EnvironmentRadio  Trouble In Paradise–Too Much Plastic In Our Oceans

13My radio commentary for March 27, 2015 was based on my Spring Break trip to Lighthouse Reef Atoll and Long Caye, which is located 47 miles off the coast of Belize in the Caribbean. In such a tiny, remote and pristine place, I was stunned by the sight of so much plastic waste. I wrestled with how to localize this international problem for my Triad Business Journal column. Fortunately, Will Scott, the Yadkin Riverkeeper, offered exactly what I needed to hear. The radio report with Keri Brown is here.

Excerpt: “I think the first thing is understanding that when it comes to the environment, our actions here have an impact just about everywhere else. That’s when you realize that how you answer the question ‘paper or plastic’ can make a difference. So can buying a Brita filter instead of a case of bottled water.”

Triad Biz  Targacept’s pioneering target proves too elusive

I had the good fortune of covering Targacept, a pioneering drug-discovery company that spun out of R&D at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., since its founding in 2000. Don deBethizy, the first CEO, placed a good bit of trust in me as a journalist with the Business Journal and allowed me extraordinary access to his strategic thinking and his top scientists.

Targacept promised to revolutionize the treatment of mankind’s most vexing neurological disorders by harnessing the most advantageous properties of nicotine. It was an audacious plan that attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in investment of venture capitalists, public markets and individual investors. It was also, after 15 years, more than 20 drug trials and $300 million spent, a complete and utter failure.

My February 2015 column in the Triad Business Journal is an obituary of sorts for the company and the pharmacological concept that eluded it. At this link, you will find a Q&A I conducted with Targacept’s second and final CEO, Stephen Hill. Finally, here is a link to my WFDD radio report on the failure of Targacept.

EnvironmentTriad Biz  Crystal clear intentions for the Yadkin River

TRIAD NEXT: My January 2015 column in the Triad Business Journal is a Q&A with Will Scott, the new Yadkin Riverkeeper. The 7,000-square-mile river basis, which provides drinking water for some 700,000 residents, is in good hands. The story is at this link.

EnvironmentTriad Biz  Can Mayors Lead the Charge Against Global Warming?

TRIAD NEXT: On Saturday, Dec. 6, my first evening in Lima, Peru, for the UN climate summit, I had the good fortune of meeting Riley M. Duren, a chief systems engineer with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. For an hour or so in the lounge of the Lima Westin, after a long day of presentations at the Global Landscape Forum, Riley talked to me about an issue I had never really thought of before: the role of cities and mayors in the climate change equation.

He was so thoughtful and passionate on this topic that I set aside my Bloody Mary, grabbed my notebook and turned a casual conversation into an interview. I knew I had a column to write for the Triad Business Journal when I returned to the states. And within a few minutes, I knew our conversation would form the basis for my column, linked here at Medium.com

EnvironmentRadio  WFDD: Local Efforts Help Battle Global Climate Problem

Photo by Michael Frierson

Photo by Michael Frierson

In my final radio report on the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru, I spoke with WFDD’s Keri Brown about some basics: why we have global warming, the extraordinary role forests play worldwide as a sponge for greenhouse gas emissions, and the notion that mayors might be more effective than heads of state in fighting climate change. The audio story is here.

Excerpt: “This was probably the most surprising thing I learned in Lima. I was talking with a climate scientist from NASA and he told me that the world’s 50 largest cities account for about 70 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. If you think about cities like Beijing, Mumbai, Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro or Los Angeles – big, smoggy places with a lot of traffic and a huge demand for energy – it makes sense.”

Travel  Roman Holiday: Three Spectacular Domes

The glorious ceiling inside St. Ignatius of Loyola in Rome

The glorious ceiling inside St. Ignatius of Loyola in Rome

In this travel story, published here, I wrote about three of my favorite domes in Rome. There are hundreds of them, of course, and favorites can shift from day to day. But these? They are always near the top, and always worth visiting again and again.

Excerpt:  “Rome is a city of domes. There are scores of them topping churches and cathedrals, baths and basilicas. They are visually arresting from street level. But with three domes in particular, a special experience awaits you if you get closer, if you look closely, or if you’re there at the right time.”

EnvironmentRadio  COP20 post mortem: Achievements and obstacles from the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru

Joseph Zambo Mandea and Melaine Kermarc, both Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, were among the climate change activists I met and interviewed at the COP20 - the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Joseph Zambo Mandea of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Melaine Kermarc of France, both with the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, were among the climate change activists I met and interviewed at the COP20 – the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru. Photo by Justin Catanoso

From the WFDD web post Dec. 17, 2014 (Audio link is here) — A global summit to address climate change wrapped up in Peru last week. After 36 hours of overtime negotiations, a draft of the Lima Accords was presented–a plan which will change how countries deal with carbon emissions. Wake Forest journalism professor Justin Catanoso is a regular WFDD contributor and attended the UN Climate talks.

Catanoso reported that there was momentum and optimism ahead of the summit. He says that still remains today, with the Lima Accords, which is the first deal committing every country in the world to reducing their fossil fuel emissions.

“This represents a significant breakthrough in a 20-year effort by the UN to come up with some international accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” says Catanoso.

But he adds that the strength of the accords is also its weakness. Each nation will set its own reduction levels and they likely won’t be held accountable by any governing body to guide that decision.

“If we don’t have that mandated amount, then we may not be able to keep global warming under 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit in the next 50-75 years,” says Catanoso. “That’s the point in which scientists say if we get warmer than that, things really spin out of control. The planet becomes increasingly uninhabitable.”

Every country has six months to report their intended cuts to the UN which would begin in 2020. It’s in advance of a meeting in Paris next year, where they will possibly sign binding agreements to cement greenhouse gas reductions.

Breaking NewsEnvironment  KERRY: The Climate Crisis Is Here, And Republicans Are Threatening Us All

Former Vice President Al Gore listening to Secretary of State John Kerry's blistering speech at the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Former Vice President Al Gore listening to Secretary of State John Kerry’s blistering speech at the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru. Photo by Justin Catanoso

LIMA, Peru — In a clear message to the world that the United States, at least in the form of the Obama Administration, intends to lead prominently in the battle against climate change, Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Lima on Thursday (Dec. 11) to deliver a blistering assault on GOP climate deniers in a 32-minute speech to a packed press conference.

I was just a few rows back and saw Al Gore‘s profile against the video screen with Kerry speaking. It made for a powerful image — two Americans who have been raising awareness about the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions for a generation. I snapped the photo with my iPhone.

AcostaBusinessInsider published my story about Kerry’s speech, which includes a one-on-one interview I had with the Peruvian co-chair of the Green Climate Fund. Naturally, the GOP leadership in Washington intends to block Obama’s $3 billion pledge to the fund. The story contains a short video clip of the vice chair shot and edited by Michael Frierson, a UNC-Greensboro film professor.

A powerful quote from Kerry not in the story:

“Ask yourself, if Al Gore and Dr. Pachauri and Jim Hansen and the people who’ve been putting the science out there for years are wrong about this and we make these choices to do the things I’m talking about, what’s the worst thing that can happen to us for making these choices? Create a whole lot of new jobs. Kick our economies into gear. Have healthier people, reduce the cost of healthcare. Live up to our environmental responsibilities. Have a world that’s more secure because we have energy that isn’t dependent on one part of the world or another. That’s the worst that can happen to us.

“But what happens if the climate skeptics are wrong? Catastrophe. And we have a responsibility to put in place the precautionary principle when you’re given certain evidence and you’re a public official.”

Breaking NewsEnvironment  Video: UN General Secretary on why he believes climate talks are succeeding

UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon. Photo by Justin Catanoso

UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon. Photo by Justin Catanoso

I am working in Lima, Peru, this week (Dec. 6-12, 2014) with videographer Michael Frierson, a film professor at UNC-Greensboro. Here is a 2-minute clip from Dec. 9 press conference in with UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon answering an important question on why he is optimistic about the current UN climate talks, the COP20.

“Our planet has a fever and it is getting hotter every day,” he said. “We must take climate action now. And the more we delay, the more we will have to pay. This is our only world. Future generations should be able to live prosperously. We come together in Lima with a measure of optimism. There is a new climate for change.” — Ban Ki-Moon

Environment  Climate alert! China’s coal consumption is dropping — barely

Lu Lunyun of the World Wildlife Fund in Beijing at the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru.

Lu Lunyun of the World Wildlife Fund in Beijing at the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru. Photo by Justin Catanoso

LIMA, Peru (Dec. 9, 2014) — Lunyan Lu has a tough job. As a Chinese national, she works in Beijing for the World Wildlife Fund as its climate and energy program director. There she does what he can to lobby for environmental safeguards and greater use of alternative energy sources.

Chinese has kept a low profile thus far in the United Nation’s climate negotiations that I’m covering this week in Lima, Peru. But it is the elephant in the room — the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases with a deep supply of coal to burn and dependence on it to maintain its torrid transition from a rural to urban society with a leading economy.

During a press conference today with WWF staffers from countries including South Africa and Mexico, Lu made a comment that caught my attention. While coal accounts for 67 percent of China’s energy production, the use of coal “has plateaued,” she said, and actually will decline by 1 percent this year.

She did not offer this fact for applause. She doesn’t work for the Chinese government. She lives in Beijing and thus chokes on the smog-dense air like everyone else there. But she offered the insight as a way of illustrating that China is at least trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

When I asked her during the press conference if it’s possible for China to accelerate its slightly declining rate of coal burning, and lower its peak emissions before 2030, as President Xi Jiping recently pledged, she said:

Smog in Beijing on an a

Smog in Beijing on an average day. NBC News

“We have already seen a plateau trend of the coal consumption for this year. That may be not forever. That could be temporary, just for this year. That’s why we (the WWF) encouraged the government to maintain this trend. We also see the government has taken some action, using imported natural gas to offset some of its coal consumption. And they have a clear plan for nuclear energy. We do see that clear plan for action. We will try our best to urge the government to peak sooner.”

I spoke with Lu after the press conference. She explained that China is in a bind. Its growth goals are relentless, and its most abundant natural resource for energy is coal. It can’t practically import enough natural gas to meet its needs and reduce carbon emissions. But it is moving fast on renewable energy sources, with more than $100 billion invested thus far in wind, solar and nuclear platforms.

Lu confided that just like most Americans, most Chinese pay little attention to  issues related to climate change — despite gravity of the earth’s condition. But unlike in America, the air in China’s cities is so black and polluted from energy and traffic smog that people there are outraged and demanding that its government act for better air quality.

“We see this as an opportunity,” Lu told me. “This public outcry is about smog, but it also helps to fight climate change.”