions to climate change while delivering positive development outcomes to local communities. Heavy polluters, among them the airline and energy sectors, buy carbon credits and thereby pay local communities, companies and governments to protect forests and establish plantations.
But are carbon markets – and the feel good stories that have sprung up around them – all just a bit too good to be true?
There is mounting evidence that forestry plantations and other carbon market initiatives severely compromise livelihoods and ecologies at a local level. The corporate land grabs they rely on also tend to affect the world’s most vulnerable people – those living in rural areas.
But such adverse impacts are often written out of the carbon market ledger. Sometimes they are simply justified as ‘externalities’ that must be accepted as part of ensuring we avoid climate apocalypse.
Green Resources is one of a number of large-scale plantation forestry and carbon offset corporations operating on the continent. Its activities are having a profound impact on the livelihoods of a growing number of people. Norwegian-registered, the company produces saw log timber and charcoal in Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda. It receives carbon revenue from its plantation forestry operations.
In Uganda, the focus of our research, Green Resources holds two licenses over 11,864 hectares of government-owned, ‘degraded’ Central Forest Reserve. Historically, villagers could access this land to grow food, graze animals and engage in cultural practices.
Under the licensed land agreement between Uganda’s government and Green Resources, more than 8,000 people face profound disruptions to their livelihoods. Many are experiencing forced evictions as a direct result of the company’s take over of the land.
Carbon violence on local villagers
Villagers across Green Resources’ two acquisitions in Uganda report being denied access to land vital for growing food and grazing livestock. These are at Bukaleba and Kachung Central Forest Reserves. They also cannot collect forest resources. Many say they are denied access to sites of cultural significance and to resources vital to their livelihoods.
There are also many stories about land and waterways that have been polluted by agrichemicals the company uses in its forestry plantations. This has caused crop losses and livestock deaths.
Many of those evicted, as well as those seeking to use land licensed to Green Resources, have also experienced physical violence at the hands of police and private security forces tied to the arrival of the company. Some villagers have been imprisoned or criminalised for trespass.
These diverse forms violence are directly tied to the company’s participation in the carbon economy. Thus Green Resources’ plantation forestry and carbon market activities are inflicting ‘carbon violence’ on local villagers.
Green Resources appears to be continuing to tighten the perimeter of its plantation operations as part of ensuring compliance with regulations and certifications required for entry into carbon markets. This further entrenches these diverse forms of violence. In short, subsistence farmers and poor communities are carrying heavy costs associated with the expansion of forestry plantations and global carbon markets.
Green Resources does engage in some community development activities, but these are largely disconnected from local villagers’ needs and aspirations. Interviews with 152 affected villagers across the two sites highlight that access to land to produce food is the most pressing issue. This is an issue that Green Resources has done little to address.
The loss of access to land and sustainable livelihoods for vulnerable populations is unjust and unacceptable, particularly when rural people in Uganda contribute little to carbon pollution.
In 2014 the Oakland Institute, an independent policy think tank based in California, US, published its report on Green Resources. The company has responded, most notably in a strong letter from the CEO. While he sought to discredit the researchers and the report, he failed to engage with substantial issues of concern arising from the research.
At least one company board member has publicly acknowledged problems in company relations with affected communities, especially at the Bukaleba site. These are issues raised by a number of other researchers over a number of years.
The company has not publicly articulated what it is doing to address the social and environmental problems associated with its corporate practices. Green Resources must demonstrate how it is seeking to deal with the substantial adverse impacts associated with its activities.
It’s not just about money
More broadly, there are increasing calls for reform of global plantation forestry and carbon markets to alleviate the burden subsistence farmers carry alongside their expansion. Similarly, there are calls for reform to corporate practices, including community development initiatives and employment practices.
We would suggest that such reforms should be directed towards reducing the gap between the winners and losers in global carbon markets. There must be recognition of common property rights and access and use rights of local people in license areas. This must be done alongside valuing indigenous and local people’s knowledge of forests and ecosystem management.
There are also stronger calls from climate movements for the transformation of global energy futures. Those include the support for renewable energy to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and the subsequent reliance on offset initiatives.
Movements for climate justice in Africa and elsewhere demonstrate the growing resistance to market based and techno fixes as the means to avert climate change. These calls for justice challenge change agents to move beyond simply tweaking at the edges of carbon markets.
They need to imagine a future where social and environmental justice – not money and markets – are at the centre of thinking and planning.
Crises ‘solutions’ to advance global agenda behind closed doors
Lana and Andy Wachowski’s classic 1999 film, “The Matrix”, introduced viewers to the wonderfully fascinating question of how systems of domination and control reproduce themselves. In the film, we learn that the matrix periodically re-boots itself. Most often the reload is so seamless that it is unnoticed by the masses oblivious to the system of power that constitutes their reality. Sometimes, however, a “glitch” in power’s reproduction temporarily reveals the system to humanity, making for a moment of awareness that leads to a potential escape from the matrix. At the United Nation’s General Assembly the matrix was re-loaded on Sept. 25 with the passing of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The SDGs are a set of 17 goals with 169 targets that carry an ambitious agenda for eliminating deeply rooted global inequities and inequalities, including the end of poverty. The agenda is to be accomplished by 2030. The SDG’s also aim to be sustainable for the planetary eco-system. The SDGs replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and are the outcome of the Rio+20 meeting in 2012, which began the global discussions about the post-2015 global agenda. Post-2015 refers to a grander re-loading of the development agenda by U.N. agencies, such as the renegotiation of the Hyogo Framework for disaster risk reduction in Spring 2015 and the upcoming re-booting of U.N. Habitat’s urban agenda, which will happen with the launch of Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador, in October 2015.
Collectively, the post-2015 agenda defines how the global community will respond to major issues such as food security, climate change, public health, urbanization, gender inequality and poverty. It sets the normative framework for how our key institutions will address the most pressing issues of the 21st Century. These institutions include the core global power brokers in the world of development, such as The World Bank, the Rockefeller Foundation, or USAID. But, it also includes the wide range of NGOs, such as Oxfam or World Resources Institute, along with an even wider range of consultancy companies that contribute to policy formulation and implementation. Of course, the private sector is present as major stakeholders in how development will solve 21st Century crises. Taken together these actors constitute a development complex of interconnected interests and agendas fundamental to how power functions globally. With the SDGs, these power brokers have reproduced their position as the creators of the agenda as well as the actors who implement the agenda.
A key to the power elite’s reproduction of their capacity to define the agenda for what will become 9 billion people is the seamless transition they executed in New York City on Sept. 25. Amazingly, 193 nations signed onto the agenda, “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” Their signatures resulted from a process of closed-door meetings that created the core agenda before the illusion of consultation was created through a series of engagements with organizations that ostensibly represented civil society. The making of the SDGs largely focused on responding to the criticisms of the MDGs, which complained of inadequate benchmarks for any honest assessment that could determine the success or failure of the development goals. Hence, the SDGs give us a bewildering list of 169 targets to be met in accomplishing the goals. Additionally, growing concerns about the deepening planetary ecological crisis, especially in its climate change articulation, brought the power brokers to the point of needing to include sustainability within the development agenda. To use “The Matrix” metaphor, all of this work happened without a “glitch to the system” as it rebooted. Hardly anyone took notice, scarce was the debate, and few have asked questions about the fundamental premises of what is now called “sustainable development.”
Like lipstick on a pig, the SDGs are a continuation of the thinking within the MDGs approach to global poverty offering nothing more than a cosmetic makeover. The thinking goes by the name “development,” which itself is a continuation of the modernization paradigm which was the neo-colonialist attempt in the 1950s and 1960s at putting lipstick on the pig of colonialism. The MDG’s brand of lipstick attempted to lift people out of poverty by promoting economic growth, while refusing to acknowledge that this capitalist cure was the cause of the ill it created in the first place. The SDG’s retain the growth paradigm, while tinting the lipstick’s color with “sustainability.” In the seamless reloading of the matrix, the making of the SDGs advanced the argument that the MDGs were, for the greater part, successful in the goal of reducing global poverty by half. However, that thesis depends on how poverty is measured. If we keep an absurdly low metric of US$1-2 dollars per day, then the MDGs succeeded. But, if the global elite, those who create the parameters of success behind closed-door meetings used humane measurements for a dignified life, then the MDGs were an unquestionable failure. … Full article
“Global Goals” Is Lavishly-Funded Public Relations Endeavor “We the People” Never Voted For
This month delegates to the United Nations ratified the so-called “Global Goals For Sustainable Development.” This will involve a radical, far-reaching social and economic transformation of everyday life that has been in the works for decades.
In true Hegelian dialectic style, the program is taking place as various black swans linger on the economic horizon, while some of the very interests involved in the “Global Goals” are likewise putting the finishing touches on the Trans-Pacific trade agreement, designed to (not coincidentally) crush the nation state.
Such an ambitious program will cost, by the UN’s own estimate, as much as $5 trillion annually. A social makeover of this scale requires enlistment of ideologically-motivated shock troops from all walks of life to act as change agents in their own spheres. Thus a portion of such finances will be apportioned to thought and behavioral modification toward ideational acceptance of continued corporate ascendance, wealth and resource redistribution, and the breakdown of traditional borders that for better or worse have defined the human condition since the feudal era–from gender and common morality to the nation state. As the “Global Goals” website declares, “We are not a generation of bystanders. We are global citizens.”
Below is the campaign’s slickly produced promotional video.
Truthstream Media has developed a clever interpretation of the UN’s “Global Goals.” Unfortunately, these are by no means exaggerations but rather illustrate the hypocrisy of this campaign, which in reality involves an accelerated privatization of the commons and even our own bodies combined with elaborate psychological warfare to disguise such endeavors as social activism.
What’s that you say? You’re not on board? See you in the gulag, comrade.
Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Translation: Centralized banks, IMF, World Bank, Fed to control all finances, digital one world currency in a cashless society
Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Translation: Mass vaccination, Codex Alimentarius
Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Translation: UN propaganda, brainwashing through compulsory education from cradle to grave
Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Translation: Population control through forced “Family Planning”
Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Translation: Privatize all water sources, don’t forget to add fluoride
Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Translation: Smart grid with smart meters on everything, peak pricing
Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Translation: TPP, free trade zones that favor megacorporate interests
Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Translation: Toll roads, push public transit, remove free travel, environmental restrictions
Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries
Translation: Even more regional government bureaucracy like a mutant octopus
Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Translation: Big brother big data surveillance state
Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Translation: Forced austerity
Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts*
Translation: Cap and Trade, carbon taxes/credits, footprint taxes
Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Translation: Environmental restrictions, control all oceans including mineral rights from ocean floors
Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Translation: More environmental restrictions, more controlling resources and mineral rights
Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Translation: UN “peacekeeping” missions (ex 1, ex 2), the International Court of (blind) Justice, force people together via fake refugee crises and then mediate with more “UN peacekeeping” when tension breaks out to gain more control over a region, remove 2nd Amendment in USA
Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
Translation: Remove national sovereignty worldwide, promote globalism under the “authority” and bloated, Orwellian bureaucracy of the UN
You have signed the death warrant for science. – Peter Webster
In case you don’t know what RICO is (Wikipedia):
The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly referred to as the RICO Act or simply RICO, is a United States federal law that provides for extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization. The RICO Act focuses specifically on racketeering, and it allows the leaders of a syndicate to be tried for the crimes which they ordered others to do or assisted them, closing a perceived loophole that allowed a person who instructed someone else to, for example, murder, to be exempt from the trial because he did not actually commit the crime personally.
RICO was enacted by section 901(a) of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 While its original use in the 1970s was to prosecute the Mafia as well as others who were actively engaged in organized crime, its later application has been more widespread.
Senator Whitehouse has proposed to use RICO laws against climate change skeptics and fossil fuel companies, in a WaPo article The fossil fuel industry’s campaign to mislead the American public. Excerpts:
The Big Tobacco playbook looked something like this: (1) pay scientists to produce studies defending your product; (2) develop an intricate web of PR experts and front groups to spread doubt about the real science; (3) relentlessly attack your opponents.
In the case of fossil fuels, just as with tobacco, the industry joined together in a common enterprise and coordinated strategy.
The tobacco industry was proved to have conducted research that showed the direct opposite of what the industry stated publicly — namely, that tobacco use had serious health effects. Civil discovery would reveal whether and to what extent the fossil fuel industry has crossed this same line. We do know that it has funded research that — to its benefit — directly contradicts the vast majority of peer-reviewed climate science. One scientist who consistently published papers downplaying the role of carbon emissions in climate change, Willie Soon, reportedly received more than half of his funding from oil and electric utility interests: more than $1.2 million.
The Weekly Standard has a hard hitting article: Senator Whitehouse: Use RICO laws to prosecute climate skeptics. Excerpts:
Obviously, there’s a lot of money hanging in the balance with regard to energy policy. But when does coordinating “a wide range of activities, including political lobbying, contributions to political candidates, and a large number of communication and media efforts” go from basic First Amendment expression to racketeering? The tobacco analogy is inappropriate in regards to how direct the link between smoking and cancer is. Even among those who do agree that global warming is a problem, there’s a tremendously wide variety of opinions about the practical effects. Who gets to decide whether someone is “downplaying the role of carbon emissions in climate change” relative to the consensus? If message coordination and lobbying on controversial scientific and political issues can be declared racketeering because the people funding such efforts have a financial interest in a predetermined outcome, we’re just going to have to outlaw everything that goes on in Washington, D.C.
In February, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., attempted a McCarthyite witch hunt against climate scientists he found disagreeable. And Sheldon Whitehouse is sitting U.S. Senator. He’s now publicly encouraging legal persecution of people who conduct scientific research and/or those that have opinions about it he disagrees with. He wrote this opinion in the Washington Post on Friday, and no one much noticed or batted an eye at the consequences of what he’s advocating here. Such calls for draconian restrictions on speech are becoming alarmingly regular. And if more people don’t start speaking out against it, sooner or later we’re actually going to end up in a place where people are being hauled into court for having an opinion that differs from politicians such as Senator Whitehouse.
20 U.S. climate scientists
When I first spotted this, I rolled my eyes – another day, more insane U.S. climate politics. What really motivated this post is the following letter, from 20 U.S. climate scientists. Letter reproduced in full [link]:
Letter to President Obama, Attorney General Lynch, and OSTP Director Holdren
September 1, 2015
Dear President Obama, Attorney General Lynch, and OSTP Director Holdren,
As you know, an overwhelming majority of climate scientists are convinced about the potentially serious adverse effects of human-induced climate change on human health, agriculture, and biodiversity. We applaud your efforts to regulate emissions and the other steps you are taking. Nonetheless, as climate scientists we are exceedingly concerned that America’s response to climate change – indeed, the world’s response to climate change – is insufficient. The risks posed by climate change, including increasing extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and increasing ocean acidity – and potential strategies for addressing them – are detailed in the Third National Climate Assessment (2014), Climate Change Impacts in the United States. The stability of the Earth’s climate over the past ten thousand years contributed to the growth of agriculture and therefore, a thriving human civilization. We are now at high risk of seriously destabilizing the Earth’s climate and irreparably harming people around the world, especially the world’s poorest people.
We appreciate that you are making aggressive and imaginative use of the limited tools available to you in the face of a recalcitrant Congress. One additional tool – recently proposed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse – is a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) investigation of corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change, as a means to forestall America’s response to climate change. The actions of these organizations have been extensively documented in peerreviewed academic research (Brulle, 2013) and in recent books including: Doubt is their Product (Michaels, 2008), Climate Cover-Up (Hoggan & Littlemore, 2009), Merchants of Doubt (Oreskes & Conway, 2010), The Climate War (Pooley, 2010), and in The Climate Deception Dossiers (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2015). We strongly endorse Senator Whitehouse’s call for a RICO investigation.
The methods of these organizations are quite similar to those used earlier by the tobacco industry. A RICO investigation (1999 to 2006) played an important role in stopping the tobacco industry from continuing to deceive the American people about the dangers of smoking. If corporations in the fossil fuel industry and their supporters are guilty of the misdeeds that have been documented in books and journal articles, it is imperative that these misdeeds be stopped as soon as possible so that America and the world can get on with the critically important business of finding effective ways to restabilize the Earth’s climate, before even more lasting damage is done.
Jagadish Shukla, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Edward Maibach, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Paul Dirmeyer, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Barry Klinger, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Paul Schopf, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
David Straus, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Edward Sarachik, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Michael Wallace, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Alan Robock, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Eugenia Kalnay, University of Maryland, College Park, MD
William Lau, University of Maryland, College Park, MD
Kevin Trenberth, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO
T.N. Krishnamurti, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Vasu Misra, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Ben Kirtman, University of Miami, Miami, FL
Robert Dickinson, University of Texas, Austin, TX
Michela Biasutti, Earth Institute, Columbia University, New York, NY
Mark Cane, Columbia University, New York, NY
Lisa Goddard, Earth Institute, Columbia University, New York, NY
Alan Betts, Atmospheric Research, Pittsford, VT
I am familiar with all of these names, and know a few of them fairly well. The list includes several members of the National Academy of Science, and numerous IPCC authors. Apart from Trenberth and Robock, as far as I know, none of these individuals have made previous public/political statements about climate change. In fact, one of them told me (say a decade ago), that he had worked hard to keep his head below the radar and stay out of all the politics and the fighting. Another (Mike Wallace) wrote a jacket blurb for Roger Pielke Jr’s latest book The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change (note: Pielke Jr was one of the Grijalvi 7).
My first reaction was that this was some kind of joke, or that some of these individuals didn’t know what they were signing. The document originated from the Institute of Global Environment and Society, of which Jagadish Shukla is President (and first signatory, and presumably the instigator). So it seems that at least the 6 individuals associated with the IGES knew what they were signing.
The quote from Peter Webster at the start of this post was included in an email that he sent to one of the signatories. The (anonymous) response:
After reading Senator Whitehouse op ed in the Washington Post, I thought the senator should be supported by the scientific community. Similarities with the tobacco industry are compelling. This is just a small step for me to get engaged with social/policy relevant issues.
Forgive them (?)
Well, that letter reflects, at best, a great deal of naiveté by the signatory. Perhaps some of them had their arm twisted by the instigators/advocates, and were just trying to be collegial.
To paraphrase the other JC:
Forgive them, for they know not what they do.
Dear signatories of this letter:
I will try to clarify here what you have done, and why it is wrong.
First, you have been duped by the Merchants of Doubt book/movie. See my previous blog post Bankruptcy of the ‘merchants of doubt’ meme, which includes reviews by other social scientists.
Second, the consensus on human caused climate change is not as overwhelming as you seem to think. See my recent blog post The conceits of consensus, which includes a detailed analysis of an extensive survey of climate scientists (not to mention extensive critiques of the Cook et al. analysis).
Third, the source of funding is not the only bias in research, and the greatest bias does not necessarily come from industry funding, see these posts:
- Conflicts of interest in climate science
- Is federal funding biasing research?
- Industry funding and bias
- Industry funding: witch hunts
- Scientific integrity versus ideologically fueled research
Fourth, scientists disagree about the causes of climate change for the following reasons:
- Insufficient observational evidence
- Disagreement about the value of different classes of evidence (e.g. models)
- Disagreement about the appropriate logical framework for linking and assessing the evidence
- Assessments of areas of ambiguity and ignorance
- Belief polarization as a result of politicization of the science
The biggest disagreement however is about whether warming is ‘dangerous’ (values) and whether we can/should do something about it (politics). Why do you think your opinion, as scientists, matters on values and politics?
Fifth, what you have done with this letter is advocacy. This is a very dicey role for a scientist to play, fraught with reputational and ethical land mines. Here are several essays on this topic, written from a range of perspectives:
- (Ir)responsible advocacy by scientists
- Ins and outs of the ivory tower
- The adversarial method versus Feynman integrity
- Advocacy science and decision making
- Too much advocacy?
- Refocusing debate about advocacy
- Rethinking climate advocacy
- Ethics of communicating scientific uncertainty
- Tamsin on scientists and policy advocacy
- Mann on advocacy and responsibility
- Climate scientists joining advocacy groups
- Science, uncertainty and advocacy
What you have done with your letter is the worst kind of irresponsible advocacy, which is to attempt to silence scientists that disagree with you by invoking RICO. It is bad enough that politicians such as Whitehouse and Grijalvi are playing this sort of political game with science and scientists, but I regard it as highly unethical for scientists to support defeating scientists with whom you disagree by such methods. Since I was one of the scientists called out in Grijalvi’s witch hunts, I can only infer that I am one of the scientists you are seeking to silence.
Peter Webster did not exaggerate when he wrote:
You have signed the death warrant for science.
On August 3, President Obama declared that “under the Clean Power Plan, by 2030, renewables will account for 28% of our capacity,” and “will save the average American family nearly $85 on their annual energy bill in 2030.”
In the accompanying EPA rule, the word renewables is not used consistently. Sometimes it includes hydroelectric power, sometimes not. Sometimes the focus is on wind and solar power, sometimes it is broader. As the readers are aware, capacity is not the same thing as generation, and for generation, prices vary widely during the day. This makes it unclear how we get from a 28% capacity to $85 in annual savings. It is common for energy analysts to use levelized costs to compare different sources, but a residential consumer is paying for 24/7 access to a working grid, not for electricity from individual sources.
Without any enabling legislation, President Obama plans to force the United States to make an enormous capital investment, of the order of a trillion dollars, in wind and solar power and the associated grid infrastructure. Politicians often talk about investments when they mean forced transfers, but this really would be an investment, and the goal of this post is to estimate the return for the consumer. The post was inspired by a post by Willis Eschenbach at What’s Up With That. I will not consider the health and climate impacts of the plan. Judy Curry started the discussion of these in her August 3 post.
If the residential electricity bills actually do go down $85 a year as President Obama promised, then that $85 would be the return on our investment. To evaluate an investment, we divide it by the annual return to get a payback time. The situation is different if the electricity bills go up. The return is negative. We are never paid back and we have also lost our investment. One can still calculate a payback time using the same formula but we get a negative payback time, which is worse than any investment with a positive payback time. The readers who are scientists and engineers may appreciate the analogy to negative-temperature systems that are hotter than any system with a positive temperature. Among those awful investments with negative payback times, the smaller the negative payback time the worse the investment.
One complication in assessing a return on wind and solar investments is that the primary subsidies for renewables in the United States are the 30% federal tax credit and the 2.2¢/kWh producer tax credit for wind. These subsidies are effectively paid for by the people who pay income taxes. The toll falls heavily on the upper 1% in income who pay 46% of net US income taxes. Another problem in assessing a possible return is that the US has not gotten very far in wind and solar power. They accounted for only 4% of the electricity generation in 2013.
Europe is a better place to evaluate an investment in wind and solar power. The primary subsidy in Europe is a feed-in-tariff. Who pays in the end is different from the US. The people who are well off enough to buy solar arrays effectively are paid by the people who are not well off enough to buy solar arrays. I will leave the question of whether this is good social policy or not to the Europeans, but for this post it is useful because it means that the residential electricity bills reflect the wind and solar installation costs. It also helps that Europe has installed more than twice as much wind and solar capacity as the US.
Our starting point is Figure 1, which shows a plot of residential electricity prices compared with the residential component of wind and solar capacity for OECD-Europe countries. The data and the figures for this post are available as an Excel file. Willis Eschenbach and Jonathan Drake also made price plots for EU countries. Our emphasis will be on the higher-income European countries that are members of the OECD. Some countries, like Norway and Switzerland, are in OECD Europe but not the EU, while Romania is in the EU, but not the OECD. BP deems that Estonia, Iceland, Luxembourg, and Slovenia are not significant enough to include in their electricity spreadsheets, and I omitted them also.
The residential component of the wind and solar capacity is calculated from the residential share of the final consumption reported by the IEA. At 15¢/kWh, Norway is an outlier, well below the other countries. It has a very large per-person residential consumption of electricity generated by hydroelectric power. Norway also provides profitable balancing services to the continent, consuming wind and solar electricity when the price is low and providing hydroelectric power when the price is high. Roger Andrews has an excellent post on this balancing. The trend line is calculated without Norway. Incidentally, the US residential price is 12¢/kWh, even lower than Norway. The US has low-cost natural gas and coal and the US emphasizes tax credits rather than feed-in-tariffs to subsidize wind and solar power. As Willis noted, higher wind and solar capacities are associated with higher prices. For European consumers the return on their wind and solar investment is negative.
Figure 1. Residential electricity prices vs the residential component of the per-person wind and solar capacity for OECD Europe Countries. The electricity prices are taken from the IEA, the capacities from BP, and the populations from the UN. Data are for 2013, except for the Spanish price, where I filled from 2011. The IEA prices are converted at the market exchange rates.
How negative is the return? I propose that we interpret the y-intercept of the trend line, 18.8¢/kWh, as the price of electricity without any wind or solar capacity. As a check, in Germany in 2000, when the wind and solar capacity were negligible, the price was 16.3¢/kWh, expressed in 2013 dollars with BP’s deflator. The difference between the actual price and the zero-wind-and-solar price becomes a per kWh surcharge for the wind and solar capacity.
If we multiply this by the annual residential consumption we get an annual per-person wind and solar surcharge. These are shown in Figure 2. Again there is a clear trend. More capacity is associated with a greater surcharge. The slope of the trend line in the figure is $1.14/y/W. If we divide this by the average cost of the cumulative wind and solar capacity, we get the return on the investment, which will be negative. I will take the average cost to be $4/W. Expressed as a negative payback time, this is 3.5 years. Expressed as a negative return, it is 29% per year.
Figure 2. Calculated annual per-person wind and solar surcharge vs the residential component of per-person wind and solar capacity for OECD Europe Countries. Hungary (11W/p, –$7/p/y) is omitted from the graph, but included in the trend calculation. The trend is constrained to go through the origin.
As investments, these are inconceivably bad and we would expect large opportunity costs at the national level. It is interesting that if we start on the right in our graphs and move left past Denmark and Germany, the big spenders are the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain) that have been in the financial doghouse in recent years.
For consumers, the high electricity prices discourage the use of electricity for increasing safety. During the great European Heat Wave of 2003, 70,000 people died, most of them indoors. This is a horrible way to die. The people who were indoors could have been saved by a $140 Frigidaire window unit, but only if they could afford to pay for the electricity.
Dave Rutledge is the Tomayasu Professor of Electrical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology.
Oil prices fell in Asia on Monday as Iran and major western powers said they were closer than ever to a landmark nuclear deal that would lift sanctions and see Tehran’s crude exports return to global markets.
A forecast by the International Energy Agency (IEA) for slower world oil demand next year was also weighing on the market, analysts said.
US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for August delivery was down 86 cents to $51.88 and Brent crude tumbled 96 cents to $57.77 a barrel in late-morning trade.
“We have come a long way. We need to reach a peak and we’re very close,” Iranian President Sheikh Hassan Rouhani said in Tehran on Sunday.
“I hope we are finally entering the final phase of these marathon negotiations. I believe it,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who cancelled a trip to Africa to stay at the talks in Vienna.
Any deal to stop what the West suspects as Iranian efforts to build an atomic bomb will result in the lifting of punishing economic sanctions, allowing the country to resume oil exports.
More Iranian oil however will add to a supply glut, which has depressed prices.
The IEA has forecast that global oil demand would grow by 1.2 million barrels per day next year, slower than the 1.4 million projected this year.
However, global output grew by 550,000 barrels a day in June alone to 96.6 million barrels, IEA added.
This is up on average by 3.1 million barrels from a year ago, boosted by increased production from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
OPEC’s output climbed in June to a three-year high of 31.7 million barrels, the IEA said.
The editor-in-chief of the Iserlohner Kreisanzeiger und Zeitung (IKZ) daily Thomas Reunert dedicated an entire page on the topic of wind energy last Sunday, bearing the headline: “The Norwegians Are Giving Us The Finger!”
It is an interview with a former professor from the University of Bielefeld, Dr. Kurt Gehlert, 75, an expert in mining. It focuses on the state of Germany’s Energiewende (transition to green energies), particularly wind power and the illusions of energy storage technology.
The sub-heading reads
Dr. Kurt Gehlert is certain that the Energiewende has already failed. Or we will drown and cover ourselves in wind turbines.”
Germans pushing the Energiewende are aiming to see 80% of Germany’s energy needs being met by green energies by 2050. Some are even calling for doing away with natural gas, in addition to coal and oil.
But the monster-sized insurmountable obstacles loom as German policymakers begin to scramble in a confused state of denial.
Germany’s alternative baseload-capable sources, such as hydro and biogas, are severely limited and account for only 11.5% of Germany’s total energy supply today. Moreover there still does not exist a viable technology for storing the irregular supply of wind and solar power. Gehlert says these technologies are nowhere near being capable of taking on the role of providing a reliable baseload.
The 75-year old professor points out that although there is a huge capacity of wind and solar energy already in place, often both are not available because they are weather-dependent. Gehlert tells the IKZ that the media like to give the public the impression that the technology is not far away, but the reality is that it is nowhere near in sight.
Energy storage concepts such as accumulators, power-to-gas, compressed air storage are plagued by low efficiencies and sky-high costs. He reminds readers that using electric car batteries as a storage media is also a pie-in-the-sky-vision. Gehlert tells IKZ :
It sounds like a good idea and so let us illustrate it using a rough calculation. In 2020 it is planned to have 1 million electric cars on the roads in Germany. If we tap into them and remove 50% of the average 25 kwh charge capacity, then we will extract enough power from them (12.5 x 1000000 =12.5 gigawatt-hours) to cover Germany’s needs each day for 25 minutes and 17 seconds; Germany’s total daily consumption is 712 gigawatt-hours. And then all the electric car owners will have only 50% of the range available for their next trip.”
In Germany about 125 times more storage lakes than what exists today would need to be constructed by 2050. This area and topography simply does not exist at all.”
On the idea of using Norway’s, Switzerland’s or Austria’s mountainous regions to build the necessary pump-storage capacity, Gehlert tells the IKZ :
The Swiss are reacting allergically, and the Norwegians are giving us the finger.”
Go ruin your own landscape, and leave ours alone.
And even if it was possible to use pump-storage in foreign countries, Gehlert tells the IKZ that in order to bring the power from the above-mentioned mountainous countries to the big consumption centers in Germany’s industrial heartland, it would require the construction of about 70 high voltage power lines ranging from 300 to 1200 km in length!
Gehlert also scoffs at the idea of using wind-power-to-gas as a method for storing energy, which would be used to fire gas turbines to produce electricity in times of low-winds. And expanding the calculation to 50% constant electrical power from wind energy would require about 470,000 German wind turbines (Currently there are about 25,000). Gehlert elaborates:
The figure is difficult to fathom. Germany has an area of approximately 360,000 square kilometers. That means each of the 470,000 wind turbines would have 0.76 sq km.. The city of Iserlohn alone has an area of 125.5 square kilometers and so would have 165 wind turbines.”
The IKZ asks Gehlert to summarize:
The Energiewende under the given conditions in Germany is a failure […]. The policymakers state in a worried manner: Our predecessors have left behind a disillusioned population.”
New source of methane discovered in the Arctic Ocean
Methane, a highly effective greenhouse gas, is usually produced by decomposition of organic material, a complex process involving bacteria and microbes.
But there is another type of methane that can appear under specific circumstances: Abiotic methane is formed by chemical reactions in the oceanic crust beneath the seafloor.
New findings show that deep water gas hydrates, icy substances in the sediments that trap huge amounts of the methane, can be a reservoir for abiotic methane. One such reservoir was recently discovered on the ultraslow spreading Knipovich ridge, in the deep Fram Strait of the Arctic Ocean. The study suggests that abiotic methane could supply vast systems of methane hydrate throughout the Arctic.
The study was conducted by scientists at Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate (CAGE) at UiT The Arctic Univeristy of Norway. The results were recently published in Geology online and will be featured in the journal’s May issue.
“Current geophysical data from the flank of this ultraslow spreading ridge shows that the Arctic environment is ideal for this type of methane production. ” says Joel Johnson associate professor at the University of New Hampshire (USA), lead author, and visiting scholar at CAGE.
This is a previously undescribed process of hydrate formation; most of the known methane hydrates in the world are fueled by methane from the decomposition of organic matter.
“It is estimated that up to 15 000 gigatonnes of carbon may be stored in the form of hydrates in the ocean floor, but this estimate is not accounting for abiotic methane. So there is probably much more.” says co-author and CAGE director Jürgen Mienert.
Life on Mars?
NASA has recently discovered traces of methane on the surface of Mars, which led to speculations that there once was life on our neighboring planet. But an abiotic origin cannot be ruled out yet.
On Earth it forms through a process called serpentinization.
“Serpentinization occurs when seawater reacts with hot mantle rocks exhumed along large faults within the seafloor. These only form in slow to ultraslow spreading seafloor crust. The optimal temperature range for serpentinization of ocean crust is 200 – 350 degrees Celsius.” says Johnson.
Methane produced by serpentinization can escape through cracks and faults, and end up at the ocean floor. But in the Knipovich Ridge it is trapped as gas hydrate in the sediments. How is it possible that relatively warm gas becomes this icy substance?
“In other known settings the abiotic methane escapes into the ocean, where it potentially influences ocean chemistry. But if the pressure is high enough, and the subseafloor temperature is cold enough, the gas gets trapped in a hydrate structure below the sea floor. This is the case at Knipovich Ridge, where sediments cap the ocean crust at water depths up to 2000 meters. ” says Johnson.
Stable for two million years
Another peculiarity about this ridge is that because it is so slowly spreading, it is covered in sediments deposited by fast moving ocean currents of the Fram Strait. The sediments contain the hydrate reservoir, and have been doing so for about 2 million years.
“This is a relatively young ocean ridge, close to the continental margin. It is covered with sediments that were deposited in a geologically speaking short time period -during the last two to three million years. These sediments help keep the methane trapped in the sea floor.” says Stefan Bünz of CAGE, also a co-author on the paper.
Bünz says that there are many places in the Arctic Ocean with a similar tectonic setting as the Knipovich ridge, suggesting that similar gas hydrate systems may be trapping this type of methane along the more than 1000 km long Gakkel Ridge of the central Arctic Ocean.
The Geology paper states that such active tectonic environments may not only provide an additional source of methane for gas hydrate, but serve as a newly identified and stable tectonic setting for the long-term storage of methane carbon in deep-marine sediments.
Need to drill
The reservoir was identified using CAGE’s high resolution 3D seismic technology aboard research ressel Helmer Hanssen. Now the authors of the paper wish to sample the hydrates 140 meters below the ocean floor, and decipher their gas composition.
Knipovich Ridge is the most promising location on the planet where such samples can be taken, and one of the two locations where sampling of gas hydrates from abiotic methane is possible.
“We think that the processes that created this abiotic methane have been very active in the past. It is however not a very active site for methane release today. But hydrates under the sediment, enable us to take a closer look at the creation of abiotic methane through the gas composition of previously formed hydrate.” says Jürgen Mienert who is exploring possibilities for a drilling campaign along ultra-slow spreading Arctic ridges in the future.
The contracts with Russia’s biggest oil company Rosneft damaged by the West’s anti-Russian sanctions have cost ExxonMobil $1 billion, the company said in its annual report.
“In 2014, the European Union and United States imposed sanctions relating to the Russian energy sector. In compliance with the sanctions and all general and specific licenses, prohibited activities involving offshore Russia in the Black Sea, Arctic regions, and onshore western Siberia have been wound down. The Corporation’s maximum exposure to loss from these joint ventures as of December 31, 2014, is $1.0 billion,” the report said.
Rosneft and ExxonMobil established projects to conduct exploration and research activities in 2013 and 2014. The European Union and United States imposed sanctions relating to the Russian energy sector in 2014, prohibiting any activities that involve offshore work in the Russian Black Sea and Arctic regions, and onshore in western Siberia.
The two companies began an exploration project in the Kara Sea in August despite the sanctions. Oil reserves in the Kara Sea could be as high as 13 billion tons, which is more than in the Gulf of Mexico or the whole of Saudi Arabia.
Another joint venture known as the Sakhalin–1 Consortium in Russia’s Far East uses Berkut, the world’s largest oil platform and is producing 27,000 tons of oil a day.
Russia’s Rosneft and its President Igor Sechin have been put under US and EU sanctions. The provision of oil equipment and services such as drilling in offshore deep water projects such as in the Arctic, or shale well drilling were also banned due to the terms of the sanctions.
A small community in Uganda is challenging a UN-backed international oil palm venture that has expropriated small farmers and obliterated an entire forest on a Lake Victoria island to establish a vast plantation. Three years after the grab, Friends of the Earth groups are backing the islanders legal action, which is launched today.
Fighting a land grab can seem like a hopeless cause: the odds are hardly even when farmers without land or a source of income are pitted against multinational corporations, European banks and UN Agencies. However in Uganda, one community is fighting back.
Four years ago, an oil palm plantation partly operated by the oil palm giant Wilmar International began on Bugula, a highly biodiverse island on Lake Victoria. Then home to about one hundred small-scale farmers, the project was sold to them with extravagant promises of employment and development.
Yet today, 3,600 hectares of pristine forest have been destroyed, replaced with a vast swathe of oil palm, and many farmers and their families find themselves destitute with little compensation – if any – awarded to them for the loss of their land.
Finding themselves in increasingly desperate circumstances, three of them are today launching their legal action on behalf of the rest of the community against the oil palm company, Oil Palm Uganda Limited (OPUL), demanding the restitution of their land and compensation for lost crops and income.
Although nominally independent, OPUL is 90% owned by Bidco Uganda, itself a joint venture between the oil palm giant Wilmar International, Josovina Commodities and Bidco Oil Refineries, a Kenya-based company. Wilmar International holds at least 39% of the shares in OPUL and is providing technical expertise for the project.
In launching the legal action in Masaka today, the Bugula islanders are taking on more than just these mighty corporations.
The oil palm project is backed by the Ugandan government, which even helped to finance it, and by a United Nations agency: the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which is “directly overseeing” the project after providing a $52 million loan.
So this is ‘improving access to land and tenure security’?
Established in 1974 after the World Food Conference, IFAD’s ‘motto’ is “Enabling poor rural people to overcome poverty”. Its Financing Policies and Criteria state that the projects it finances should incorporate “engagement with indigenous peoples” and “improving access to land and tenure security”.
The Bugula project is carried out under IFAD’s ‘Vegetable Oil Development Project – Phase 2‘ which claims to be aimed at “increasing the domestic production of vegetable oil and its byproducts, thus raising rural incomes for smallholder producers and ensuring the supply of affordable vegetable oil products to Ugandan consumers.”
According to IFAD, “Oil palm activities are carried out on Bugula Island in Kalangala District (Ssesse islands) and Buvuma Island in Mukono District. In the course of the project, about 3,000 smallholder farmers will directly benefit from oil palm development and 136,000 households from oilseed development. The project is directly supervised by IFAD.”
It records a total project cost of $146.2 million, to which it is contributing a $52.0 million loan repayable in 2018, co-financed with SNV Netherlands Development Organization, which is contributing $0.3 million. It claims to benefit 139,000 households.
The Ecologist spoke today with Alessandro Marini, IFAD’s Country Representative for Uganda by telephone, but he repeatedly refused to comment at that time because he was “on his way into a meeting”. He has since failed to respond to our email requesting his views.
The UK is the single biggest contributor to IFAD.
John Muyiisa’s story
In January, Anne van Schaik of Friends of the Earth Europe joined NAPE / Friends of the Earth Uganda in a fact-finding mission to Bugula Island, Kalangala, and visited the house of John Muyiisa, one of the plaintiffs.
John saw his 43-acre plot taken for the palm oil project, and has since not stopped fighting to get it back. John showed us the state of his house, which is about to collapse because he doesn’t have the resources to repair it. The foundations of the new house he was planning to build for his family have been left abandoned since the project began.
When he showed us the small plot that was left to him, John said: “We all depended on this land. My land was not only my income but also a secured future income for my children. It would have provided me with the money I needed to buy a new house. Now I have lost my land and our plans are shattered.” These concerns have found little sympathy among local government officials.
We also visited the nearby island of Buvuma, where IFAD has financed another oil palm project. When we expressed our interest to hear from the local community about the effects of the island’s palm oil project, they exhausted themselves by explaining the benefits of the project.
“There will be electricity, employment, new roads, and extra income for local palm oil growers”, officials told us. This sounded all-too familiar to what we heard during a visit in 2013, but two years on, these promises seem emptier than ever.
Once we had finished speaking with the officials, we joined them at a community meeting at the district house to discuss compensation for lost land. When the chairperson gave farmers the floor to talk about the effects of the project, many raised their hands.
They talked about how the compensation had been inadequate, how it is totally unclear to them how it had been calculated, and how some of them didn’t want to leave their land but were given no choice. Clearly embarrassed and annoyed, a local official responded and corrected them. “People should not first sign an agreement and then complain after”, he said.
His unsympathetic stance was mirrored by other government officials on both islands. Often we heard jokes about how farmers drank away their compensation money in bars, got themselves a second wife or otherwise managed to fritter it away.
This indifference, although unspoken, is implicitly shared by IFAD, BIDCO, OPUL and Wilmar. Indeed, the chain of responsibility stretches back further – to banks in Europe and the USA whose financial support sets the wheels in motion for these devastating land grabs.
Europe’s mega-banks financing palm oil explosion
Taking the case of Wilmar International, in 2014 US and EU financiers had a total of €371 million of shares in the corporation, and 1.1 billion Euro in loans outstanding to them.
For instance in the Netherlands, ING held more than €26 million in shares; the British bank HSBC held €298 million in loans, while BNP Paribas and Dutch Rabobank held €189 million and €111 million respectively. Deutsche Bank held €4 million in shares and €12 million in outstanding loans.
Like Wilmar, many of these financiers have adopted policies to address the environmental, social and governance impacts of their investments. However, there is no accountability mechanism in place for most of these commitments, and so there is no financial or legal incentive for financiers to follow through.
This means that many European financial institutions, through their investments in agribusiness projects, are supporting a significant number of what are in fact land grabs in the global South. Such incidents are widespread and growing: new cases are reported to civil society organisations on a near-weekly basis in countries from Cambodia and Papua New Guinea to Indonesia, Myanmar and Nigeria.
Europe needs to take action at the political level. Both by ensuring financial institutions on its soil are not complicit in land grabs, and by voting this year to finish reforms to halt the expansion of agrofuels which compete for cropland.
UN-IFAD must hang its head in shame
And clearly IFAD is an organization crying out for abolition. Its financing of the Bugula Island land grab is in clear violation of its financing principles and criteria, indeed the very purpose of its existence – “Enabling poor rural people to overcome poverty”
While IFAD speaks of “community-driven development approach to fighting rural poverty“, “improving access to land and tenure security”, “dynamic and inclusive rural development“, “food and nutrition security for all”, “inclusive growth and poverty eradication”, and “sustainable smallholder agriculture” it is actually financing land-grabbing projects that achieve the precise reverse of all its empty rhetoric.
Indeed it is robbing poor farmers and farming communities of their land and livelihoods, leaving them destitute, and handing over their wealth for plunder by foreign corporations and profiteering financiers.
As for John and the rest of the former farmers of Bugula, the next steps in their fight for justice will be taken in court in Masaka. With pressure coming at them from both sides, the message to oil IFAD, palm companies and financiers alike is clear: the battle against land grabs is on.
Action: to support John Muyiisa’s struggle in his search for legal redress for the farmers of Kalangala, please visit our crowdfunding page.
Australian company Petrel Energy has announced that it has found and certified the existence of 20 potential oil deposits in the north of Uruguay, the only country in the region that imports all the hydrocarbons that it consumes.
Uruguayan state petrol enterprise ANCAP said that the certification includes “20 conventional explorations,” with an estimation of risk-free resources “of up to 1.8 billion recoverable barrels which implies 5.6 billion barrels originally in the sub-soil.”
ANCAP emphasized that there may be more oil yet to discover, for which “more exploratory work is required, like various drillings, in order to determine the existence of significant hydrocrabon accumulations.”
The results are “extremely encouraging,” the company said, adding that the Australian company Schuepach confirmed that it will drill four exploratory wells in the zone between 2015 and 2017.
In recent years, Uruguay set itself the task of trying to find oil in its territory, sparking several offshore projects in 2009 and 2012.
Official figures show the energy bills of the poorest 10 percent of British households have grown at almost twice as the average rate in the country under the Tory-led Coalition government.
The research by the House of Commons Library published on Wednesday showed electricity bills for the affected group rose by 39.7 percent between 2010 and 2013, compared to 7.5 percent for the top 10 percent of British households and 22.2 percent on average.
In addition, the poorest group saw their gas bills increased by 53.3 percent compared to 23.9 percent for the top 10 percent and 29.2 percent for the average British home.
Shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint said since Prime Minister David Cameron’s government took office in 2010 the average household energy bill has risen by 260 pounds.
“These figures show that the poorest households are paying the heaviest price for the Tories’ failure to stand up to the energy companies and ensure that the full savings from wholesale cost falls are passed on to all consumers,” said Flint.
Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at the uSwitch.com website also called for lower energy tariffs amid falling world oil and gas prices.
“Given the huge reduction in wholesale prices – which make up around half of energy bills – we believe standard tariffs can and should be cut even further,” said Robinson.
The data comes just days after British think tank Policy Exchange revealed that of the 2.3 million homes living in fuel poverty, 1.1 million are working households with one or more members holding employment.
The UK has seen rising energy costs in recent years. A separate report has shown that the average gap between the family’s energy bill and what it can afford is estimated to be around £400.