Monthly Archives: February 2020

Environment  Mongabay: Pope makes impassioned plea to save the Amazon — will the world listen?

Pope Francis meets Jose Gregorio Diaz Mirabal, a member of the Curripaco indigenous community, during a session of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican, October 8, 2019. Image courtesy of CNS photo/Vatican Media.

On February 12, 2020, with a letter to “all persons of good will,” Pope Francis sought to reclaim the mantle of global environmental leadership he established in mid-2015. That’s when he the released of the first-ever papal encyclical (Catholic teaching document of the highest order) on environmental protection and climate change — Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home.

My story for Mongay here picks up that thread with Dear Amazon, a papal letter in response to the first-ever Vatican meeting in October 2019 to focus on a specific region of the planet — Amazonia. While topics at the so-called synod focused largely on environmental protection and the rights of the indigenous peoples who live in those jungles, the mainstream coverage of Francis’ letter focused almost solely on his decision to not allow priests to marry who agree to serve in the dramatically underserved Amazon regions spread across eight countries.

This left an opening for me to write a kind of exclusive about the pope’s environmental and social justice message, which makes up the vast majority of Dear Amazon. The story idea was pitched to me by my inimitable editor Glenn Scherer. I was glad for the opportunity.

Pope Francis at the opening Mass for the Amazon synod October 6, 2019. The administration of President Jair Bolsonaro was highly critical of the synod, seeing it as  interference with Brazil’s internal affairs. Image by Daniel Ibanez / CNA.

Radio  KCRW Los Angeles: Microsoft wants to go carbon negative. What does that mean?

Building 92 at Microsoft Corporation headquarters in Redmond, Washington, 2016.
Building 92 at Microsoft Corporation headquarters in Redmond, Washington, 2016.Credit: Coolcaesar (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Angie Perrin is a producer in Los Angeles on the popular noon public radio program called Press Play with Madeleine Brand on KCRW. Angie had worked for years on The State of Things on WUNC out of Durham, NC, and booked me several times to discuss my coverage of recent UN climate summits. When she moved to LA, she urged me to stay in touch.

Angie accepted my first pitch based on my recent story for Mongabay about Pachama, the Silicon Valley startup that will monitor the carbon offsets Microsoft to preserve forests in forests in North and South America.

The eight-minute interview is linked here. Press Play reaches much of Southern California. I hope it’s not my last time on the program.

Environment  Mongabay: Success of Microsoft’s ‘moonshot’ climate pledge hinges on forest conservation

LiDAR, an aerial forest monitoring technology that uses lasers reflecting on targets, can measure tree height and size, capturing the canopy in incredible detail and converting it to data that can be analyzed for carbon storage. It’s partially how Pachama will monitor Microsoft’s carbon-offset projects in North and South America. Image courtesy of Pachama.

Here’s my story behind a Silicon Valley startup up with enormous ambitions when it comes to climate mitigation with a global client to match its lofty goals.

In mid-January, Microsoft made an astonishing pledge: a company that now emits 16 metric tons of greenhouse gases annually would become carbon negative by 2030, and by 2050, zero out all of the emissions it ever put up into the atmosphere since the company was founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen in 1975.

Much of this effort would require “negative emissions,” or pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, not merely reducing its emissions from energy, transportation and infrastructure over its 12-country footprint. To do that, Microsoft will have to be heavily involved in protecting forests from deforestation to continue to act as a carbon sink, and contribute significantly to the reforestation of vast tracts of degraded land in order to pull more pollution from the sky.

My story focuses on the company, Pachama (Andean for Earth mother) that will do the high-tech aerial monitoring to verify that Microsoft’s carbon offset investments are intact and growing. It’s a critically important job if we are to get an accurate read on whether Microsoft, and others, are truly reducing their carbon footprint. I rarely get to write optimistic stories on climate mitigation, but this one certainly qualifies. It was a pleasure to interview the company’s smart and idealistic founder, Diego Saez-Gil.

Diego Saez-Gil, a native Argentinian with a graduate degree from Stanford, is a serial Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Pachama is his third company. He got the idea while touring the Peruvian Amazon with his two brothers and witnessing massive deforestation from illegal gold mining. “We all wanted to do something about it,” he said. Image courtesy of Pachama.