Tag Archives: carbon sequestration

Environment  Mongabay: Scientists warn Congress against declaring biomass burning carbon neutral


In the early spring of 2019, investigators tracked logging trucks from a mature hardwood forest en-route to a North Carolina wood pellet manufacturing facility. The clear cut from which the trees were removed is located in the Tar-Pamlico River basin, alongside Sandy Creek, which feeds into North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound. Credit: Dogwood Alliance.

This story of mine posted during the same week that The New York Times reported that the Trump Administration had reversed or was in the process of reversing 99 environmental regulations designed to protect our air, water, wildlife, national parks and fragile ecosystems. Now, the EPA is set to issue a new ruling that very well could imperil the nation’s privately held woodlands from coast to coast. If the US defines the burning of wood pellets — a focus of my reporting for more than two years now — as carbon neutral, we are likely to see utilities shift in parts of the country to burning wood for energy. Some of the wood will come tree farms grown for wood products. But too much will come from established forests and thriving ecosystems.

My story focuses on a letter to Congressional leaders on House and Senate environmental committees from 200 scientists in 35 states urging them to look closing at the peer-reviewed science and protect the nations woodlands from the carbon-neutral designation.

The science could not be more clear. Burning wood for energy is not carbon neutral in any acceptable timeframe given the accelerating pace of global warming. Trees, whether in the tropics, temperate zones or boreal forests, remain the most reliable way of pulling greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and storing it in their leaves, limbs, trunks and soil as long as those trees are standing. In no sane world would we be clear-cutting forests for the wood to be pelletized and burned for energy. Yet this form of energy, with the carbon neutrality loophole (see story for details) is increasing across Europe, the United Kingdom and now Asia.

“The only option we have right now to avoid climate disaster is [to conserve] the natural world,” Bill Moomaw, co-author of the letter to Congress and a leading forest ecologist from Tufts University, told me in an interview for this story. “Forests are the one thing we have the greatest potential to protect. If we let them grow, they will store more and more carbon.”


Pine forests cut to provide wood pellets for power plants are replanted, according to the forestry industry, so woody biomass as an energy resource could technically be called carbon neutral, but only over the long term. It takes many decades for new trees to mature and for the carbon equation to balance out. Photo credit: ChattOconeeNF on Visualhunt.com / CC BY.

Environment  Mongabay@COP25: Indonesian dam raises questions about UN hydropower carbon loophole


Tapanuli Orangutans (Pongo tapanuliensis): Adult male on left, and adult female on right. Batang Toru Forest, North Sumatra, Indonesia. Image by Tim Laman under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0  license.

This story here, my third of ultimately five stories from COP25 in Madrid, Spain, was truly a team effort. It also illustrates the challenge and thrill of journalism — learning a new topic from scratch, finding just the right sources you’ve never met before, working with an editor in Indonesia and one in Vermont to put together a complex and nuanced environmental story about an ecologically sensitive part of the world (North Sumatra) with an rare and endangered great ape (Tapanuli orangutan).

Thanks to Isabel Esterman, Mongabay’s Indonesian editor, and Glenn Scherer, my editor at Mongabay, for putting me on to the story, then assisting prodigiously in putting all the pieces together about an Indonesian hydroelectric company, a dam-in-the-jungle project, the Tapanulis’ habitat and a serious question over carbon emissions.

Indonesia’s pavilion at the UN climate summit in Madrid.

Environment  Mongabay: ‘Guardians of the forest:’ Indigenous peoples come together to assert role in climate stability

Guardians of the Forest at Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, September 2018. Photo by Joel Redman, courtesy of If Not Us Then Who. 

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.”

Candido Mezua of Panama talking with me through translator Ana Isabel Alvardo of Costa Rica. My photo.

 

 

Environment  Mongabay: Carbon sequestration role of savanna soils key to climate goals

An elephant roams the mixed savanna of Kruger National Park in South Africa in June 2017. Photo by Bobby Amoroso

An elephant roams the mixed savanna of Kruger National Park in South Africa in June 2017. Photo by Bobby Amoroso

I’m quite proud of this story for Mongabay, which for me represents a new part of the world, new ecosystems and new scientific sources with a news hook that sets up my coverage of my fourth United Nations Climate Summit — COP23 — in Bonn, Germany from Nov. 6-Nov. 17, 2017. Within a few days, it became hit the No. 2 spot on Mongabay’s Most Read stories list. Here’s how it came about:

When I met and began talking with Wake Forest biologist Michael Anderson in spring 2017 about his work in  in the Serengeti of Tanzania, I realized there was this enormous ecosystem — savannas and grasslands — that I knew precious little about. I’ve had the good fortune, with the initial invitation of good friend and tropical ecologist Miles Silman (also of Wake Forest), of reporting from the cloud and rain forests in the Peruvian Amazon and from the Mesoamerican coral reef of Lighthouse Reef Atoll far off the coast of Belize. But savannas and grasslands, which cover more than 20 percent of the earth’s surface? I knew virtually nothing.

Getting into Tanzania proved too difficult on short notice, so Anderson recommended South Africa. He then put me in touch with a quartet of scientists at a top university in Johannesburg (Nelson Mandela got his law degree there), and three responded readily that they would be happy to meet with me and talk about their research in the bush. Through the help of London-based World Fixers, I was able to hire a videographer named Neil Bowen in Johannesburg to work as my fixer, helping to arrange interviews, plot logistics and make contacts near the world-famous Kruger National Park. When my good friend Bobby Amoroso agreed to join me as my photographer, we bought plane tickets for the 17-hour flight from Atlanta to Jo-burg and went on safari.

Rhino resting in the wide open savanna in South Africa. These iconic creatures don't live in forests. Photo by Bobby Amoroso

Rhino resting in the wide open savanna in South Africa. These iconic creatures don’t live in forests. Photo by Bobby Amoroso

Over the course of 12 days, we observed, experienced and learned so much. I hadn’t expected to do a story on rhino poaching and the threat of species extinction in Kruger and the rest of the African continent. That story, which Mongabay posted in July, fell into our laps with the help of Bowen’s exceptional contacts. But this story here was my initial target: how do I understand the role of savannas and grasslands at two often conflicting levels — sequestering carbon in their soils and thus slowing the rate of global warming, and providing a home for the largest, most iconic animals left roaming the earth.

The essence of my story can be summed up in this quote from highly regarded researcher Bob Scholes (pictured with me below) when we met and spoke at a weekend event outside Jo-berg:

“If you want to keep global temperature rise under 2-degrees Celsius [1.8 degrees Fahrenheit; the Paris Agreement goal], then you need forests growing,” says biologist Bob Scholes, a systems ecologist at Witwatersrand University. “I love trees,” he adds. “But the fact is, for a lot of reasons, they are not always the answer.”

Bob Scholes and I at a science and art event on the outskirts of Johannesburg in June 2017. Photo by Bobby Amoroso

Bob Scholes and I at a science and art event on the outskirts of Johannesburg in June 2017. Photo by Bobby Amoroso