On the evening of October 23rd, the European Union Parliament’s Environmental Committee met to vote on the Renewable Energy Directive. When it came time to determine the future of subsidies for the continued burning of whole trees for energy, members of European Parliament sided with the biomass industry and ignored the conservation community, science, and, ultimately, the people who will suffer as a result of this vote.
Shockingly, members of European Parliament decided that the best way to tackle climate change is to burn more trees and that the best way to protect our forests is to log them.
The outcome of the environmental committee’s RED II vote fails the climate, forest conservation, and, most importantly, rural and low-income communities in the US South who will now face real-world and all too familiar consequences from industrial extraction and a changing climate.
The officials we counted on to do the right thing ignored this great environmental injustice.
In the Southern US, our forests are biologically rich and the region where a vast majority of European wood pellet imports come from was recently named the 36th global biodiversity hotspot. Southerners can tell you that the forests logged for wood pellet production are at the heart of our region’s most valuable natural resources, providing flood protection as well as clean air and water to people all throughout the South. If left standing, Southern forests help fight climate change by serving as massive carbon sinks and serve as our best defense against the worst impacts of climate change, including flooding, storm surge, and sea level rise. Yet, the European Parliament opened the door to increased exploitation of Southern forests and logging by subsidizing the biomass industry to cut down these natural forests and burn them in massive power stations. They’re saying that our forests are only valuable when they are logged. This is the exact opposite of what science, climate policy, and efforts to maintain biodiversity tell us.
Industrial-scale biomass is the ultimate commodification of nature.
In the flurry of climate and forest discussions and, ultimately, the vote on the Renewable Energy Directive II, there was a gaping hole among conversations: Why weren’t the communities and people impacted by the wood pellet industry being considered?
Amidst heated debate comparing research by one scientist to another, the implications for American communities of the South were ignored.
The EU Environmental Committee is literally separated by an entire ocean from the forests and communities that they are signing a death warrant for. Since the dawn of industrialization, extraction of our native forests has been carried out in this unsustainable way for far too long. This system hurts communities on the ground and the decision-makers never have to face the consequences of their actions.
The wood pellet industry is part of the extraction economy and is an environmental justice foe. Almost 75% of mills in the Carolinas are located within a 2-mile radius of areas that are non-white and have average median incomes that are lower than the state average. These mills are likely to contribute to environmental injustice. Consider, for instance, the most recent proposed facility from wood pellet giant Enviva in Richmond County, NC.
This facility is effectively being subsidized by this decision and is specifically being built to export wood pellets to a European biomass incinerator.
Richmond County is already suffering from the negative impacts of several other polluting industries, including coal ash transportation, Duke Energy turbines, a Perdue chicken plant, and is the proposed connecting location for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. According to the EPA’s EJSCREEN tool, the communities in Richmond County are in the 70-90th percentile for air toxics cancer risk, diesel particulate matter, and traffic proximity.
Adding another industrial facility would further contribute to the injustices people are already facing.
Until international policies and votes start tackling issues pertaining to communities and justice, a major piece of the puzzle is missed, and communities are the ones that suffer the greatest.
To achieve social and environmental justice, we must strive for major change. We can do this by putting the communities, people, and the faces of those impacted by policies in front of decision-makers. Dogwood Alliance is committed to a future that values and protects the rights of communities to access the resources they need to live happy and healthy lives.
We are committed to a future that values people and our planet.
The forest defender movement calls not only for lasting protection for our unique forests but also for a shift from the natural resource extraction economy that has suppressed Southern communities and economies for so long. The forest defender movement calls not only for votes on renewable energy directives that recognize science, but for system change to support forests, climate, and the communities that rely on them. As long as “business as usual” is the golden child among politicians and corporations, we will never realize this shift.
As long as our governmental leaders bend their knee to corporate “compromise,” our planet and its people will be left in the dust.
The vote clearly exhibited unequal colonial, economic, and social power relations. The biomass industry’s crooked message and short-sighted science won out over community and climate justice. Now is the time to shift power back to our people, uplift community-based alternatives, and follow the lead of people on the frontlines. For our movement to achieve forest protection and successfully stop the worst impacts of climate change, we must focus on the voices of the communities most impacted by extractive and unjust corporate behavior. Only then will our policies truly reflect the preservation and valuation of the natural world, native culture, and sustainable economies.
Before the Renewable Energy Directive is finalized by the rest of the EU Parliament and individual member states this winter, they must do the right thing and stand for our forests and communities. Their goals of climate change mitigation and forest protection will not be achieved otherwise.