Friday, November 30, 2007


Ed Ring at EcoWorld and I seem to have a major difference of view regarding GM's recent media blitz.

and please comment.

It seems to have gotten triggered by yesterday's post about

Here is my response to Ed:

Hi Ed,

It looks like we are going to have a good discussion. I welcome the opportunity for us to learn from each other and I invite others to chime in. That's why I am going to cross-post this comment at my own blog, VISIONSHARE.

I want to thank you
Ed for the really fine post about terra preta. It was a gem and that's why I chose to make a lengthy and totally supportive comment. Perhaps, you can imagine my surprise at discovering, a few days later, that the terra preta post and my comments are by surrounded four large General Motors "LiveGreenGoYellow" advertisements?

I objected. Your follow-up response was "I'm more worried about tropical rainforest destruction than whether or not Americans subsidize their own midwestern farmers instead of sending the money to OPEC". This sounds nice but, sorry, it simply doesn't hold up.

The current subsidies of US corn ethanol have triggered massive deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. When US farmers, pulled by the new subsidies, shifted from planting soybeans to corn the economic slump that has limited soybean expansion in places like Matto Grosso, Brazil took off -- and so did the fires and deforestation which have now returned to record levels. I posted about it under the title, "US Ethanol Subsidies Help Fuel Range Wars and Fires in the Amazon" here.

The fact is that we are living in a globalized world where just about everything impacts everything else. We no longer can afford the old assumptions of separation. Nowadays we are all connected.

My specific concerns about the GM advertising campaign are:

1) it promotes one of the most inefficient and highly subsidized form of biofuel -- corn ethanol --
which competes with much more efficient forms such as sugarcane ethanol;

2) it places some of the largest and most fuel guzzling vehicles (Chevy Suburbans and GMC trucks) in the class of new green-ness;

3) it targets and promotes the "American dream" of big materialism and big agri-business in developing countries such as Brazil; see my in-depth report here.

4) the alliance of auto manufacturers and agri-business and oil companies has been a powerful lobby in the US Congress against sensible vehicle emissions standards and they are now green-washing through ad campaigns like this;

One might respond with, "what's wrong with incremental involvement from the BIG GUYS? Aren't they necessary in the task of changing the world?" Yes, of course they are. But the emphasis of this group is energy and not earth. They are not promoting earth-restoring technologies like terra preta and agri-char which includes a reciprocity of giving some back to the earth. At this point they are focused still on maximizing the flow of fuel in support of out-of-control energy consumption. The Chinese saying points out that crisis is a combination of danger and opportunity. For GM the danger is the end of cheap fossil fuels and the opportunity is biofuel. It's all an energy trip.

That's the bad news. And, YES, I'm saddened that EcoWorld is serving as a vehicle to advertise it. Perhaps you might reconsider it?

But there really is good news -- we can can save rainforests and save the world through the emerging carbon market and a few intelligent decisions as we revise the Kyoto Protocols. To protect the rainforests we must have carbon credits for avoided or reduced deforestion. To renew the earth and draw massive amounts CO2 down from the sky we need carbon credits for carbon sequestration in the soil.

And, yes, biofuels are part of the equation. My take on the issue is here.

All best,



Lou Gold said...

Ed Ring posted a lengthy comment over at his EcoWorld page. I'm going to cross-post it here and get back to writing a response a bit later.

# Ed Says:
November 30th, 2007 at 10:01 am

Lou: You raise valid and troubling points. It is well and good that we continuously point out the tragedy of how European biodiesel subsidies have financed massive tropical rainforest destruction - especially in Asia and Africa. But only one degree of separation further is your suggestion, that Americans moving farm output from soybeans to corn reignites rainforest destruction in the Amazon to grow soybeans to fill the gap.

EcoWorld is an advertiser supported site and our advertising inventory is available without bias to whoever wants to pay - and the vital corollary to that, which is that we will publish whatever editorial we wish, free from the influence of our advertisers. And we do.

There are a number of things we have been quite outspoken about. Rainforest destruction, in our opinion, is far more destructive to the global climate than burning fossil fuels. The idea that we can use our biosphere to power our machines when there’s barely enough land to grow adequate food - this ought to be obvious to environmentalists, but it isn’t. This war on “anthropogenic CO2″ has ironically led to more burning and habitat destruction as automakers and oil companies (starting in Europe, by the way, how quickly we point the finger at the Americans) respond to the environmentalist lobby and offer biofuel options.

As for building the big SUVs - it is easy to blame automakers for manufacturing them, but the real fault is with the American consumer who demands them. On the other hand, GM’s decision to launch the Chevy Volt, which is an absolute breakthrough - a series hybrid, very distinct from current hybrid technology - is courageous and unique among automakers everywhere. Hopefully people will adopt series hybrid technology - which requires an onboard gasoline generator as a range extender. There is a real chance environmentalists will successfully destroy this promising option simply because of the presence of a gasoline engine, even though it will be ultra-clean and will rarely operate. The Volt has a 640 mile range using gasoline, but most of the time for short trips which are the bulk of transportation miles, it runs on electricity.

What do you think? Where should we get energy? Are you saying gasoline is better than biofuel? Because that’s exactly what I’m saying, and I think environmentalists have pushed automakers into a corner and are far more to blame than automakers for lobbying us into this reality of biofueled incineration of our rainforests.

Lou Gold said...

And here's my response:

Hi Ed,

Here's my response.

I'm aware that EcoWorld is an advertiser supported site and I hope no one thinks that I was accusing you of being an industry shill or something like that. Actually I noticed that the same GM ad is in the rotation of google ads over at Mongabay which is an impeccable rainforest information service. The only unusual thing at EcoWorld is that the ad has been appearing 4 and 5 times on a single page. So I concluded that GM, with the assistance of info age algorithms was conducting a targeted campaign. This is the power of modern advertising. I only wish that the terra preta and agrichar folks might be able to do the same.

I can't buy into your notion that the fault for building the big SUVs lies with the consumer. American industry was the default leader carrying the world into the realm of high power consuming. It converted it's WWII war machine into a peacetime economy based on SHOPPING. Today consumer spending is 70% of the US economy. That's why Bush, in his first post-911 press conference told Americans to "keep shopping." This incredible habit was made possible and set into place by cheap energy. Now, half the world is standing in line wanting to acquire the American "standard of living." Do think it's possible? Is this the amount of energy you are looking for when you say, "Where should we get energy?"

I think that in the short term we will have to have some mix of a bio- and fossil-fueled economy. I also believe that the mechanism that might hold consumption in check is the rising cost of energy. Yes, biofuel can be incredibly damaging -- even more than fossil fuels -- IF the objective is to produce cheapest cleanest energy. This can be accomplished ONLY by ripping off the earth badly.

BUT -- and I can not overemphasize how important this BUT is -- if we refocus from maximizing for energy production to re-balancing for earth restoration we will change the whole equation. We need now to do three things: 1) greatly reduce the release of already stored carbon -- that's coal buried in the ground and forests on top of the ground; 2) fast retrieval of CO2 from the atmosphere accomplished through more and faster growing vegetation; 3) long-term sequestration of the captured carbon by sequestering inert non-decaying char in the soil.

The miracle of Terra Preta is that it offers an opportunity to do all of the above. What a deal!

But it is necessary to somehow pay for lost opportunities for quick profit through cheap logging or cheap energy. This is where the carbon sequestration definitions can provide the difference that makes the difference. Offering credits for avoided deforestation and for carbon sequestered in the soil will usher in a new carbon economy that will move us from the politics of scarcity into a new era of abundance.

Please think about it.

Lou Gold said...


Ethanol Craze Cools as Doubts Multiply
By Lauren Etter
The Wall Street Journal

Is this the reason for the GM ad blitz ?????

Lou Gold said...

Ed gets the last comment here:

Lou: You wrote “This is where the carbon sequestration definitions can provide the difference that makes the difference.”

I could not possibly agree more with that statement.