Biochar 'Carbon Sequestration' Company Charged with Fraudulent “Ponzi” Scheme Targeting Elderly

For Immediate Release

Biochar 'Carbon Sequestration' Company Charged with Fraudulent “Ponzi” Scheme Targeting Elderly

WASHINGTON - Environmental campaigners warn
that a lawsuit over fraud against a company claiming to be the world's
largest manufacturer and distributor of biochar presents a stark warning
of the dangers of the scramble for funding for unproven climate change
techno-fixes. 

In the same week that the Obama
administration announced a  new task force for investigating financial
fraud,, Mantria Industries were taken to court by the Securities and
Exchange Commission which accuses the company of running a ‘Ponzi
scheme' involving fraudulent investment deals targeted at elderly
people.1  The company has been marketing biochar through
a joint venture with Hawaii-based company Carbon Diversions Inc. 
Biochar is fine-powdered charcoal which advocates claim will combat
climate change by sequestering carbon when added to the soil. 
Scientific studies, however are inconclusive and there are concerns
that biochar could potentially make climate change worse.2
Nonetheless, biochar advocates, whose main lobby group is the International
Biochar Initiative (IBI), are calling for US subsidies and carbon offsets
as well as international carbon credits.  Since news about the
lawsuit broke, the IBI appears to have been eager to distance itself
from Mantria Industries. However the company had been given a promotional
page on the IBI's website3, and Mantria's chair, who
is among four individuals to appear in court, was invited to present
on the topic of  ‘Bringing Biochar to Markets' at a recent
IBI conference in Boulder.  

Anne Petermann of Global Justice
Ecology Project says: "This fraud investigation against a leading
biochar company highlights the dangers of the current push to fund unproven
climate change techno fixes or ‘geo-engineering schemes'. 
Biochar is one of several unproven climate ‘solutions' pushed by
entrepreneur and start up companies.  If their lobbyists succeed
in getting subsidies and carbon offsets for biochar, the potential for
abuse and serious negative impacts will be even greater." 

Rachel Smolker of Biofuelwatch
adds "In the quest for quick big money, biochar advocates ignore both
the concerns that their claims are unscientific and unproven, and warnings
that corporations and investors, including unscrupulous ones, not small
farmers and communities, are most likely to profit not just from private
investments but also from carbon offsets for biochar and other techno-fixes.   

Carbon offsets for biochar
have been proposed in the Senate "Clean Energy Partnerships" bill
recently put forward by Senator Stabenow3 and a separate
WECHAR bill4 proposes mandatory subsidies.  Earlier
this year, over 150 organisations worldwide urged caution over biochar
and warned against biochar carbon offsets.  The potential for large-scale
biochar plantations at the expense of communities, forests and other
ecosystems and the climate has raised particular concern.

Notes: 

1) On 16t November,
the SEC charged four individuals and two companies, Mantria Corporation
and Speed of Wealth LLC over allegations that they had encouraged mainly
elderly people to liquidate their pensions for ‘green investments',
offering fraudulent securities.

www.sec.gov/news/press/2009/2009-247.htm 

2) Biochar dust can become
airborne, contributing to "black soot" - a major cause ofwarming.
Its effects on soils are also highly variable, in some cases causing
emissions from breakdown of soils organic carbon, In addition, the production
of biochar requires large quantities of biomass, and like demands for
biofuels, threatens to force conversion of natural ecosystems. Mantria's
biochar, called "Eternagreen" was made using tires, plastics and
other materials which can result in concentration of dangerous toxins.
For more info: www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/docs/biocharbriefing.pdf 

3) A copy of a promotional
webpage by Mantria Industries (which has recently been removed from
the IBI's web pages about their network) can be obtained by contacting
info@biofuelwatch.org.uk  

4) Senator Stabenow's bill
(S.2729 ) contains proposals for forestry and agricultural offsets,
and (unlike the House climate bill) includes  biochar as an eligible
technology, a  proposal on which the Senate is expected to decide
early next year. 

5) The "WECHAR" bill (S.1713
/ H.R.3748) proposes mandatory financial support for biochar developments.

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What differentiates Global Justice Ecology Project from most groups is our holistic approach to organizing.  We believe that the compartmentalization of issues is enabling corporations and conservative forces to keep movements for change divided and powerless.  We strive to identify and address the common roots to the issues of social injustice, ecological destruction and economic domination as a means to achieve a fundamental transformation toward a society based on egalitarian ideals and grounded in ecology.

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