In February, I threw on my rain jacket, grabbed our drone, and headed out in to the field with reporters from EenVandaag, a current affairs television program in the Netherlands with a daily broadcast watched by more than 1.5 million viewers.
This was to be a journey that was similar to many that I have taken over the past several years — ones in which I’ve accompanied journalists from Denmark, the UK, and the Netherlands on investigations that expose the ugly truth about the dirty biomass industry. We get up in the air on small airplanes, follow-up on the ground by tracking logging trucks back to facilities, and spend time in small diners and community members’ homes to hear how the biomass industry is affecting their quality of life.
Each time I prepare for an investigation, the gravity of the situation hits home, and it gets personal.
Investigations are a consistent reminder of the destruction the wood pellet biomass industry imposes on forests, communities, and our climate.
The scientific consensus is that burning biomass releases carbon dioxide into the air, harms biodiversity by destroying habitat that plants and animals rely on, and the local communities suffer from air pollution, potholes and damage to their roads, and constant battering noise.
Despite the science, the Netherlands relies on biomass imports to meet their renewable energy targets.
Qualified as a carbon-neutral energy source, burning biomass in electricity and power stations in the Netherlands aids them politically in claiming that they are doing right by the planet. The Netherlands Climate Minister, Eric Wiebes, is still saying that Dutch biomass plants use “residual wood” despite our investigations, documentation, and credible news outlets consistently showing mature hardwood trees being trucked back to wood pellet production facilities.
Right now in the Netherlands, €3.6 billion in subsidies go to co-firing wood pellets in coal stations, and a further €5.2 billion is earmarked for burning in dedicated biomass power, heat, and cogeneration plants. That is a huge sum of money. I cannot fathom what I would do as a policymaker with that sum of money, but if I was trying to use it to help the planet, I’d want to make sure that it was furthering the cause of protecting nature and lessening greenhouse gas emissions, not increasing them.
I can honestly say that my investigations in the field consistently prove that wood pellet biomass production, the entire supply chain from forest to power station, harms forests, climate, and community welfare.
Each investigation that catches the dirty wood pellet and biomass industry in the act of forest destruction threatens to topple their “renewable energy” house of cards. The tide is turning in Europe against dirty biomass. How long will the European subsidies that are propping up this crumbling industry last when people know the truth?
Dutch organizations including the National Federation against Biomass (FAB), Greenpeace, Fossil Free NL, Party for the Animals, and the SP, led an online demonstration to #StopBiomassa. Their petition, requesting that the subsidies for biomass are stopped immediately, gained 14,000 petition signatures in one day.
We are seeing similar demonstrations gain power in the UK as well. An action on Earth Day, #AxeDraxNotTrees, called for an end to irresponsible biomass use, protection of carbon sinks and reservoirs of biodiversity, and investment in the climate. Biofuelwatch continues to gain support around their action demanding an end to ￡1 billion being wasted on dirty biomass and redirecting that money to genuine low-carbon renewable energy.
Just like the smog and pollution over major cities clearing because of the pandemic, the green cloak is being lifted from Enviva’s dirty practices.
Despite the greenwashing found in Enviva’s new sustainability policy, forest destruction is continuing as usual. In North Carolina, Enviva is the number one producer of wood pellets for export. Elected officials in the state responded to the groundswell of public opposition and the growing body of scientific evidence that says burning forests for electricity is worsening the climate crisis. In the NC Clean Energy Plan, Governor Cooper’s Department of Environmental Quality (NC DEQ) rejected the combustion of biomass for electricity as a future clean energy source and explicitly recognized the current harmful climate impacts of the wood pellet industry in the state. Furthermore, a 100% clean energy resolution passed in Savannah, Georgia, a major port city that exports a significant amount of biomass, excludes biomass from being defined as an acceptable clean energy source.
And yet, in this period of the global pandemic, Enviva has been declared an “essential business” and continues to receive massive government subsidies from the European Union and Southeast Asia.
The only thing “essential” about Enviva is that it’s essential to move on from their outdated business model; namely, one of resource extraction that harms our climate, forests, and communities.
Forest destruction is on the rise, and false solutions to the climate crisis like biomass for energy continue to show themselves to be what they truly are, a major distraction that prevents forests from doing what they do best, storing and sequestering carbon. The EenVandaag investigation, rising citizen movements around the world, and science are all singing the same tune. When will policy makers respond in harmony?
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