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.
When we were making our coverage plan for COP25 in Madrid, my longtime editor at Mongabay, Glenn Scherer, made an unusual request: “Try to find at least one upbeat story. The site is filled so such much gloomy news about the environment, we could use it.”
I had written about the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative in September 2019 and knew representatives from the group would be at the UN climate summit. Over breakfast with IRI’s program director in Peru, Laura Vargas, the idea slowly emerged as we spoke that she was exactly the story Glenn was requesting. Here’s the story. What a remarkable woman.
“IRI has given me a goal of defending life and nature on a global scale, and a deeper sense of purpose.”
Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts produces as strong compelling evidence of how climate change is affecting our most iconic trees in the Eastern United States. My story for Mongabay is posted here. Thanks to Dave McGlinchey, a former student now the Woods Hole communications director, for helping with sources and photos. And to my editor at Mongabay, Mike Gaworecki.
Anouar Benazzouz, general manager of Morocco’s Highways Authority. Photo by Justin Catanoso
I stumbled on to this story by walking on the tail end of a weekend press conference. I heard the man above say his country had planted 3 million trees to offset carbon emissions, an extraordinary number. I asked him for an interview; he turned out to be a high-ranking Moroccan government official; we spoke for 30 minutes. Mixed with previous reporting and great research from my Mongabay editor, Morgan Erickson-Davis, a really good story emerged; the link is here. Highlights:
Through the program, which is headed by Morocco’s Highway Authority, more than three million trees have been planted with another 800,000 in the works by 2017.
The country’s Department of Agriculture is partnering in the project, which conservationists say paints a stark contrast to many other countries where similar departments pose obstacles to reforestation and afforestation programs.
The project is funded domestically, but a government representative told Mongabay they may be interested in receiving support from international forest conservation programs.
Those affiliated with the project hope it can be used as a model for other African nations.
Mike Gaworecki, a long-time Mongabay correspondent with a similar focus as me on forests and climate change policy, is leading a new web site initiative: The Mongabay Newscast. On Tuesday, November 15, Mike interviewed me via Skype, where I stood just outside the press center to get a good connection. I come in at around 7 minutes. Naturally, we spent a good bit of time talking about the impact on the president-elect on COP22. Special thanks to Mongabay podcast producer Erik Hoffner for making this happen.
The reality of illegal gold mining: total environmental devastation in the Peruvian Amazon. Photo by Rhett Butler of Mongabay.com
In the waning days of President Ollanta Humala’s administration in July 2016, Peru’s National Congress approved a set of innovative climate change-related policies designed to reduce deforestation, protect watersheds and biodiversity, and provide the tools needed to leverage international investment through UN programs such as REDD+ and the Green Climate Fund.
But a new administration has taken over and lawlessness is often the rule in the Amazon basin. My story for Mongabay.com looks at the new policies and the challenges for implementation. First time with with Mongabay editor Morgan Erickson-Davis, who did a great job with my story.
Indonesia on fire, October 16, 2015. An image posted on Twitter purporting to show the smoke-choked city of Palangkaraya. Damages from the record wildfires has already topped US $30 billion; acrid smoke has sickened half a million people. “This is my urgent call… Guarantee the future of Oceania. Change society to a low-carbon lifestyle,” said Monsignor John Ribat, President of the Federation of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Oceania and the Archbishop of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
Glenn Scherer, my talented editor at mongabay.com found this photo to run with a breaking news story I wrote for the web site on Oct. 27, 2015. Jim Yardley, my friend and New York Times bureau chief in Rome, let me know about an important Vatican press conference that would be streamed live on Oct. 26 and that I should “cover” from my office at Wake Forest. Amazingly, I did. I split my screen with the Vatican’s YouTube channel on one half, and a Word doc for notes on the other. As Glenn’s cutline points out, the bishops call for a binding, transformative agreement at COP21 in Paris in December is critical. I made my 6 p.m. deadline, Gleen edited it expertly and filled it in with amazing photos. The story is here.
On Nov. 5, 2015, my 56th birthday, I received this gift from the United Nation’s Council on Climate Change (UNFCCC):
“You have been successfully registered for the UNFCCC session Twentyfirst Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) and the eleventh Session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP11).”
The smelting that virtually killed a city in the Andes, and poisoned its people. And the people want it open again, even as the pope speaks out against such environmental oppression. Photo by Jason Houstin
I had the great pleasure to work with mongabay.com editor Glenn Scherer on this important story, that is as comprehensive as it is sad and vexing. As Glenn wrote in the subhead: “Big business and labor in one of the world’s most Catholic nations wrestle with the economic implications of Pope Francis’ revolutionary encyclical on the environment.”