Tuesday, 25 August 2009

AFC Energy (Hydrogen Fuel Cells)

The problem with hydrogen fuel cells — a much-promoted green energy technology that creates electricity by passing hydrogen and oxygen atoms through an electrolyte solution — is that they require a supply of hydrogen, a gas that is expensive to produce and transport.
AFC Energy, an AIM-listed company whose chairman is Tim Yeo, the Conservative MP, has decided to dispense with the problem of hydrogen supply by targeting businesses that create hydrogen as a byproduct, such as chlorine manufacturers. Yesterday, AFC secured a contract to supply a fuel cell at a huge chlorine plant at Runcorn. The plant, owned by Ineos, consumes enough power to run a city as large as Liverpool and already recycles 85 per cent of its hydrogen output into power generation, but AFC Energy reckons that its fuel cells could generate several megawatts of power from the unused hydrogen at the Runcorn plant.
The AFC fuel cells have been shown to work at an Akzo Nobel chlor-alkali plant in Germany, so the challenge is to turn them into a commercial business that can sell power efficiently into a grid and create value by reducing energy costs and industrial carbon emissions.
This is a highly speculative venture, but at 12p the shares are well off last year’s highs of 30p and are worth a look.

Climate Camp reveals London targets

Environmental activists are planning to target more than 20 major institutions including the Bank of England as part of a week-long protest against climate change.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 6:03PM BST 24 Aug 2009

The Climate Camp is a loose affiliation of thousands of environmental activists that come together every year to protest against the industries and institutions they believe are causing global warming. In previous years there have been high profile “Climate Camps” at Heathrow Airport and Kingsnorth Power Station.
This year the week-long camp is in London to demonstrate against the banking system, oil companies and the Government.

On Wednesday at least one thousand people will gather at a number of muster points around the capital before “swooping” on an undisclosed site to set up camp for a week. The meeting points include the mining company Rio Tinto and the site of the 2012 Olympics.
The location of the camp remains a closely guarded secret although it is expected to be an open green space like Hyde Park. The camp itself will require a massive infrastructure including huge marquees, compost toilets, kitchen facilities and hundreds of tents in the heart of the Capital.
The campsite will then facilitate a number of “direct actions” aimed at 22 institutions around the capital including the Royal Bank of Scotland, the headquarters of multinational companies like Shell and Government departments.
Actions could include “flash mobs” that invade offices, scaling rooftops to erect banners and impromptu “protest picnics” inside company head quarters.
A spokesman for the movement insisted the protests will be peaceful.
The Metropolitan Police has vowed to take a “softly, softly” approach to the protests following criticism of their tactics during the G20 protests.
However up to 500 officers will be deployed to police the camp everyday and the Met have said they are ready to tackle actions around the Capital.

A global climate deal must be simpler, fairer, and more flexible than Kyoto

Negotiations on emissions in the run-up to the UN climate summit show no sign of the radical change we need
Claus Leggewie
guardian.co.uk, Monday 24 August 2009 11.39 BST
Limiting global warming to 2C above preindustrial levels is absolutely crucial, says the G8 and most of the world's best climatologists. If this is to be more than lip service, the consequences will be radical.
For starters, until 2050, only about 700 gigatons of carbon dioxide can be emitted into the atmosphere. At the current rate of emissions, this "budget" will be exhausted in 20 years; if emissions increase as expected, the world will become carbon "insolvent" even sooner. So reducing CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions must begin as quickly as possible. Wasting any more time will cause costs to skyrocket and render the 2C limit obsolete.
Rich nations cannot continue as before, emerging industrial countries must leave the old industrial-based path to prosperity, and the rest of the world may not even embark upon it. Yet the negotiations on emissions limits with each of the 192 signatory countries in the run-up to the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen in December 2009 have so far given no indication of so radical a change.
A global climate deal must be simpler, fairer, and more flexible than is today's Kyoto Protocol. To achieve this, the Global Change Council of Germany (WGBU) suggests that a budget formula be adopted. The idea is that, in the future, all states will be allocated a national per-capita emissions budget that links three core elements of a fair global climate deal: the major industrial countries' historical responsibility, individual countries' current performance capacity, and global provision for the survival of mankind.
The task is immense. On a global level, quick and comprehensive de-carbonisation of the world economy is necessary. All countries must reduce their use of fossil fuels and switch to renewable energy sources as soon and as much as possible. But, since the OECD-countries (led by the United States and Australia) will soon overrun their carbon budgets even after far-reaching emissions reductions, they must cooperate with developing countries that still have budget surpluses. Breaking the Gordian knot of climate negotiations requires offering technology and financial transfers in exchange for the ability to overrun a national budget.
A responsible global climate policy thus entails a fundamental change of international relations, and making the necessary institutional innovations in global governance requires courage. Until now, the wealth of nations has been based upon the combustion of coal, gas, and oil. But, if the 2C target is taken seriously, the 21st century will see countries that are not so far down the path of carbonisation (such as large parts of Africa), or that leave it in time (such as India and Pakistan), able to become wealthy by helping societies that must de-carbonise rapidly.
For the moment, all this is still utopian. In its current state, cap-and-trade schemes to reduce emissions are far from being fair and effective; a major improvement would include establishing a central climate bank to register and supervise the transfer of emissions credits. This bank would also ensure that emissions trading did not run counter to the goal of remaining within the entire global budget, for example via the complete sale of unused emissions credits by individual developing countries at the beginning of the contract period.
In order to achieve this, the central climate bank must have the power to do its job. That, in turn, implies that it is accountable and that it has democratic legitimacy – something fundamentally lacking in multilateral agencies such as the World Bank.
Additional changes to global governance will also be needed. These changes include the consolidation of face-to-face negotiations between old and new world powers (the US, the European Union, and China) and developing and emerging countries, including new regional powers like Mexico, Egypt, Turkey, and Indonesia.
In this framework, the old G7/8 can no longer function as a hegemonic centre, but rather as a kind of broker and preparatory body. Simultaneously, within a variable architecture of negotiation, there must be links to the numerous conference institutions of the UN, as well as to political-economic regional associations such as the EU, Mercosur, or the African Union.
This flexible (and, alas, fragile) architecture of multilevel negotiation can function only as long as it is oriented towards clear moral bases for negotiation, has sufficient democratic legitimacy, and is supported in national and local arenas of action. Global leaders will find it significantly easier to steer towards big cooperation targets if they are supported by visions of the future within civil society.
A low-carbon society is not a crisis scenario, but rather the realistic vision of liberation from the path of expensive and risky over-development. In 1963, when the world narrowly escaped nuclear catastrophe, the physicist Max Born wrote: "World peace in a world that has grown smaller is no longer a utopia, but rather a necessity, a condition for the survival of mankind." Those words have never been truer.
• Claus Leggewie is director of the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities in Essen (KWI) and a member of the Global Change Council of Germany (WBGU).
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2009.

Home owners failing green targets to pay more Council Tax

Home owners who fail to introduce green measures could be forced to pay more Council Tax.

By Myra Butterworth, Personal Finance CorrespondentPublished: 7:45AM BST 24 Aug 2009

Home owners failing green targets to pay more Council Tax
Under the new proposals, the Government would increase Council Tax and Stamp Duty for millions of homes that are not energy efficient.
It could also mean families are unable to sell their home unless they spend tens of thousands of pounds on getting their properties insulated and double-glazed.
The measures are widely expected to come into force this autumn.
Politicians and housing experts attacked the measures saying it was yet another stealth tax, but this time dressed up as an environmentally-friendly initiative.
Grant Shapps, shadow housing minister, said: “The Government seems intent on giving green taxes a bad name. Rather than penalizing families who happen to live in homes which are harder to insulate they should introduce genuine help for people to reduce the carbon footprint of their property.
“Ministers now seem to believe that any problem can be fixed by simply extracting more tax from hard-pressed families, when what is really required is genuine innovation to green up the nation’s homes.”
Since last October, all homes put on the market for sale or rent have had to have an energy performance certificate, which rate the energy efficiency of a property, giving a rank form A to G.
The energy performance certificates include a report recommending improvements to save money and carbon.
It is understood that Government advisers The Energy Savings Trust wants it to becomes illegal from 2015 to put a home up for sale, which has a rating lower than band E.
An example of a Band F property would be a three-bedroom Victorian terrace property with solid brick walls (no insulation). It would have no double glazing, a standard gas firing boiler with room thermostat, a hot water jacket and energy saving light bulbs.
Measures needed for the property to be pushed up into band D would include installing a condensing boiler, insulating solid walls and double glazing.
A home’s energy ratings is contained in the controversial Home Information Packs, which home sellers must have in place before they begin to market a property. The packs cost £300 on average, but can go up to £500 depending on the provider.
Katie Tucker, of mortgage brokers Mortgageforce, said: “HIPS are an absolute waste of money. It was always known that the packs were of no other use except to help boost government revenues. Now they are using the EPC as a way of boost council tax.”
The Energy Savings Trust said high energy prices means it is more important than ever to have an efficient home. It suggested loft insulation could save a household £155 a year on energy bills, while cavity wall insulation could save around £120 a year.

Aarhus moves towards carbon-neutral status

• Denmark's second city to vote on £8m greening package • Electric car chargers and home renovations top agenda• Council acknowledges voter apathy
Gwladys Fouché in Aarhus
guardian.co.uk, Monday 24 August 2009 06.00 BST
Denmark's second largest city will decide in September whether to finance a plan to become carbon-neutral by 2030. It would become one of only a handful of cities in the world to set such ambitious climate change targets.
The city council will vote next month on a 70m kroner (£8.1m) plan to finance the first phase of projects in 2010-11. Initiatives include developing a network of charge spots where electric car drivers can recharge their vehicles' batteries, renovating municipal properties that are not energy-efficient, and connecting homes running their own heating system – often oil-based – to the municipal district heating system.
"Aarhus wants to manage its own house by carrying demonstration projects into effect and by influencing the national legislation," said Claus Nickelsen, leader of the city's department for nature and environment.
The city of 302,000 people is also looking to set up a light-railway system, expand bike paths to encourage drivers to leave their cars at home, and reduce the amount of heating generated by burning coal at the city's power plant in favour of wood pellets, straw and domestic waste.
Aarhus is one of six towns selected by the Danish government to become eco-cities. Local leaders in Copenhagen, another designated eco-city, want the capital to become carbon-neutral by 2025. One aim is to encourage half of all commuters to cycle to work in future — up from 36% in 2006 – by building more than 100km of new cycling routes and upgrading existing ones. At country level, Norway has pledged to go carbon-neutral by 2050.
Outside Denmark, eco-city projects have tended to focus more on building new towns rather than adapting existing ones. The most high-profile is Masdar in the United Arab Emirates where Norman Foster is designing the first carbon-neutral, zero-waste city. But another ambitious project has run into trouble. Dongtan in China was billed as a haven of sustainable living housing up to half-a-million people by 2040 but no building work has started.
The UK is attempting to green its cities although the plans are less ambitious. A handful of "transition towns" are trying to voluntarily wean themselves off oil and gas. In July the government named the first four eco-towns out of 10 planned to be built by 2020 but the project has been beset with objections from local residents.
Even in deep green Denmark, it has been hard to engage people with the Aarhus carbon-neutral plan. "People don't really care," said Tom Jul Pedersen, a local radio journalist. "They are much more interested in the local football team, which is at the top of the league right now."
City officials acknowledge the difficulty. "We try to conduct campaigns and explain to people what we are doing but it is very difficult to change people's behaviour," said Helle Friis at Aarhus council's department of business and city development.
"It can change if the collective solutions are put in place and people see they are easy and convenient to use," she said.

Wind farms and polluted skies: the great paradox of China

China is on its way to becoming the world's largest producer of renewable energy, yet it remains one of the most polluted countries on earth.
From Yale Environment 360, part of the Guardian Environment Network
This month, on the first anniversary of the opening of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, Beijing's skies were a hazy gray. Walking down the street, one was left with a tickle in the throat and burning eyes. A recent study published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, conducted jointly by Peking University and Oregon State University, found that Beijing's $20 million investment to scrub the skies for the Olympics in fact had little impact on air quality. The U.S. embassy in Beijing now maintains a Twitter feed posting data from an air-quality monitoring station on the embassy compound; readings of large particulates in the air in recent weeks have ranged from "unhealthy" to "very unhealthy" to "hazardous."
The experience of daily life in Beijing hardly gives the impression that the last year has been a watershed for the environment in China. Being in the capital, one can't help but feel a little quizzical glancing at recent headlines from newspapers in Washington, New York, and London announcing China's green-tech revolution. (This is what an eco-friendly revolution feels like?) It's tempting to shrug and wonder whether the legacy of new green initiatives will be as lackluster as the "green Olympics" – or to feel blue at the lack of promised "blue skies."
Yet for an entirely different perspective on China's recent environmental progress, take the ultra-modern bullet train a half-hour southwest of Beijing to the port city of Tianjin. In just a little over four years, a mix of government and foreign investment has transformed this mid-sized Chinese city into the global manufacturing hub of the world's wind power industry. China's installed wind capacity has doubled in each of the past four years. Many experts seem reasonably optimistic that China could meet its ambitious renewable energy plans to derive at least 15 percent of all energy from renewable sources by 2020. The country also is striving to reduce energy intensity per unit of GDP by 20 percent over a five-year period.
These two targets represent some of the most ambitious green goals in the world, and are expected to make China — in just over a decade — the world's largest producer and consumer of alternative energy.
China watchers worldwide have taken note. Earlier this month, a prominent American venture capitalist and the CEO of General Electric published a joint op-ed in The Washington Post, enthusing, "China's commitment to developing clean energy technologies and markets is breathtaking" — even outpacing the U.S. and putting Beijing "in the lead today."
• This article was shared by our content partner Yale Environment 360, part of the Guardian Environment NetworkFrom the outside, China is seen as passing spectacular new renewable energy goals, building massive wind farms and hydropower stations overnight and perhaps one day even giving American and European companies a run for their money in the global green-tech market. But from the inside, what emerges is a more muddled picture. The daily experience is that the air and water quality is bad, in some places getting marginally better or staying the same, in some cases getting worse.
"How do you reconcile these different pictures of China?" asks Barbara Finamore, founder and director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's China Program. "Both are true at once. It's something we struggle with all the time."
Indeed, China may soon be simultaneously the greenest and the blackest place on earth. The country is poised to be at once the world's leader in alternative energy — and its leading emitter of C02. Alternative energy as a percentage of the total energy mix is increasing, but it will complement — not replace — growth in coal power. In fact, in a decade coal is expected to supply about 70 percent of China's energy. Because of the sheer scale, diversity, and complexity of China, it is possible for the country to take some great green leaps forward, in particular progress toward its alternative energy and energy efficiency targets, while at the same time having its rivers remain black and its air quality a health hazard.
To some extent this varied picture is to be expected. As Deborah Seligsohn, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute's China Program, explains: "I think the government is trying very hard, and they're a developing country with huge challenges — different things will move forward at different speeds."
But there may also be another pattern at work. As Beijing-based political commentator Zhao Jing — who writes in the English-language press under the name of Michael Anti — puts it: "There are really two sets of 'green' issues in China, the global and the domestic — those where economic interests align with green targets, and those where they don't." In his estimation, China has made striking progress on the former set of issues, and rather less on the second.
For example, China has made impressive gains in quickly developing its alternative energy industry, in part because large new investments benefit everyone — from wind turbine manufacturers to local governments (which gain tax revenue from new industry) to future consumers. Yet, on domestic air and water pollution — where what is needed is stricter regulatory enforcement, potentially limiting industry — Chinese environmental groups believe the picture may be getting worse. And the environmental lawyers and advocates who would bring these issues to the attention of authorities are facing tougher crackdowns than ever.
At the same time, China is pouring billions of dollars into alternative energy — a commitment that, when taken as a percentage of GDP, is 10 times that of the United States. "China's biggest green achievement has been to develop alternative energy," says Jin Jiamin, founder and executive director of Global Environmental Institute, a Chinese NGO based in Beijing. "In the U.S., it takes time for ideas to become reality. But in China, it's different. It's easy for any new policies to be implemented quickly."
Julian L. Wong, founder of the Beijing Energy Network and now a Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress, says that the outlook and reported figures so far look good. He points to government statistics indicating that energy consumption per unit of GDP dropped by 10 percent between 2006 and 2008. One reason for rapid progress, he explains, is that these key energy initiatives are backed by China's powerful National Development and Reform Commission, the ministry responsible for economic development.
"Using energy more efficiently makes good economic sense," he says. And diversifying China's energy portfolio also appeals to Beijing, which has been concerned with energy security since the 1980s.
Of course, there are some important caveats. In China, "alternative energy" includes both hydro and nuclear power, which are often not classified as such elsewhere. "Please remember, there are negative environmental consequences for dams and nuclear," says Hu Kanping, editor of the Beijing-based Environmental Protection Journal. "I do not think those are really 'clean' energy sources." This month China announced plans to increase nuclear energy capacity tenfold over the next decade.
While the installation of wind turbines has proceeded at a furious pace in China, not all of the newly installed capacity is actually available to consumers through the grid. "Renewable energy providers often can't always get access to the market," says Ray Cheung, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute. "If you're a solar or wind energy company in China and you can't gain access to the grid, nobody's going to buy your power."
Forbes recently reported that as many as 30 percent of "wind power assets" are not adequately connected to the grid. The obstacles are in part technical (the existing grid has not been designed for the fluctuating energy production from wind power), and in part political (the powerful companies that control access to the grid often have cozy relationships with coal energy suppliers and can block green newcomers).
Finally, while progress is almost certainly being made on both alternative energy and energy efficiency in China, it's worth noting that most data for quantifying that progress has been supplied by the government itself. For instance, the state-owned People's Daily publishes the quarterly figures on energy efficiency that are in turn cited by both domestic and international press. "There's still the question of how can we verify figures," says Wong.
Overall, however, on these emerging fronts the trends seem positive. But on domestic environmental issues — those that impact the daily lives of the Chinese people — the picture is less rosy.
"Water quality is probably deteriorating," says Jin Jiamin, of the Global Environmental Institute. "The reason is industrial pollution." Indeed, the Ministry of Environmental Protection's most recent annual report on the state of the environment acknowledges that cleanup efforts failed to make improvements in the water quality of China's seven major rivers. Mortality from cancers linked with pollution — including stomach cancer and liver cancer — continues to rise, according to Ministry of Health statistics. Smog blankets large Chinese cities. The toxic industry of importing dangerous "e-waste" (used electronics and computer parts containing hazardous chemicals) continues to flourish in Guizhou, as documentary photographer Alex Hofford has demonstrated, despite laws in place to shut down the profitable trade.
The reality is that, even as investment to stimulate new green industries is thriving in China, enforcement of green regulations that may limit industrial and economic activity is not. As Charles McElwee, a Shanghai-based environmental lawyer, explains: "Most actions aimed at energy will have some impact on local environment, but China has not shown willingness to commit the same level of resources to enforce existing environmental laws, which would have the most immediate impact on citizens."
And as The Washington Post has reported, tough economic times have brought even laxer environmental enforcement for factories in southern China. Peng Peng, research director of the Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences, a government-affiliated think tank, told the Post: "With the poor economic situation, officials are thinking twice about whether to close polluting factories, whether the benefits to the environment really outweigh the dangers to social stability."
While China's national priorities have shifted, its politics haven't. When economic and environmental priorities align, astoundingly rapid transformation is possible. But when interests compete, the economy still trumps the environment.

World faces hi-tech crunch as China eyes ban on rare metal exports

Beijing is drawing up plans to prohibit or restrict exports of rare earth metals that are produced only in China and play a vital role in cutting edge technology, from hybrid cars and catalytic converters, to superconductors, and precision-guided weapons.

By Ambrose Evans-PritchardPublished: 5:58PM BST 24 Aug 2009

Grind to a halt: China mines over 95pc of the world?s rare earth minerals, mostly in Inner Mongolia, pictured, which Beijing is drawing up plans to prohibit or restrict exports of
A draft report by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has called for a total ban on foreign shipments of terbium, dysprosium, yttrium, thulium, and lutetium. Other metals such as neodymium, europium, cerium, and lanthanum will be restricted to a combined export quota of 35,000 tonnes a year, far below global needs.
China mines over 95pc of the world’s rare earth minerals, mostly in Inner Mongolia. The move to hoard reserves is the clearest sign to date that the global struggle for diminishing resources is shifting into a new phase. Countries may find it hard to obtain key materials at any price.
Alistair Stephens, from Australia’s rare metals group Arafura, said his contacts in China had been shown a copy of the draft -- `Rare Earths Industry Devlopment Plan 2009-2015’. Any decision will be made by China’s State Council.
“This isn’t about the China holding the world to ransom. They are saying we need these resources to develop our own economy and achieve energy efficiency, so go find your own supplies”, he said.
Mr Stephens said China had put global competitors out of business in the early 1990s by flooding the market, leading to the closure of the biggest US rare earth mine at Mountain Pass in California - now being revived by Molycorp Minerals.
New technologies have since increased the value and strategic importance of these metals, but it will take years for fresh supply to come on stream from deposits in Australia, North America, and South Africa. The rare earth family are hard to find, and harder to extract.
Mr Stephens said Arafura’s project in Western Australia will produce terbium, which sells for $800,000 a tonne. It is a key ingredient in low-energy light-bulbs. China needs all the terbium it produces as the country switches wholesale from tungsten bulbs to the latest low-wattage bulbs that cut power costs by 40pc.
No replacement has been found for neodymium that enhances the power of magnets at high heat and is crucial for hard-disk drives, wind turbines, and the electric motors of hybrid cars. Each Toyota Prius uses 25 pounds of rare earth elements. Cerium and lanthanum are used in catalytic converters for diesel engines. Europium is used in lasers.
Blackberries, iPods, mobile phones, plams TVs, navigation systems, and air defence missiles all use a sprinkling of rare earth metals. They are used to filter viruses and bacteria from water, and cleaning up Sarin gas and VX nerve agents.
Arafura, Mountain Pass, and Lynas Corp in Australia, will be able to produce some 50,000 tonnes of rare earth metals by the mid-decade but that is not enough to meet surging world demand.
New uses are emerging all the time, and some promise quantum leaps in efficiency. The Tokyo Institute of Technology has made a breakthrough in superconductivity using rare earth metals that lower the friction on power lines and could slash electricity leakage.
The Japanese government has drawn up a “Strategy for Ensuring Stable Supplies of Rare Metals”. It calls for `stockpiling’ and plans for “securing overseas resources’. The West has yet to stir.

Stagecoach tycoon Brian Souter backs buy out of biodiesel venture

Transport tycoon Brian Souter has backed a buy out of Scottish biodiesel producer Argent Energy, which has a recycling venture with his Stagecoach bus and rail group.

By Helia EbrahimiPublished: 3:45PM BST 24 Aug 2009
Souter Investments, the family's private investment group, teamed up with Argent's management to buy the business for an undisclosed sum.
The sale, which sees senior management pick up an equity stake in the business, ends the involvement of private equity firm Cinven, which provided seed capital and investment from Argent's inception in 2001.
Argent was the UK's first large-scale producer of biodiesel, converting used tallow and cooking oil into fuel for cars and commercial vehicles. Its plant in Motherwell, Scotland, has the capacity to produce 45,000 tonnes of biodiesel.
The company already has a venture with Stagecoach, which Mr Souter co-founded with his sister Ann Gloag and now chairs, in which the bus company rewards passengers in Ayrshire with discounted fares in biodiesel-powered vehicles in exchange for them providing used cooking oil for recycling.
Although the terms of the deal were not released it is believed Souter has taken control of about half of the company which has an annual turnover of £25m.
Argent abandoned plans to float on Aim two years ago in the wake of the credit crunch.
Mr Souter is one of Scotland's richest men, but his family investment fund keeps a low profile although it has backed green companies before.

Watch out! Disaster looming for Kenya

Politicians cared little about the burning of East Africa's largest forest – until the lights in Nairobi started going out. Daniel Howden reports
Monday, 24 August 2009

Under a slate-grey sky Francis Maina is hunched over a tree stump. He secures a rusted chain around it and signals for the tractor to start hauling. The blackened base of the mature hardwood is wrenched from the earth like a tooth from a jaw. As he works, the nearby standing forest soaks up a gentle afternoon rain, pulling it into the soil. In Maina's razed field the water runs down the cratered hillside in channels of black mud.
The 60-year-old farm labourer stands in the midst of an ecological rape scene: scorched earth scattered with the burnt stumps of centuries-old trees. He is one of thousands of Kenyans who have settled inside this supposedly protected forest that stretches from the Mau escarpment down to the Maasai plains and up to the central highlands.
The largest forest in East Africa acts as a water tower for an otherwise arid land, feeding its lakes and rivers, regulating the climate and refreshing its underground acquifers. But an epic drought has plunged Kenya into an ecological crisis and its dried up rivers can no longer turn the blades of the hydro-electric turbines. Power rationing is switching off the lights in the capital Nairobi for days at a time.
Which means the fate of the forest has finally caught the attention of Kenya's warring politicians who have vowed to evict the "squatters" from the Mau. While they argue over land claims and compensation demands, Maina and hundreds like him are finishing the job of killing the forest. "The politicians have their own land," Maina says with a scowl. "Now they want to move the poor people so they can take our land."
Turqa Jirmo, a senior warden with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), is heading a task force set up last year to save the forest. He still hasn't recovered from his first task which was to fly over the land for four days to assess the damage. "I was amazed. I never believed the destruction had gone so far. I couldn't see the forest because of the charcoal smoke coming from the ground."
Charts on his office wall map out the complexity of 12 forest blocks that make up the Mau's 400,000 hectares. Mr Jirmo estimates as much as 40 per cent of it has already been destroyed. The challenge of saving what's left is complicated by illegal loggers or "wood poachers" as he calls them; a flourishing illegal charcoal trade, and the deeply politicised issue of the settlers. The green lines of the protected areas on his maps are marked with red zones where past governments have doled out woodlands to their supporters in a blatant example of land for votes.
While the politicians haggle over compensation in their Nairobi offices lit by petrol generators, speculators are using the hiatus to slash and burn as much profit as they can ahead of possible evictions.
In February, the Mau complex was engulfed in flames, with an inferno that destroyed thousands of hectares and burned for four days. "People deliberately set the fire," Mr Jirmo remembers. "There are confusing signals from the politicians and people are trying to harvest as much of the forest before the government can evict them." The head of the Mau task force sees any failure in his mission in the starkest terms. "The forest is a lifeline for Kenya. Without it Kenya has no future."
The disaster is already present in Lake Nakuru, renowned for its spectacular flamingoes. The two rivers that feed the lake have dried up and the KWS is having to pump water from deep underground to keep the animals alive. Kenya's vital tourist industry would buckle, he warns, as already the spectacle of the Great Wildebeest Migration has been ruined by the historically low levels of the Mara river. World-famous parks, like Kenya's Masai Mara and Tanzania's Serengeti would also be at risk.
Conflict between humans and wildlife will rise, as "rivers no longer flow to pastoral areas." And urban centres will not escape. Sondu Miriu, one of the country's major hydro-electric stations that lies downstream from the Mau, is already running at one-tenth of capacity. And competition for water could even re-ignite the ethnic clashes that last year killed as many as 1,500 people and displaced tens of thousands more. "This is going to be a security problem," Mr Jirmo warns.
Kenya's Nobel prize-winning environmentalist Wangari Maathai is orchestrating the "Enough is Enough" campaign to halt the destruction and identify the culprits. Underneath the environmental catastrophe, she asserts, is a political scandal as venal as Kenya's notorious public financial frauds.
The small Ogiek tribe of traditional forest dwellers have found themselves at the unwitting centre of the sting. "The Ogiek were used as a way to get access to the land," explains Christian Lambrecht from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which is based in Nairobi.
When the Ogiek's population was assessed by a UK-funded team in 1993, it was put at 3,000 people. By 1996 that figure had grown to 9,000.
And when the government announced a settlement scheme in 2001, it had jumped to 14,000. "The settlement scheme was aimed at securing political support. Extensive lands were given to private individuals many of whom were in power at the time," says Mr Lambrecht.
One of the most heavily populated illegal Mau settlements is Sierra Leone, given its name after being handed out to army officers returning from peacekeeping operations in West Africa. Entire stretches of the Mau are carved into lucrative wheat farms openly owned by ministers who served the former president Daniel Arap Moi. And when current Prime Minister Raila Odinga set out to name and shame land-grabbers in the Mau he found half of his own political allies among them. The poor that have cleared, rented or bought plots here now offer cover to the bigger interests who stand to benefit from any government compensation.
Godana Guyo is a KWS ranger with 18 years of experience and admits that he is pessimistic about the chances of saving the forest. He stands by while Francis Maina and a young labourer who gives his name as "just John" pile earth over the smoking remains of split trees.
The ash and soil have been fashioned into an earthen kiln. Precious hardwoods (including the endangered Podo tree), worth hundreds of pounds carbonised are sold for 200 Kenyan shillings (£1.80) per hessian sack. It is typical of the exploitation in the Mau that it makes no economic sense. Exhaustive studies from UNEP have shown that the country's hydro-electric power, its tourism sector and its vast tea estates, which rely on rainfall from the Mau, are under threat for the short term benefit of a few individuals.
Or in the words of the beleaguered ranger, Guyo, standing in the rain watching charcoal bags loaded onto a trailer and unable to arrest anyone: "It's big damage for small money."