A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).



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Who knew? The fourth largest nation has threatened to pull out of the Paris Agreement

In Borneo, the Dypterocarp forest, one of the species-richest in the world (F), is being replaced by oil palm plantations (G). These changes are irreversible for all practical purposes (H).

Under the radar: In a trade dispute with the EU, about six weeks ago, Indonesia threatened to leave the Paris Agreement. Just like that. –

Where was the ABC News? Showing orangutan rescues…

Two hundred and seventy million people live in Indonesia. It’s the fourth largest population in the world – only 20% fewer than the USA. It’s also the second largest coal exporter in the world, and perversely, one of only 16 countries that are even trying to meet their Paris commitment.

Here’s the situation: Indonesia has been razing forests to make palm oil to sell to the EU for biofuel to make nice weather. Skeptics and Greenpeace pointed out the hypocrisy of destroying rainforests in pursuit of a better environment (way back, circa 2010). Finally, in 2019 the EU commission changed its palm oil policy and declared that it should not be OK for biofuel anymore. The EU parliament is considering whether to make that law.

But Indonesia is the world’s biggest palm oil producer [...]

Biomass burning kills 250,000 people a year

The headline at Science Daily is that wildfires and other burns lead to climate change. The paper itself asks: “As such, particle burn-off of clouds may be a major underrecognized source of global warming.” For me what matters are the deaths in the here and now:

“We calculate that 5 to 10 percent of worldwide air pollution mortalities are due to biomass burning,” Jacobson said. “That means that it causes the premature deaths of about 250,000 people each year.”

This is similar to Indur Goklany’s conclusion in 2011:

Killing people with “concern”? Biofuels led to nearly 200,000 deaths (est) in 2010.

In a study published in Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, Indur Goklany calculated the additional mortality burden of biofuels policies and found that nearly 200,000 people died in 2010 alone, because of efforts to use biofuels to reduce CO2 emissions.

Goklany (2011) estimated that the increase in the poverty headcount due to higher biofuel production between 2010 and 2004 implies 192,000 additional deaths and 6.7 million additional lost DALYs in 2010 alone.

He compared this death tally to the WHO figures for deaths attributed to global warming and finds [...]

Bugs produce diesel on demand

The irony: the answer to “clean” energy might not be the glossamer sun or the lilting breeze, but an infectious germ.

[Science Daily] …a team from the University of Exeter, with support from Shell, has developed a method to make bacteria produce diesel on demand. While the technology still faces many significant commercialisation challenges, the diesel, produced by special strains of E. coli bacteria, is almost identical to conventional diesel fuel…

They’re not there yet, yields are … tragic.

[BBC] Professor Love said it would take about 100 litres of bacteria to produce a single teaspoon of the fuel.

“Our challenge is to increase the yield before we can go into any form of industrial production,” he said.

But speaking as someone who did microbiology, sooner or later, the bug solution is coming. I presume everyone knows the old exponential growth story where one bacteria weighing 10-12 of a gram, doubles every 20 minutes, and if Earth were a cheesecake, 2 days later you’ve converted it into E.Coli (and 4000 times over)? (There’s more on this theme here).

There is power in them efficient little biology machines. Our chemical factories are mere shadows of the curmudgeonly ‘Coli. Though in the [...]

Biofuels benefit billionaires

Follow the money. As usual the Green trail ends at a Greenback (so-to-speak). In this case it’s the euro-colored kind. The EU is focusing on “first generation” biofuels — corn, soy, sugar and palm oil — which pushes up prices of food, and cuts down forests. (In a recent study, sugar cane ethanol was shown to produce 10 times the pollution of gasoline and diesel.) In contrast “second generation” biofuels are waste products. If the EU were interested in the environment, they would favour the second type. Instead, the policy hurts the poor and enriches the rich and does little to help the environment.

In 2010, Indur Goklany calculated the additional mortality burden of biofuels policies and found that nearly 200,000 people died in that year alone because of efforts to use biofuels to reduce CO2 emissions.

Where are the Greens protests?


The press release:

Biofuels benefit billionaires [...]

There goes the biofuels $21 billion dollar industry: Reality bites in EU draft

From Charlie Dunmore, Reuters: E xclusive: EU to limit use of crop-based biofuels – draft law

Another green goodwill project (that just happens to be worth billions) is facing the bad news that the bureaucrats are fingering the axe. A leaked EU proposal to cut public subsidies to biofuels is quite a u-turn. Only three years ago the EU raved about biofuels.

The plans also include a promise to end all public subsidies for crop-based biofuels after the current legislation expires in 2020, effectively ensuring the decline of a European sector now estimated to be worth 17 billion euros ($21.7 billion) a year.

If you are wondering how serious they are, read this:

“The (European) Commission is of the view that in the period after 2020, biofuels should only be subsidized if they lead to substantial greenhouse gas savings… and are not produced from crops used for food and feed,” the draft said.

Well that’s it then isn’t it? If they actually have to reduce emissions that kills it off right there, but just to make sure, they must also not be taken from the mouths of people or animals.

Under the proposals, the use of biofuels made from crops [...]

Sugar cane ethanol biofuel produces 10 times the pollution of gasoline and diesel

Indur Goklany calculated that biofuels policies killed nearly 200,000 people in 2010 alone. That was before this study showed things may be worse than we suspected.

Brazil is the largest sugar cane ethanol producer in the world, but people are burning four times the area of sugar cane plantations than previously realized, and it’s producing far more pollution than they thought. For every unit of energy generated, the ethanol-biofuel use produces a lot less CO2 (plant fertilizer) but more volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), more carbon monoxide, more nitrous oxides, as well as more sulphur dioxides. (See Graph b below).

Compared to gasoline and diesel, over its whole life cycle, every unit of energy produced with sugar cane produces 10 times as much volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), carbon monoxide, and nitrous oxides. The amount PM10′s and PM2.5′s produced with ethanol fuels is even higher. Most of the pollution comes from burning fields of sugar cane (see graph a). Hence the people suffering the most from ethanol production will be villagers and rural farmers living near areas of sugar cane production. While there have been efforts to encourage farmers to produce cane without burning fields, over half of sugar-cane crop loads continue [...]