Category Archives: Environment

Environment  Mongabay: In Peru, a new president is faced with old conservation challenges

A giant otter in Cashu Lake at Cocha Cashu Biological Station in Manu National Park, Peru. Photo by Jason Houston

In early May 2018, I called Mongabay special project editor Erik Hoffner with a vague idea.  I would be spending six weeks in Peru between May 25 and July 5. Most of it would be in the Amazon, save for a week in Lima at the outset. I wanted to write a story that somehow captured the majesty of the Peruvian Amazon and what’s at stake as climate change and assaults such as mining, timbering and extraction put large swaths of the rainforest at risk. I’d be working with environmental photographer Jason Houston.

“I don’t exactly know what I’ll come up with, but I think we have a shot at something unique and interesting.” Erik was familiar with Jason’s extraordinary photography. He said, in essence, go for it.

We did. Here’s the result.

And an excerpt: Eavesdropping on nature from above is an unparalleled thrill. Even more thrilling is understanding the interconnectedness of the forest below, and everything in it; the mutual support and subtle language of various species that keep the forest thriving. Every living thing has a role to play, and it all adds up to provide ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and cloud production that the developed world depends on, whether we know it or not.

The story turns on a simple premise: A new Peruvian president took power in Lima in April 2018 after the fourth consecutive president had been felled by corruption and scandal. Each promised to protect the Amazon, seeing sweeping environmental laws passed. Yet with only sporadic enforcement in limited areas, Peru has some of Latin America’s highest rates of deforestation. Much is at stake for biodiversity and the health of the planet. That’s the story Jason and I sought to tell in both my words and his powerful photos. Special thanks to Mongabay editor Genevieve Belmaker for her careful editing and layout.

This gigantic mahogany is Cocha Cashu is a rich target for illegal timbering. That’s me in the background. Photo by Jason Houston

 

Environment  Mongabay: UN forest accounting loophole allows CO2 underreporting by EU, UK, US

Image result for wood pellets

Those innocuous-looking pellets, processed mostly from farmed pine trees in the Southeastern US, are a potential game breaker for the Paris Agreement goals, as I explain in this story.

It is perhaps the most consequential story I’ve reported on climate policy since I started in this space five years ago. Thanks to Don Lehr, my very first climate science source, whom I met at COP20 in Lima, Peru, in 2014, for tipping me off. And thanks also to a host of expert sources in tutoring me on biomass and carbon neutrality, entirely new topics for me. No longer.

Professor Doreen Stabinsky, pictured above, told me: “Why does the IPCC appear to accept inaccurate emissions accounting?” She then answered: Because “IPCC scientists are technocrats. It is not a neutral body. There is a lot of politics behind the positions of individuals on the IPCC. Their meetings are often loudly political.” Stabinsky speaks from firsthand knowledge: she studies the nexus between environmental policy and politics at College of the Atlantic, Maine.

Environment  Mongabay: Pope’s message to Amazonia inspires hope, but will it bring action?

Indigenous people from the jungles of Peru line up in Puerto Maldonado to see Pope Francis. Photo by Luis Fernandez

My story here about the visit of Pope Francis to the Peruvian Amazon city of Puerto Maldonado was historic in every sense. It was the pope’s first visit to Amazonia, a region of South America the size of the continental United States. While he spoke largely about conservation of the Amazon’s great and important ecosystems, he mostly gave voice and inspiration to the forgotten, oppressed and shoved-aside peoples who live in those far-off places — the rightful owners of the land, the indigenous tribes of multiple nationalities.

Pope Francis clearly called on the Catholic Church of South America to live up to and live out the promise of his encyclical, Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home, and called on the tribes for their guidance. This is a critical time for church leaders to step up, as my story discusses.

The pope greeting the people in the streets of Puerto Maldonado. Photo by Luis Fernandez

 

Environment  Mongabay: Consensus grows — climate-smart agriculture key to Paris Agreement goals

The world’s agriculture sector, which covers 40 percent of the earth’s surface, accounts for a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions. Cattle is a big cause of methane gas.

I started working on this story early on while at COP23 in Bonn, Germany in November 2017. Jason Funk, a good source and associate director of land use for the Center for Carbon Removal, kept me up to date on negotiations regarding the world’s vast and varied agriculture sector and its connection to carbon emissions. As always, the problem has been known for years; also as always, lots of talk and zero action came of six years of meetings. Until the last week of COP23. Jason was so stunned that he was barely enthusiastic when he told me the news of the breakthrough outside the main plenary hall.

I knew this was a story I would pursue after I returned from Germany, and my editor, Glenn Scherer, was glad to have it as a tie-in to the Global Landscapes Forum, also held in Bonn a month after COP23. Meeting Bronson Griscom of The Nature Conservancy and his high-level report about how much the land sector can contribute to climate mitigation was a lucky break.

If the world has any chance of meeting the Paris Agreement goals for emission reductions and slowing the rate of global warming, all levers must be pulled — among them how we farm and what we eat.

Environment  Mongabay: A reflection on COP23: Incremental progress but no industrialized country’s top priority (commentary)

Fiji, the first truly vulnerable nation to host a COP, had hoped the motto of COP23 would be true. What it and other similar nations got was: wait til next year. Again. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Fiji, the first truly vulnerable nation to host a COP, had hoped the motto of COP23 would be true. What it and other similar nations got was: wait til next year. Again. Photo by Justin Catanoso

My first commentary for Mongabay, written with the encouragement of reporter/editor Mike Gaworecki. I greatly appreciated the opportunity. An excerpt:

How many hurricanes the ferocity of Harvey, Irma, and Maria must be experienced in the US alone to stoke a greater sense of urgency? How many climate refugees need to be pushed from sub-Saharan Africa and Syria because of unrelenting drought? How much more Arctic ice needs to melt? How much sea-level rise can be tolerated in low-lying island nations — and Miami Beach, for goodness sake — before COP participants stop delaying greater ambitions prior to 2020, when a stronger Paris Agreement is to take effect?

Environment  Mongabay: @COP23 — Leaders vie for protection of ‘incredibly important’ African peatland

One of the largest peat formations in the world has been confirmed on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo. It's the size of New York State and is perhaps the world's largest carbon sink. Map by Mongabay.

One of the largest peat formations in the world has been confirmed on the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo. It’s the size of New York State and is perhaps the world’s largest carbon sink. Map by Mongabay.

Mongabay has been covering the story of his enormous new finding of peatland in central Africa all year. Editor Morgan Erickson-Davis, who has been coordinating coverage, asked if I could get a follow-up story from COP23. With assistance from Dave McGlinchey, the communications director at Woods Hole Research Center, and Melanie Gade, a communications specialist with World Wildlife Fund, they both pointed me to the exact sources I needed. Morgan added in some insightful context.  

EnvironmentRadio  WUNC/The State of Things — At UN Climate Summit, The US Takes A Different Position

Protesters gather before the Trump panel discussion on fossil fuels at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Protesters gather before the Trump panel discussion on fossil fuels at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Here’s the link to my live interview from Bonn and the venue of COP23 with host Frank Stasio of WUNC’s The State of Things, broadcast from Durham, North Carolina. This is the third time the program has had me on regarding my coverage of these UN climate summits — live from Paris in 2015, just before leaving for Marrakesh in 2016 and live from Bonn in 2017.

The tech folks in the media center found the only land line in the entire area, pulled it out of a broadcast studio and set it up on an empty room between two busy newsrooms. At 6:05 pm German time (12:05 pm back in North Carolina), Frank welcomed me to the program. We talked for just under 12 minutes. From what others tell me, it turned out pretty well. Special shout out to my friend Jill Drzewiecki, who listened to the live feed on her phone while commuting home after work in Rome, Italy.

Environment  Mongabay: @COP23 — U.S., wealthy nations curtail climate aid for developing world

A reminder to COP23 delegates, observers and negotiators as to what's at stake in these annual talks: the fate of human life on  earth. Photo by Justin Catanoso

A reminder to COP23 delegates, observers and negotiators as to what’s at stake in these annual talks: the fate of human life on earth. Photo by Justin Catanoso

This story, which I spent an entire day reporting — from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. — came from the newest member of the Mongabay editorial leadership team, Willie Shubert. An experienced environmental journalist, Willie wondered whether the ever-present clash between developed countries (G-20) and developing countries (G-77) was being exasperated by the United States’ fundamentally different role at COP23. Good question.

Initially, it wasn’t a story I was sure I could pull off.  My sources tend to be scientists, environmentalists and NGOs, not national delegates and negotiators. But I told my editor, Glenn Scherer, I would get an early start and work it and see what I came up with. Dean Scott, Bloomberg BNA’s lead climate change reporter, offered some great perspective before I started my reporting and recommended several sources. I attended a press conference early that was exactly the premise of my story. I lucked into some mid-afternoon interviews with a former president of a Pacific island nation and a member of the Australian national government, and finally, I found Harjeet Singh, an insider with ActionAid of London, who helped me pull all the pieces together. I started writing around 10:30 p.m. and finished around 2:30 a.m. I got the story.

Harjeet Singh of ActionAid, a key sources in this story. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Harjeet Singh of ActionAid, a key sources in this story. Photo by Justin Catanoso

EnvironmentRadio  Mongabay podcast featuring legend Jane Goodall (and me @COP23)

Mongabay founder Rhett Butler interviews primate legend Jane Goodall for the site's podcast. I am included as well, offering insights from COP23. Pretty good company.

Mongabay founder Rhett Butler interviews primate legend Jane Goodall for the site’s podcast. I am included as well, offering insights from COP23 in a conversation with editor Mike Gaworecki from Bonn, Germany.

Mongabay reporter and editor Mike Gaworecki also handles the twice-monthly podcast for the news organization that began about a year ago. I made by third podcast appearance on November 15 from Bonn, Germany and the 23rd Climate Summit. By shear luck and good fortune, the podcast also includes a fascinating interview by Mongabay founder Rhett Butler with primate legend Jane Goodall (who is on the Mongabay board). Pretty good company to be in all around.  The link to the podcast is here.

Environment  Mongabay: @COP23 — Trump team leads ‘surreal’ coal-gas-nuke climate summit panel

These spirited young people disrupted the on Trump event at COP23 -- a surreal panel discussion that promoted the use of coal and gas as a part of the long-term solution, not to climate change, but to energy security and economic prosperity. To hell with the earth, let's reward investors and make money while we can! Photo by Justin Catanoso

These spirited young people disrupted the on Trump event at COP23 — a surreal panel discussion that promoted the use of coal and gas as a part of the long-term solution, not to climate change, but to energy security and economic prosperity. To hell with the earth, let’s reward investors and make money while we can! Photo by Justin Catanoso

Here’s the link to my story about one of the most widely covered events at COP23. There is a YouTube video in my story that shows the protesters in action.

This was one of the weirdest, most bizarre and completely out-of-touch panel discussions I’ve ever covered or attended. It may have been the strangest in COP history. It was a circus of the surreal, from the two West Coast governors who denounced Trump in the room right before the president’s panelists took their seats, to the young people who stopped the event cold for seven long minutes with a song they revised, to the panel’s not once uttering the word global warming in an event that stretched nearly two hours, to the hostile questions and lack of answers during the brief Q&A. Oh yeah, there were hundreds of protesters chanting outside the room the entire time, denouncing the US president for making the US the only nation on earth to announce its intention to withdraw from the historic Paris Agreement.

The panelists at representing the Trump Administration view that fossil fuels really don't need to phased out after all, and that there is such a thing as clean coal. Of the three men on the left, their collective duplicity was breathtaking. To the others, it was clear they were not comfortable being a part of this charade. Photo by Justin Catanoso

The panelists representing the Trump Administration view that fossil fuels really don’t need to phased out any time soon and that there is such a thing as clean coal. Of the three men on the left, their collective duplicity was breathtaking. To the others, it was clear they were not comfortable being a part of this charade. Photo by Justin Catanoso