Tag Archives: Woods Hole Research Center

Environment  News & Observer of Raleigh: ‘Slow Burn’ — The first-ever indepth look at the wood pellet industry in North Carolina, in three parts

A worker walks past logs stacked at the Enviva plant in Northampton County, N.C. on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. Enviva turns the logs into cylindrical pellets that will be burned for heat and electricity in Europe.

A worker walks past logs stacked at the Enviva plant in Northampton County, N.C. on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. Enviva turns the logs into cylindrical pellets that will be burned for heat and electricity in Europe. ETHAN HYMAN EHYMAN@NEWSOBSERVER.COM

In April, Jon Sawyer, executive director of the Pulitzer Center, called me to offer an opportunity: the center had received a substantial grant to support local newspaper journalism. He wanted to know if I had a story or project in mind that would be valuable to a publication in North Carolina.

I did.

I briefly told Jon about the stories I had been writing for Mongabay for well over a year regarding the growing use of wood pellets in coal-fired energy plants in the United Kingdom and the European Union, the loophole in carbon accounting policy that allowed these enormous emissions to go uncounted (thus threatening to undermine the goal of the Paris Agreement), and to his interest, that the majority of these wood pellets were coming from North Carolina forests — millions of tons per year. Morever, the vast majority of North Carolinians, including legislators and policymakers, know nothing about the industry or its impact. Jon was interested and connected me with a Pulitzer grantee, Saul Elbein, who had published a deeply reported story for Vox.com on this issue of wood pellets.

Saul and I talked, agreed to team up, and developed a Pulitzer proposal that was readily approved; Pulitzer’s support was invaluable. I then reached out to John Dresher, the former News & Observer of Raleigh editor and acquaintance now at The Washington Post. He generously connected me to N&O managing editor Jane Elizabeth, who also, after careful consideration and plenty of questions, gave Saul and me the green light to get started.

It’s important to note that Enviva Biomass, the world’s largest maker of wood pellets with four of its eight plants in North Carolina, was not happy when it learned that Saul and I were working on this project. The multi-billion-dollar public company hired a crisis PR manager in Seattle who tried to talk Jane Elizabeth out of working with Saul and me; he tried to undermine our professional credibility based on our previous reporting on the issue, and he vowed that no one at Enviva would cooperate with us (none did). Since publication, Saul and I have been attacked by name on an industry-sponsored web site, and in an op-ed by Enviva’s CEO.

Enviva facilities have generated hundreds of tons of air pollution a year, critics say

In this file photo, a logging truck loaded with freshly cut hardwoods enters the Enviva wood-pellet plant in Ahoskie, N.C. THE WASHINGTON POST JOBY WARRICK

Not surprisingly, the N&O, still one of the Southeast’s most prestigious and influential news organizations, stood by Saul and me and the story we proposed. It assigned an experienced staff writer, Richard Stradling, to work with us, as well as an exceptional editor, Dave Hendrickson, to shepherd the ambitious and exhaustive six-month, multi-part, multimedia project to publication in print and online in early January 2020. Since the personal attacks online and in print, the N&O and Pulitzer Center have stood squarely behind my and Saul’s integrity and professionalism in fairly and accurately reporting on a highly controversial story.

Below are the links to the first-ever, indepth series by an independent news organization about an industry and international carbon-accounting policy that a broad consensus of international scientists, environmentalists and public health advocates has serious concerns about in regards to aiding and abetting the accelerating global calamities of climate change:

Part 1 by Saul Elbein: Europe uses tons of NC trees as fuel. Will this solve climate change?

Part 2 by Justin Catanoso: From Poland to NC, activists plea for reduced carbon dioxide

Part 3 by Richard Stradling: World’s largest wood pellet maker both welcomed and condemned in NC

Part 2 sidebar by Justin Catanoso: Enviva facilities have generated hundreds of tons of air pollution a year, critics say

Part 2 sidebar by Justin Catanoso: DEQ Secretary Michael Regan discusses the wood pellet industry

Also: About Enviva

And: How this project was reported

How this project was reported
Wood pellets from North Carolina forests and tree farms at the center of an international environmental controversy. Photo by Michael Frierson

Environment  Mongabay: Climate mitigation has an ally in need of recognition and land rights: indigenous peoples in tropical countries

Wayne Walker, a Woods Hole Research Center scientist, in the forest with indigenous peoples. Photo courtesy of Woods Hole Research Center

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.”

 

 

 

 

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: 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: @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.  

Environment  Mongabay: Many tree species in eastern US may be unable to adapt to changing climate, study finds

Smokies

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.

Environment  Mongabay @COP22: Beyond Paris — COP22 in Marrakesh, a critical nuts-and-bolts carbon-cutting summit

An open-air market in Marrakesh, Morocco. The city is hosting November’s COP22 Climate Conference and decisions made there could shape its future. If the rising heat brought by global warming isn’t abated, then parts of North Africa could become inhabitable by mid-century, according to a 2016 study. Feliciano Guimarães licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

An open-air market in Marrakesh, Morocco. The city is hosting November’s COP22 Climate Conference and decisions made there could shape its future. If the rising heat brought by global warming isn’t abated, then parts of North Africa could become inhabitable by mid-century, according to a 2016 study. Feliciano Guimarães licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

In preparing to cover my third consecutive United Nation’s Climate Summit — COP22 in Marrakesh, Morocco — I was able to call on a variety of new sources I made when in Bonn, Germany, at the mid-year summit last May. Among some officials, there is a tendency to let Marrakesh be something of a breather after the historic achievement at COP21 in Paris. The Paris Agreement, ratified with unprecedented haste, was the first time after 20 years of failure that 195 nations agreed to each do something about reducing their carbon footprint.

But Paris is simply a blue print. So much hard work remains. And we’ve already lost two decades to political inertia and denial. Thus, we have no time to waste. COP22 must exceeds expectations and begin delivering on the promise established in Paris. My story here explains why.

 

Environment  Mongabay: COP21 — New satellite imaging tracks REDD+ deforestation tree-by-tree

Alessandro Baccini with Woods Hole Research Center Photo by Justin Catanoso

Alessandro Baccini with Woods Hole Research Center Photo by Justin Catanoso

Here’s the summary of mongabay.com story on a significant advancement in making the policy REDD+ work as a tool between countries to keep critical tropical forests intact. Much credit goes to remote sensing scientist Alessandro Baccini at Woods Hole Research Center.

  • Critics have long argued that the inability of satellites to track deforestation with precision created a loophole that could allow tropical countries to cheat regarding their annual deforestation rates.
  • Past satellite imaging systems could not resolve objects smaller than 500 meters (1,640 feet) across. A new system developed by Alessandro Baccini and his Woods Hole, Massachusetts, research team can see objects just 30 meters (98 feet) across.
  • Satellite imaging, combined with imaging from airplanes, along with ground-truthing will help make observation of tropical deforestation rates and carbon offsets far more precise in real time, preventing cheating and under reporting.

EnvironmentRadio  COP20 post mortem: Achievements and obstacles from the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru

Joseph Zambo Mandea and Melaine Kermarc, both Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, were among the climate change activists I met and interviewed at the COP20 - the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Joseph Zambo Mandea of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Melaine Kermarc of France, both with the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, were among the climate change activists I met and interviewed at the COP20 – the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru. Photo by Justin Catanoso

From the WFDD web post Dec. 17, 2014 (Audio link is here) — A global summit to address climate change wrapped up in Peru last week. After 36 hours of overtime negotiations, a draft of the Lima Accords was presented–a plan which will change how countries deal with carbon emissions. Wake Forest journalism professor Justin Catanoso is a regular WFDD contributor and attended the UN Climate talks.

Catanoso reported that there was momentum and optimism ahead of the summit. He says that still remains today, with the Lima Accords, which is the first deal committing every country in the world to reducing their fossil fuel emissions.

“This represents a significant breakthrough in a 20-year effort by the UN to come up with some international accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” says Catanoso.

But he adds that the strength of the accords is also its weakness. Each nation will set its own reduction levels and they likely won’t be held accountable by any governing body to guide that decision.

“If we don’t have that mandated amount, then we may not be able to keep global warming under 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit in the next 50-75 years,” says Catanoso. “That’s the point in which scientists say if we get warmer than that, things really spin out of control. The planet becomes increasingly uninhabitable.”

Every country has six months to report their intended cuts to the UN which would begin in 2020. It’s in advance of a meeting in Paris next year, where they will possibly sign binding agreements to cement greenhouse gas reductions.

Environment  Much Maligned REDD+ Gets a Boost from Above for Climate Mitigation

Entrance to the UN Climate Summit in Lima, Peru -- Dec. 1-12, 2

Entrance to the UN Climate Summit in Lima, Peru — Dec. 1-12, 2014. Photo by Justin Catanoso

As the United Nations climate negotiations in Lima, Peru, entered their second and final week, some progress – and thus some optimism — was claimed late Monday, Dec. 8. They were small steps. And because huge leaps seem impossible in grappling with this global crisis, even small steps take on growing importance. A big reason for the optimism is the incredible advances in scientific monitoring of carbon stocks and greenhouse gas emissions that simply didn’t exist a few years ago. It’s giving countries confidence to engage in this process. I explain why in this story on National Georgraphic online.