First up is an interview with Jack Ewing, owner of an eco-lodge in Costa Rica. I must admit that writing checks to conservation organizations is about as pleasurable as a trip to the dentist. Spending a week in a place like Hacienda Barú also supports conservation and is a hell of a lot more fun. I managed to photograph about half of the wildlife I saw while staying less than a week in Costa Rica. Best vacation I’ve ever had. I might put the video (much more interesting than photos) on YouTube one of these days.

After reading that upbeat article, grit your teeth and click on the one about the eminent extinction of the orangutan and understand that palm biodiesel will play a large role in it.

The photos and graphics are shocking. Attempts to certify that palm oil will be grown sustainably will simply clear more rainforest adjacent to the certified plantations to supply those who are more concerned about price (leakage). Once demand outstrips supply, and costs begin to rise as a result, more carbon sinks will fall. Burning biodiesel in your car, unless it is made from recycled sources, consumes a food crop, which simply creates an economic incentive for someone, somewhere in the world, to clear more land to replace what you fed to your car (leakage). Agrodiesel producers will seek out the cheapest possible base stock and nothing comes close to palm oil. Imbecilic politicians funding and mandating the consumption of agrofuels are the biggest problem, but consumers wanting to save the planet by voluntarily burning these environmentally destructive fuels in their cars have made a gross miscalculation, IMHO.

Next up is an interview with John Cain Carter, an ex-Texan who now raises cattle in the Cerrado of Brazil. I’m not sure what to think of this article. The guy raises cattle in the Amazon. You would be hard pressed to find a more environmentally destructive vocation. On the other hand, if he didn’t raise cattle there, someone would just take his place, and he is working hard on a plan to get other ranchers to obey the Brazilian law that requires ranchers to set aside half of their land as he has done.

The nearest equivalent here in the States is the conservation reserve program where our farmers are paid by taxpayers to protect part of their land (which, by the way, is now being plowed under to grow agrofuels). However, if our farmers were not penalized for farming land that is supposed to be in reserve, we would have the same problem here as in Brazil. The blame lies with Brazilian politicians, not those taking advantage of the situation created by those politicians. I don’t much care for politicians in general.

Imagine trying to compete with other cattle ranchers when you can only use half of the land you pay a mortgage and taxes on. But then again, life is how you choose to see it:

  1. Preserving that forestland was the deal the farmer accepted from the government that sold it to him for the privilege of burning for profit part of the planet’s lungs. Those who didn’t set the land aside are cheats, but we are all cheats given the right incentives.
  2. A corrupt Brazilian government that won’t enforce its own laws is also unlikely to enforce private property rights so it is only a matter of time before the corruption that has allowed these farmers to cheat comes back to bite them when a powerbroker decides he wants their land.
  3. One can assume that the low purchase price of the land was compensation for keeping half of it as forest. “You may purchase this land for half price only if you promise to leave half of it as forest.”

And so it goes.

It isn’t clear to me exactly how Carter plans to get ranchers to obey the law. In a nutshell, he hopes to use economic forces to reward those who set aside land (or inversely, punish those who do not) by giving them access to favorable markets. How he is going to give them exclusive access to these markets is where things get fuzzy.

Without enforcement, laws are meaningless. The laws are not enforced due to corruption inside the Brazilian government. Essentially, Carter is planning to enforce the laws by skirting the government. He is trying to establish a level playing field for all ranchers, which is what government is supposed to do. Imagine a governing sports body that looked the other way when a soccer team sews shut the opening to its goal. A government solution to that problem today might be to allow both teams to sew their nets closed (subsidizing competing energy schemes). The real challenge will be to keep corrupt government officials from skirting his plan. I sure don’t have a better plan. I also really like the idea of using high tech satellite imagery to verify which ranchers are in compliance.

There is also an interview with Dr. Daniel Nepstad, a mover and shaker in Amazon conservation circles. It is in general a hopeful interview, but it was the following quote that stuck in my mind:

When we put all this together we come up with a very bleak outlook for the Amazon Rainforest. I don’t have the final numbers, we’re running these right now, but it’s not out of the question to think that half of the basin will be either cleared or severely impoverished just 20 years from now.

Another article discusses a report that has found the populations of many once common birds crashing 54 to 96 percent in just the last forty years. This is how extinctions happen. Populations drop to the point that they cannot rebound when struck by disease or a spate of bad weather:

The National Audubon Society said agricultural and development pressures have driven grassland birds to the worst declines.

For all you agrofuel supporters out there, may your favorite bird go extinct so that you can continue to fuel your eco-fantasy along with you four-ton wheelchair. And no, I’m not just talking corn ethanol. Rapeseed takes 30 percent more land than corn to produce the same gas mileage and of course soy takes almost five times as much. Yeah, I’m getting testy. It must be a symptom of impending vacation time. I think I’ll stop there and put up more in another post. There are several articles I haven’t gotten to yet.

I’m off on vacation tonight. I’ll be in a tent for about five days with my family communing with nature along with several other families. I will find a working internet café once or twice to upload some more stuff, so you won’t be completely rid of me. Expect some interesting wildlife footage.