Environment  Mongabay: Last best place on earth: Who will save the Caribbean’s great coral reef?

Healthy coral at the Blue Hole in Lighthouse Reef Atoll off the coast of Belize.

Healthy coral at the Blue Hole in Lighthouse Reef Atoll off the coast of Belize. Photo by Justin Catanoso

This represents my first ocean-related climate change story, based on reporting in early March 2016 some 50 miles off the coast of Belize. Invited by my friend and mentor Miles Silman, a Wake Forest tropical ecologist, I joined his coral ecology students over Spring Break and snorkeled every day. My story for Mongabay.com is here.  Summary by my editor Glenn Scherer:

  • Lighthouse Reef Atoll in Belize is part of the Caribbean Sea’s Mesoamerican reef system, the world’s second largest. It is stubbornly resilient, and one of the last best places in the western Atlantic in need of total preservation. But virtually no action is happening to conserve it.
  • To save it, the entire reef needs to be a “no take zone,” allowing minimal livelihood fishing by local families, but banning the Guatemalan fishermen who the government of Belize has licensed to legally fish for sharks — exported for shark fin soup to China, at $100 per bowl.
  • The only thing that can save this World Heritage site is full protection: a ban on all large-scale commercial fishing, and the encouragement of eco-tourism to support the local people economically and to generate the funds needed for enforcement and high-tech monitoring.
  • Belize cannot, and will not likely, do the job alone. If this aquatic treasure is to be preserved for the future, the international conservation community will need to awake to its likely loss, and rally vigorously to the cause of permanently protecting it — now, before it is gone.
Miles Silman snorkeling.

Miles Silman snorkeling. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Starfish in the sea grass. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Starfish in the sea grass. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Queen angelfish. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Queen angelfish. Photo by Justin Catanoso

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Environment  Mongabay: Naomi Oreskes on climate change: “We’ve blown it… but pessimism is not acceptable”

Naomi Oreskes. Photo by Harvard University photographer Claudio Cambon

Naomi Oreskes. Photo by Harvard University photographer Claudio Cambon

Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard professor of the history of science, and an outspoken champion of the climate science surrounding global warming, spoke at Wake Forest on Feb. 16, 2016, in a high-energy panel discussion moderated by MSNBC’s Melissa Harris Perry. When i told my Mongabay editor Glenn Scherer about the event, he recommended I interview Oreskes for an online Q&A. I did. With so many similar interests (tobacco industry malfeasance to climate change science), we had a long, intense discussion. The result is a very readable and insightful Q&A, linked here.

Excerpt regarding climate denial: It’s a cliché to say that knowledge is power. It’s not true actually. Knowledge is knowledge. In our society, knowledge resides in one place, and for the most part, power resides somewhere else. And that disconnect is really the crux of the challenge we face right now.

Environment  Mongabay: Top Vatican official: climate change action is a “moral imperative”

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From my Mongabay.com interview with Cardinal Peter Turkson, who oversaw the writing of Laudato Si, and who may well succeed Francis as pope: “[A]t the time Pope Francis took over, the church had a lot of very serious challenges. It’s not that they’ve all gone away. Pedophilia [among priests] was at its raging height. Ok? And a whole lot of accusations and all of that. The church Pope Francis inherited had a lot of bruises. It’s not that the bruises are gone. But his own sense of leadership, simplicity, authenticity, credibility have helped to shove a whole of this bad stuff into the background.”

Thus, he said, climate change can take center stage. The full story is here.  The Q&A comes from an hour-long interview I had with him exclusively at his Vatican reception room. I took the photo above months earlier during the press conference at the Vatican in mid-June when Laudato Si was released.

Environment  Mongabay: The Paris climate talks ended in elation — now the real work begins, say Faith leaders

Statue at the entrance to Le Bourget Airport near Paris, honoring Charles Lindbergh, the first to solo the Atlantic, and Frenchmen Charles Nungesser and François Coli, who attempted the crossing two weeks earlier and disappeared without a trace. Each day during the Paris climate change conference, participants passed by the statue — a tribute to the Lindbergh Moment, which resonated with many COP21 attendees. Photo by abac077 on Flickr licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Statue at the entrance to Le Bourget Airport near Paris, honoring Charles Lindbergh, the first to solo the Atlantic, and Frenchmen Charles Nungesser and François Coli, who attempted the crossing two weeks earlier and disappeared without a trace. Each day during the Paris climate change conference, participants passed by the statue — a tribute to the Lindbergh Moment, which resonated with many COP21 attendees. [Cutline by Glenn Scherer]

Glenn Scherer, my exemplary editor at mongabay.com sums up my “faith community’s moment” story this way: The story link is here.

  • Catholic Pope Francis, with his climate change encyclical, and Islamic leaders with their Declaration on Climate Change, both helped to rally their billions of followers to set the stage for a successful Paris climate agreement.
  • Now, the world over, Faith leaders are discussing and debating the best strategies and tactics for avoiding climate chaos, adapting to global warming, and protecting the world’s poorest and must vulnerable from continuing environmental degradation.
  • “This is the moment the spirit is trying to work. We need to be there, in all corners of the world, to carry out the message as best we can. We believe in it. We believe in it!” — Sister Sheila Kinsey

Environment  News & Record commentary: Addressing climate change should be a matter of faith

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In writing for the News & Record on Jan. 3, 2016, I pulled together the threads from my reporting in Paris and Rome in December 2015 to note that, led by the example of Pope Francis, the global faith community’s is coming together for a common good — to fight climate change and work for environmental protection. My sources were strong, including Sister Sheila Kinsey (above) in Rome:

“People are saying this is the Catholic hour; the Christian hour,” Sister Sheila Kinsey told me in her office at the Christian Brothers House in Rome, where she runs the Justice Peace & Integrity of Creation Committee. “We are dealing with issues that are critical to human nature,” she added. “There has to be a way to come together and do it right, to protect the environment and human rights. We can go to the moon, for goodness sake! Why can’t we deal with this? It’s a matter of setting our priorities, establishing our values.”

The most powerful interview I had was with the man who could have been pope, and may stilTurksonl become pope after Francis, Cardinal Peter Turkson: “At the time Pope Francis took over, the church had a lot of bruises,” he explained. “Pedophilia was at its raging height, OK? So many accusations. He set up a commission to deal with it. It’s not that the bruises are gone. But his own sense of leadership, simplicity, authenticity and credibility have helped shove a whole lot of this bad stuff into the background.”

 

Environment  Mongabay: COP21 agreement prominently addresses protection of earth’s forests

Photo by Rhett Butler of mongabay.com

Photo by Rhett Butler of mongabay.com

Here’s a link to my final story of COP21 in Paris, a story that literally fell into my lap and came together quickly shortly after the final draft of the Paris Agreement was released but before it was unanimously ratified.  Rosalind Reeve, the main source, came into the Bloomberg/BNA office where I was working to rave about the forest inclusion for the first time. Dean Scott was only marginally interested. But I knew it was a mongabay.com story and she was only too happy to talk and talk. A few more sources later, and I had what I needed. Internet connections were so jammed I bolted back to my apartment in the city to write.

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Environment  Not over yet — UN negotiators extend talks until 9 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 12

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There was slim hope that UN delegates at COP21 outiside Paris, France, would reach an unprecedented accord by today’s 6 p.m. deadline. It would have taken 186 countries agreeing to reduce their carbon emissions, and a whole host of other thorny issues. That hope was dashed early in the day, when the French hosts said the next draft, and possibly the final draft, will be released around 9 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015.

My two friends, who have covered multiple COPs, are climate change reporters for Bloomberg/BNADean Scott on the left, Eric J. Lyman on the right.

Generally, there is a good deal of optimism about the draft released last night, though developing countries are worried that the language on adaptation, and the money available for them to fight the ravages of global warming, falls far should of what’s needed.

“France is respecting  red lines and leaving room for options,” said an NGO from India in a press conference this afternoon. “For example, developing nations want a 1.5 degree C cap (by 2100) and the U..S. wants 2 degrees. You can see the tension in the text.”

The cap refers to how much temperatures can rise between 1900 to 2100 to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. The earth has already warmed 1 degree C (1.8 F) and impacts are felt dramatically in all corners of the globe. Drought. Sea-level rise. Intense storms. Melting ice caps.

Eric, who has covered 14 COPS, put things in perspective:  “Game theory says that in any negotiation, the draft always weakens between the penultimate draft and the final draft. It just stands to reason. The issues left to resolve are the hardest, and they only way they get a unanimous vote — which is required — is to compromise.”

Dean, who has covered 11 COPS, said the last one to end on a Friday, close to deadline, was Nairobi in 2006, and little was accomplished. “It’s par for the course,”  Dean said. “Climate summits are like a good party. They should spill over into the weekend.”

The world is hoping there is something to truly celebrate.

Environment  Mongabay: COP21 — New satellite imaging tracks REDD+ deforestation tree-by-tree

Alessandro Baccini with Woods Hole Research Center Photo by Justin Catanoso

Alessandro Baccini with Woods Hole Research Center Photo by Justin Catanoso

Here’s the summary of mongabay.com story on a significant advancement in making the policy REDD+ work as a tool between countries to keep critical tropical forests intact. Much credit goes to remote sensing scientist Alessandro Baccini at Woods Hole Research Center.

  • Critics have long argued that the inability of satellites to track deforestation with precision created a loophole that could allow tropical countries to cheat regarding their annual deforestation rates.
  • Past satellite imaging systems could not resolve objects smaller than 500 meters (1,640 feet) across. A new system developed by Alessandro Baccini and his Woods Hole, Massachusetts, research team can see objects just 30 meters (98 feet) across.
  • Satellite imaging, combined with imaging from airplanes, along with ground-truthing will help make observation of tropical deforestation rates and carbon offsets far more precise in real time, preventing cheating and under reporting.

EnvironmentRadio  North Carolina Public Radio (WUNC) The State of Things: The Latest On Paris Climate Change Talks

Outside the entrance of the UN Climate Summit talks in Paris. Photo by Eric J. Lyman

Outside the entrance of the UN Climate Summit talks in Paris. Photo by Eric J. Lyman

Intro as read by State of Things host Frank Stasio: “”Ice caps are melting, ocean levels are rising and coral reefs are dying. The way things are going, some scientists say the world could be unfit for human habitation by the end of century. All eyes are on Paris right now as world leaders are negotiating an agreement to slow the effects of climate change. A deal is expected by tomorrow, but there are still big issues to resolve between the industrialized and developing nations.

The plan will likely include more renewable energy like solar, a topic of debate in North Carolina. Host Frank Stasio talks with Justin Catanoso, director of the journalism program at Wake Forest University, about the latest in Paris and a potential impact in North Carolina. To listen to the 11-minute interview, click here.

Environment  Mongabay.com: Norway’s paradox: spending billions in oil profits to preserve forests

Per Pharo, a kind of Nordic Santa Claus for the environment. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Per Pharo, a kind of Nordic Santa Claus for the environment. Photo by Justin Catanoso

I truly stumbled on to this story. On Saturday, while finishing up an interview in a small conference room with an American NGO, he pointed out a serious-looking gentleman in the corner deep in conversation. “That’s one of the most important people at the COP,” the NGO said. “You should talk with him.”

Per Pharo is director of Norway’s Forest and Climate Initiatives. Given the billions of dollars he has at his disposal, his influence at UN climate summits is enormous. I interrupted his conversation, introduced myself and handed him my card. “Mongabay?” he asked. “Give me five minutes please to finish, and I’d be happy to talk with you.”

The interview went well. But the story grew far more interesting as I learned more about the world of contradictions that are Norway and climate policy. When you’re awash in oil money — oil burned elsewhere and contributing greatly to CO2 emissions — suddenly Pharo can be cast in a slightly different light. Influential, yes. Generous, absolutely. But with hands slightly soiled with oil profits. The story is here, perhaps my best of a busy week. Thanks to Glenn Scherer at mongabay.com for some amazing deadline editing and packaging.