News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 7, No. 27

Important but overlooked news from around the world.


“You can’t fly planes on photovoltaic panels.”

— Researcher Harvey Blanch on “second generation” biofuels that he says don’t compete with food crops (see “Energy,” below).


*Top Stories*
Colombia’s disappeared return to view
Immigration: Filipinos in EU spotlight
The other kind of green beer

Zimbabwe troubles may bust borders

Fly the cellulose skies: Will second-generation biofuel take off?


* Colombia’s Disappeared Return to View

Thousands of Colombians who have “disappeared” over the decades were commemorated in prose and pictures at a June conference in Bogota on political kidappings, Inter Press Service reports.

“Without a Trace,” a photography and short-story contest, debuted as part of the three-day International Seminar on Forced Disappearance, an event that drew human rights activists from Latin America, Europe and the United States.

Columbian writer Jorge Eliecer Pardo was lauded for his story “No Names, No Faces, No Traces,” which one judge praised for both its subtlety and impact.

“There are no obvious, straightforward words denouncing atrocities or morbid descriptions … there is respect for words and for what happened, which is much harder-hitting than a raw description,” he said.

Since August 2002, more than 1,250 people have been disappeared in Colombia, mostly bu government agents, according to the Colombian Commission of jurists, a human rights group.

Forced disappearances were prevalent there during the times of “La Violencia” through the 1940s and ’50s, and again in the ’70s.

It did not officially become a crime until 2000.

–T.J. Johnston/


“Making the ‘Disappeared’ Reappear”
Inter Press Service, June 27, 2008

* Immigration: Filipinos in EU Spotlight

A new European Union mandate to expel illegal Filipino immigrants does not mean a crackdownis imminent, an EU’s delegate told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Ambassador Alistair MacDonald said the policy merely sets standards for those who overstay their visa, regardless of circumstances.

He also noted that each of the EU’s 27 member nations would still have autonomy to enforce its own immigration laws.

The Commission on Filipinos Overseas estimates that 954,000 Filipinos live on the continent — of those 285,000 are permanent residents, 556,00 are temporary and the rest are undocumented.

MacDonald said that Filipinos account for 5 percent of the population in Europe, and only 655 were deported in the last three years.

He claimed that undocumented immigrants risk exploitation by employers and would be afforded legal protection by the new mandate.

“That’s why we want to protect them by having them in Europe legally,” MacDonald told the newspaper.

–T.J. Johnston/

“No crackdown on illegal migrants in Europe — envoy”
The Philippine Inquirer, July 4, 2008

* The Other Kind of Green Beer

From the Rocky Mountains to Japan and Australia, beer-brewing companies are adopting environmentally sustainable practices that reduce waste, as well as energy and water use, according to an Environmental News Network report.

In Colorado, New Belgium Brewery uses wind power and harnesses methane gas pumped from its water treatment facility to meet all of its electricity needs, while Odell Brewing Company recycles everything it possibly can — including water, spent grain, office paper and ink — and uses biofuels in all its vehicles.

Brewing giant Coors sells more than 600 million pounds of solid waste to local farmers for feed, converts waste beer into alcohol-based biofuel for vehicles, and recycles its wastewater.

On the coasts, the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in California uses fuel cells to reduce emissions, while the New York City’s Brooklyn Brewery runs on wind power.

Japan’s Asahi and Sapporo breweries, meanwhile, are supporting projects to produce and promote second-generation biofuels that don’t compete with food production needs.

In Australia, Foster’s Brewing Company is working with the University of Queensland to generate electricity from microbes digesting brewery waste.

–Julia Hengst/


“Green Beer”
Environmental News Network, July 2, 2008

“Fly the Cellulose Skies: Will Second-Generation Biofuels Take Off?”, July 9, 2008


* Zimbabwe Troubles May Bust Borders

Zimbabwe’s controversial re-election of President Robert Mugabe is bringing new pressure on South Africa to resolve the conflict, and raising military tensions with neighboring Botswana.

Leaders of the G-8 and several African nations scolded South African Prime Minister Thabo Mbeki at a meeting in Japan Tuesday, saying his efforts to mediate Zimbabwe’s political crisis are not working, the Mail & Guardian of South Africa reports.

With violence against the Zimbabwean opposition escalating, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are pushing for harsher sanctions.

However, some African leaders, including Mbeki, warned against sanctions they said could potentially destabilize Zimbabwe, resulting in civil war.

At a press conference during the G-8 summit, Tanzanian president and African Union chairman Jakaya Kikwete and President Bush agreed to an additional meeting on the subject in August.

“Not all African leaders are in a position to support sanctions at this time,” Bush aide Dan Price told following the president’s meeting with Kikwete.

Botswana, which is situated on Zimbabwe’s southwestern border, has joined the fray by refusing to recognize Mugabe’s contested re-election.

“We have no problem with the people of Zimbabwe, but we have a problem with someone who will beat up other people on the run-up to elections,” foreign affairs minister Phantu Skelemani told Botswana’s Mmegi newspaper.

SW Radio Africa also reported that Botswana has deployed an Army brigade at its border, to prevent post-election violence — which has left 20 people dead since the June 27 run-off election — from spilling over from Zimbabwe.

Mugabe, however, saw the move as provocative.

“If there are some who may want to fight us, they should think twice. We don’t intend to fight any neighbors. We are a peaceful country, but if there is a country, a neighboring country that is itching for a fight, ah, then let them try it,” Mugabe said to supporters last week.

–John Hornberg/


“Mugabe is not President”
Mmegi (Botswana), July 7, 2008

“G-8 leaders grill Mbeki on Zimbabwe”
Mail & Guardian (South Africa), July 8, 2008

“Deadly Zim violence intensifying, says MDC”
Mail & Guardian, July 7, 2008

“African leaders oppose sanctions”, July 2, 2008

“Mugabe’s Regional War Talk” & SW Radio Africa, July 4, 2008

“President Bush and President Kikwete of Tanzania Discuss G8 Working Working Session with Africa Outreach Representatives”
Press conference transcript, July 7, 2008


* Fly the Cellulosic Skies: Will Second-Generation Biofuels Take Off?

Japan Airlines recently announced plans to test fly one of its aircraft using a form of “second generation” biofuel in early 2009.

The demonstration flight will be the first of its kind in Asia, according to the business news outlet, and follows the lead of Virgin Atlantic, which successfully completed the world’s first biofuel-powered flight earlier this year.

Japan Airlines said it is committed to finding a viable second- generation biofuel source that derives from cellulose — a woody type of plant matter — rather than from food crops.

According to science website, global demand for cheaper and more sustainable fuel sources is considered a partial cause for skyrocketing food prices worldwide, as many farmers — especially in Brazil and the United States — switch to fuel crops such as soy, corn, rapeseed and sugar cane.

Writing in the International Herald Tribune, critic Eric Holt-Gimenez noted additional environmental impacts of farmed biofuels, including loss of biodiversity, and increased carbon dioxide emissions when trees are cut or burned to make way for new plantations.

Second-generation cellulosic biofuels, however, come from scrubby trees, grasses, reeds and straw, need minimal water or fertilizer to grow, and don’t require nearly as much farmland as food-based fuels, according to a report on environmental news site

The fuel is produced when cellulose, the part of a plant cell wall that makes it rigid, is broken down into sugars that ferment into ethanol.

This seems like a golden ticket, but its viability is already being questioned.

Grist Magazine quotes two agriculturally savvy sources — the U.S. Department of Agriculture and chairman of the House Agricultural Committee — as saying real-time cellulosic fuel supplies are still years off and may not “ever get off the ground,” because the energy yields are too low to be competitive.

What’s more, research and production remains expensive. reported the cost of a cellulosic refinery as $1.55 billion, compared to $62 million for a regular biofuel refinery.

The report asserts that cellulosic fuels could produce more energy than corn biofuel and have lower environmental impacts.

Harvey Blanch of the San Francisco-based Joint BioEnergy Institute told the site that the cellulosic biofuels have great potential for transportation.

“You can’t fly planes on photovoltaic panels,” he said.

But if Japan Airlines and Virgin are successful, they may be flying planes with fuel that grows on trees.

–Julia Hengst/


“Japan Airlines plans cellulosic biofuels flight”
Cleantech Network, June 23, 2008

“High fuel prices to make cellulosic biofuels increasingly competitive with gas”, June 2, 2008

“The biofuel myths”
International Herald Tribune, July 10, 2007

“Money — and patience — needed for 2nd-generation biofuels”, June 4, 2008

Editor: Josh Wilson

Interns: Julia Hengst, John Hornberg, T.J. Johnston

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