In November 2917 in Bonn, Germany at COP23, I managed to get into the Trump Administration’s only public event at the conference. I called it one of the strangest panel discussion in COP history. Trump representatives, heedless of the perils of climate change and its causes, urged the use of more fossil fuels and essentially advertised that the US has plenty to export. This year, as I report here, the administration held only one event again, and once again touted the use of fossil fuels. Both years, protesters interrupted the event, chanting loudly and then marching out, leaving the room half empty (as planned). My story here at COP24 in Katowice, Poland focuses on the outraged responses to Trump’s villainous attitude toward the environment.
Reporting for my first story — linked here — at my fifth United Nations climate summit started shortly I arrived at the sprawling venue in Katowice, Poland. There was a reception at the US Climate Action Center, the unofficial hub of acitivity on the part of the United States in the age of Trump, who refuses to pay for a national pavilion like other countries.
I got to hear Tom Steyer speak, someone I’ve been reading about for years. A billionaire from his Wall Street days, he has turned his fortune into political and environmental activism that helped stop the XL Pipeline and promote a youth vote in the 2018 midterm elections that helped Democrats retake the US House of Representatives. Interviewing him one-on-one, and then hearing him speak the following night at a private event, gave me my story idea. The Trump negotiators obstructive pettiness, which emerged in a Saturday evening session, ended up leading the story. Great editing by Glenn Scherer of Mongabay.
For the fifth consecutive year, I will attend and cover a United Nations climate summit, my fourth for Mongabay. The 24th climate meeting in Katowice, Poland — a coal city in the EU’s second-largest consumer of coal for energy (behind Germany) — is a paradoxical choice. It also highlights the challenges world leaders face in what is no question the most important climate meeting since Paris in 2015. The link to my story is here.
There has been precious-little urgency among nation’s since the Obama Administration led the drafting and signing of the Paris Agreement. Plenty of action is taking place at the non-state level among mayors, governors, and corporate leaders. That’s all good. But something important is missing, as one of my best sources told me for my story:
“It’s easy to blame these leaders, and they deserve some of the blame,” Phil Duffy, executive director of the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, U.S., said in an interview. “But at some level, there has to be popular support for action to be taken. And people aren’t clamoring for it.
“When I look at the properties of Hurricane Florence [which flooded the North Carolina coast], I see the signature of climate change. But somehow that doesn’t get through to the public. And leaders aren’t motivated to tell the truth, or to say that we really need to undertake radical, societal change. They believe correctly that it wouldn’t fly” with the public,” said Duffy.
In early November, just after the midterm elections where the Democrats took back the House of Representatives, with many new members calling for a Green New Deal (action on climate change), a group of students in Greensboro, N.C., from UNC-Greensboro, Guilford College and N.C. A&T State, fanned out across the community to gather the thoughts and insights of a variety of people involved in some way in environmental protection, renewable energy and climate change. Kathe Latham, a local environmental activist asked if I would be interviewed on camera by two Guilford students — Christina Gaviria and Ian Gordan. I agreed; we talked on a rainy Friday in my den.
The result is here with this well shot and edited YouTube video. It’s part of RF100, a community mapping project to chronicle local leaders speaking out on this important issue. The following week, a big crowd filled every seat at Scuppernong Books in downtown Greensboro to view the various videos and talk about how they can urge local leaders to do more when it comes to sustainability efforts. The quick answer: local leaders can and should do more. A lot more.
On Oct. 8, 2018, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) raised a bright red flag of warning for world leaders. In essence, the 91 climate scientists from 40 nations decried in a major report the lack of action on climate mitigation internationally. It made clear that time is running out. They warned that irreversible climate damage could lock in as early as 2040, not decades later, as previously hoped.
This story of mine, posted one week later, is largely in response to the IPCC report and is based on the research stemming from another group of climate scientists and advocates with the acronym CLARA — Climate, Land, Ambition and Rights Alliance.
As one source told me: “Our study is not meant to either contradict or complement the IPCC report,” said Doreen Stabinsky, a co-author of Missing Pathways. “The IPCC looks very generally at pathways to 1.5 degrees C. We dive into the literature to find what would be useful, specific contributions from the land sector to stay within a 1.5-degree pathway.”
Interesting context. Mongabay special editor Willie Shubert emailed me Thursday morning, Oct. 11, to ask if I could turn a story around quickly on the CLARA study and have it ready to post by Monday, Oct. 15. I agreed. I put calls out early Thursday afternoon and arranged for three telephone interviews on Friday. I knew Hurricane Michael, a climate-change-fueled monster, had made landfall in northern Florida at 155 mph a day earlier; I didn’t realize it was heading to central North Carolina. By Thursday afternoon, winds in Greensboro hit 50 mph as Michael swept through. Trees fell all over the Triad. Power and Internet went out in my neighborhood and around the region around 3:30 pm Thursday. It would not be restored until Sunday afternoon.
A sincere thanks to HQ Greensboro, the co-working space in downtown Greensboro, which never lost power or Internet service. I spent all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday there, doing my reporting, conducting my interviews, grading my Wake Forest assignments, and finally, writing the story linked here. My editor, Glenn Scherer, liked the irony that I was writing about climate mitigation while being directly affected by a climate-influenced event.
Several weeks before I flew to San Francisco ahead of Hurricane Florence to cover the Global Climate Action Summit hosted by Gov. Jerry Brown (September 12-14, 2018), I had a conference call with Mongabay special projects editor Willie Shubert and videographer/activist Paul Redman of the nonprofit group If Not Us Then Who. His group seeks to raise the visibility of indigenous peoples and their role in forest protection.
Willie had an idea for the story — ultimately, this story — and Paul had details about how I could get at it. His group was hosting a side event to the summit in which tribal leaders from around the world would meet for presentations, panel discussions and documentaries. What’s the story? I asked. They both offered ideas and themes, both general and specific. But I realized that this was one I just had to trust, trust that if I spent enough time at the side event, and spoke to enough people — along with the reading and research I would do in advance — that the story would come to me.
I spent several hours both September 13-14 at Covo, the co-working space where the side event was being held about a half mile from the Moscone Center and the main summit. Paul was there Thursday; he was tremendously helpful, lining up a trio of exceptional sources for me to interview one-on-one while I took notes during panel discussions and took in the scene. On Friday I interviewed NGOs with the Nature Conservation Society and World Wildlife Fund for greater context. And little by little, I got the sense that I had witnessed something special, something important, and that I had the pieces I needed to tell the story.
This one quote by a remarkable tribal leader from Panama crystallized the theme of my story and led me to the equation around which I built my story: indigenous peoples + land title and tenue = climate mitigation:
“There is one basic principle,” Candido Mezua told Mongabay through a translator. “We cannot see the forest or nature as a tool for getting richer. That is something the indigenous people cannot do… We are contributing to climate stability, something we have been doing for centuries without being compensated one penny.”
California Gov. Jerry Brown‘s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco was nothing less than a poke in the eye to presidents and prime ministers of developed nations — not simply the intransigent and denialist Trump Administration. In holding this three-day summit (Sept. 12-14, 2018), and making governors, mayors, business executives, tribal leaders and scientists the stars, a clear message was sent: if the goals of the Paris Agreement are to be met, it will take the determined efforts of subnational leaders to get it done.
Having covered four year-end United Nation’s climate summits, including the historic meeting in Paris in December 2015, and one mid-year summit in Bonn in 2016, I have come to see the gatherings as largely rhetorical exercises in caution, delay and international lack of will with the countries most responsible for global warming. What the California summit lacked in international authority, it compensated for in actual action being taken in cities, states, indigenous lands and at corporations in the fight against climate change. Caveat, as I report: it’s not nearly enough to peak global emissions or slow the rate of climate change.
In advance of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco from Sept. 12-14, 2018, Mongabay special projects editor Willie Shubert encouraged me to attend and cover the event. In several phone discussions, we decided I should focus my coverage mainly in an area of climate mitigation I have not written about previously: the impact of indigenous peoples on the forests in which they live, and the injustice that so many live on ancestral land to which they no longer hold title.
The story is here. It’s a story that resonated with readers and was retweeted widely, including by the Ford Foundation, which has 157,000 followers. An excerpt:
“Economic analyses make it fairly clear that indigenous peoples’ lands that are titled and secured, especially in Latin America where the data is most abundant, have deforestation rates that are three to four times lower than similar lands not held by indigenous peoples,” Peter Veit, director of the Land and Resource Rights initiative at the World Resources Institute, told Mongabay. “Having title to the land is critical.”
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.
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.