July 26, 2007

Green Hopes Pale as Energy Appetites Grow

As humanity’s energy needs only grow, world powers are plumbing the depths of the Arctic Ocean for fossil fuels and making plans to give countless acres of land over to “green” power production — even as the citizens of energy-rich developing nations rely on firewood and struggle with the labor abuses of emerging biofuel markets.

Russia sent a submarine carrying two legislators 14,000 feet below the Arctic ice to plant a flag on an underwater ridge they say connects the mainland to vast fossil fuel reserves there.

The move, which according to the BBC anticipates greater future access to the Arctic seascape thanks to global warming and melting ice, is opposed by the United States and others.

Concern for climate change caused by fossil fuels is driving a boom in renewable and “green” energy projects around the world.

This includes wind farms and biomass, which are touted as free of carbon emissions blamed for rising temperatures.

But a U.S. researcher says these efforts will come at an enormous cost — the industrialization of vast swaths of countryside given over to wind farms and biofuel crops.

But biofuels and ethanol stand to gain hundreds of millions of dollars in support thanks to farm legislation now before the U.S. Congress.

In the developing world, wealth in fossil fuels and renewables alike seems a false promise.

Human rights campaigners decried a darker side to biofuels after more than 1,000 “enslaved” workers were freed from a Brazilian plantation growing sugar cane for ethanol, the Independent reports.

And in Nigeria, the world’s sixth-largest oil producer, 70 percent of the population never sees the financial benefits of their abundant natural resources, and must resort to burning firewood for their basic energy needs.

This fuels deforestation — Inter Press Service reports the nation lost 35 percent of its forest cover between 1990 and 2005 — and bitter complaints about government and industry corruption.

Sources:

“Russians to dive below North Pole”
BBC, July 24, 2007

“Renewable energy projects will devour huge amounts of land, warns researcher”
The Guardian, July 25, 2007

“Farm bill planting energy seeds”
CNN.com, July 25, 2007

“Brazilian ethanol ‘slaves’ freed in raid on plantation”
The Independent (U.K.), July 4, 2007

“Nigeria: Rich in Oil, Dependent on Firewood”
Inter Press Service, July 23, 2007

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