Fuelling a Carbon Crisis

If we are to radically reduce transport emissions then the truth is that we have no choice but to do

This year the Indonesian Government will officially hold a new Guinness World Record - the fastest pace of deforestation. They must be so proud. Between 2000 and 2005 Indonesia lost two percent of its forest each year, representing an area of wildlife rich tropical forest the size of Wales. That’s three hundred football pitches of forest per hour.

Illegal logging is certainly a big driver but there is another more sinister cause – the meticulously planned clearance of rainforest to make way for the expansion of oil palm plantations. There are now over 6 million hectares of oil palm in Indonesia and the Government is handing out concessions to triple this area by 2020.

In turn, one of the principle drivers of this expansion is the development of the European biofuels industry. Although the vast majority of global palm oil is used by the food industry you only need to attend a palm oil industry conference to get a feel for where the action is. Biofuel is the word on everyone’s lips.

The damage from the oil palm industry was recently brought into stark relief by Weltands International who found that Indonesia was the third biggest source of greenhouse gases in the world, taking into account forest destruction, forest fires and the destruction of the peat swamps. They calculated that emissions tied to a litre of palm oil sourced from an area converted from peat forest are between 3 and 10 times more polluting than a litre of conventional diesel.

And it’s not just the environmental impacts we should be concerned about. New research from Friends of the Earth has found that in Indonesia the majority of communities affected by oil palm plantation development are horrifically exploited. They are cheated, lied to and abused. As a result many of these communities are losing their life blood, their land, and are being torn apart.

This then is the face of the biofuel industry when it goes wrong. And it is going wrong in many developing countries all over the world. Nightmare biofuel development stories are unfolding in Latin America and African too. If done badly, biofuels can not only raise food prices for the poor, destroy livelihoods and annihilate the most biodiverse habitat on Earth, they can increase carbon emissions too.

You would think then that the UK Government, UK biofuels industry and European Commission would be bending over backwards to introduce tough standards to guarantee that only sustainable biofuels are used. After all, concern over climate change was meant to be one of the key reasons why this Government sought to subsidise the biofuels industry to the tune of millions of pounds.

You would though be wrong. The Commission has set a legal target of 5.75% of fuel to be biofuel by 2010 and Heads of State signed up this year to a 10% target by 2020. This has been done before either the Commission or any European Government have actually bothered to sit down and work out exactly how such huge volumes of biofuel could be sourced sustainably.

These legal targets were also set before any proper thought had been given to the most carbon friendly way of using biomass at all. Carbon savings from burning biomass for the generation of heat and electricity typically saves double the amount of carbon emissions than using it in fuel. Yet there is no legal target for using biomass in this way.

No, it is biofuel that our politicians seem so obsessed with. And you can understand why. Their policies to address the consumption of fuel and fuel efficiency have spectacularly failed. But if we are to radically reduce transport emissions then the truth is that we have no choice but to do tackle our unquenchable thirst for fuel. If we fail to do so we simply export our disastrous environmental impact elsewhere.

No one wants a solution to climate change more than Friends of the Earth. But without strong legal standards in place and policies to use biomass in the most efficient way, biofuels could do more harm than good. In our quest to tackle the greatest environmental crisis this world is facing we could in fact make it worse.

Ed Matthews is Head of the New Economics Team at Friends of the Earth which is developing campaigns to help the UK make the transition to a low carbon economy. Ed is also coordinating the work of Friends of the Earth on biodiversity and has lead responsibility on bio-energy.
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An English hero for the ages: Ian Botham at 60

Botham blends his sportsmanship and deep-seated passion for cricket with a lust for life.

Begging W H Auden’s pardon, it is possible both to honour and to value the vertical man, and in the case of Ian Botham, who turned 60 on 24 November, it is our bounden duty. No sportsman has given Britons so much to enjoy in the past half-century and no sportsman is loved more. Two decades after he retired from first-class cricket, his reputation as one of life’s champions remains unassailable.

No mere cricketer is he, either. Botham is a philanthropist, having raised more than £12m for various charities, notably Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. In December, 30 years after his first walk from John o’Groats to Land’s End, he will set off again, in South Africa, where England are on tour. And he really does walk, too, not amble. As somebody who accompanied him on one of his dozen walks said: “You can’t keep up with him. The man is a phenomenon.”

Of all postwar sportsmen, only Bobby Charlton and, at a pinch, Henry Cooper come close to matching Botham’s enduring popularity. But Charlton, a shy man who was scarred by the Munich plane crash of 1958 (and may never have recovered from its emotional effects), has never comfortably occupied a public stage; and Cooper, being a boxer, had a solitary role. Botham, by contrast, spoke for England. Whenever he picked up his bat, or had a ball in his hand, he left spectators in no doubt.

Others have also spoken for England. Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson, captains respectively of England’s World Cup-winning football and rugby teams, were great players but did not reach out to people as naturally as Botham. Nick Faldo, Lester Piggott, Sebastian Coe and, to bring us up to date, Lewis Hamilton have beaten the best in the world, but they lacked those qualities that Botham displayed so freely. That is not to mark them down. They were, and are, champions. But Botham was born under a different star.

It was John Arlott, the great cricket commentator, who first spotted his uniqueness. Covering a match at Taunton in 1974, he asked the young colt to carry his bags up the rickety staircase to the press box, where Arlott, wearing his oenophile’s hat, pulled out a bottle of red wine and invited Botham to drink. Forty years later Botham is a discriminating wine drinker – and maker. Along with his friend and fellow England great Bob Willis, and their Australian wine­making pal Geoff Merrill, he has put his name to a notable Shiraz, “BMW”.

Arlott, with his nose for talent and good company, saw something in the young Botham that Brian Close, his captain at Somerset, was beginning to bring out. Later, Mike Brearley, as England captain, drew out something even more remarkable. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, you’ve got to be carefully taught. And Botham, a fine team man as well as a supreme individual performer, has never withheld praise from those who enabled him to find his voice.

If sport reveals character, then cricket is the game that reveals it most clearly. In no other sport is the individual performance rooted so firmly in a team context. Every over brings a contest of skill and intelligence between batsman and bowler but only a team can win the match. “A cricketer,” as Arlott said, “is showing you something of himself all the time.”

Cricket also reveals national character more than any other sport. Football may be the most popular game in the world but cricket, and cricketers, tell us far more about England and Englishness. It is instructive, in this regard, to hear what Philippe Auclair, a French journalist and author long resident in London, has to say about Botham: “He is essentially an 18th-century Englishman.” In one! It’s not difficult to sense a kinship with Tom Jones, Fielding’s embodiment of 18th-century life, who began his journey, as readers may recall, in Somerset.

A country boy who played for Worcestershire after leaving Somerset, and who lives by choice in North Yorkshire, Botham is an old-fashioned Englishman. Although nobody has yet found him listening to the parson’s sermon, he is conservative with a small and upper-case C, a robust monarchist, handy with rod and gun, and happiest with a beaker in front of him. He represents (though he would never claim to be a representative) all those people who understand instinctively what England means, not in a narrow way, but through something that is in the blood.

Above all, he will be remembered for ever as the hero of 1981. Even now it takes some believing that Botham bowled and batted with such striking success that the Australians, who were one up after two Tests, were crushed. Some of us who were actually at Headingley for the famous third Test – thousands who claim to have been there were not – recall the odds of 500-1 on an England victory going up on the electronic scoreboard that Saturday evening.

Botham made 149 not out as England, following on, beat the Aussies by 18 runs. For three hours the country seemed to stop. In the next Test, at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run as Australia fell under his spell. Then, at Old Trafford, on a dank Saturday afternoon, he played the most memorable innings of his life and one of the greatest innings ever played by an Englishman: 118 magnificent, joyful runs. Joy: that’s the word. Botham brought joy into people’s lives.

Yet it was the final Test at the Oval, which ended in a draw, that brought from him a performance no less remarkable than those from before. He bowled 89 overs in that match, flat out, continuing to run in when others withdrew with injury. That was the team man coming to the fore. Little wonder his comrades thought the world of him.

Modest, loyal, respectful to opponents, grateful to all who have lent him a hand, and supported throughout a turbulent life by Kath, his rock of a wife, and their three children, this is a cricketing hero to rank with W G Grace, Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Fred Trueman. A feature in the lives of all who saw him, and a very English hero. 

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State