Tag Archives: renewable energy

Environment  Mongabay: The science of forest biomass — Conflicting studies map the controversy

Before: An Estonian forest filled with a variety of tree species and a natural habitat for biodiversity. Such ecosystems are essential to climate mitigation, from carbon sequestration to flood control.
After: The same Estonian forest clear cut so that the stemwood — tree trunks seen stacked in rows — can be shipped to one of the world’s largest wood-pellet producers. This is an ecosystem destroyed. Biodiversity scattered, carbon sequestration is diminished, flood control lost. Photos by Karl Adami

This story was months in the making. Glenn Scherer, my editor at Mongabay, and I had been discussing a story that took a step back from the breaking news around climate policy and rising biomass consumption to look at the science behind the issue. Since last spring, I researched and printed out peer-reviewed studies with diverging outcomes and read them closely. The biomass industry can point to scores of research that supports its claim that wood pellets are good for forests and a genuine climate solution, while forest advocates can pile up even more research that explains just how big a mistake the Kyoto Protocol made when it classified all bioenergy as renewable and carbon neutral.

Because there are so many points of difference, the biggest challenge in this story was narrowing the scope of issues to compare, knowing full well that in a 2,000-word story, important issues would not make it into this story. Still, I kept my focus on the issues industry officials tend to use the most in defending themselves against their growing chorus of critics.

This particular story is as balanced as fairness allows. By that I mean, it is fair in clearly explaining the industry arguments and citing the studies that back their claims, while making sure to be accurate in the overall thrust of the story in terms of the impact woody biomass is having on — to pick just one issue — the accuracy of carbon-emissions accounting.

This is among the more important stories I’ve done on this issue since I started covering it in 2018. Hopefully, it will serve as a trustworthy resource for new reporters coming to this story and heavily lobbied policymakers trying to figure out who and what to believe when it comes to energy generation and actual climate mitigation.

In the Southeast U.S. — the world’s largest producer of wood pellets — natural forests are often cleared and then replanted with pine plantations. Environmentalists say fast-growing pine does not sequester nearly as much carbon as the hardwood and softwood forests they replace, nor harbor much biodiversity. Biomass backers say fast growing young forests sequester more carbon than mature forests. Pine plantations like this one are harvested on 20-year time cycles. Photo credit: nationalagroforestrycenter on Visualhunt

Environment  YouTube: RF100 Greensboro Community Mapping Project on Climate Change

In the Peruvian Andes, June 2018. Photo by Nathan Allen, Wake Forest University student.

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.

Breaking News  Fixing Climate Change May Add No Costs, Report Says

A wind turbine being installed in northern France. Research says the benefits of such efforts may offset the cost of subsidies. Credit Benoit Tessier/Reuters
Justin Gillis, the New York Times climate change reporter, breaks a story that sounds like science fiction, but is plausible with enough political will in countries such as the U.S., China and India — the world’s leading emitters of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
The story, published Sept. 16, is here, and it follows a trend of more optimistic, solution-based reporting on the issue of climate change.

Breaking News  Sun and Wind Alter Global Landscape, Leaving Utilities Behind

 New wind turbines in the North Sea off Germany. Renewable resources account for 30 perent of Germany’s power generation, more than twice what the U.S. produces. Photo: NY Times.

Justin Gillis, the New York Times’ climate change reporter, writes: “Of all the developed nations, few have pushed harder than Germany to find a solution to global warming. And towering symbols of that drive are appearing in the middle of the North Sea.” The Sept. 13, 2014 story is here.

Excerpt: Electric utility executives all over the world are watching nervously as technologies they once dismissed as irrelevant begin to threaten their long-established business plans. Fights are erupting across the United States over the future rules for renewable power. Many poor countries, once intent on building coal-fired power plants to bring electricity to their people, are discussing whether they might leapfrog the fossil age and build clean grids from the outset.