At Dogwood Alliance we believe in thriving communities and healthy forests. We also believe that prioritizing the health and well-being of both is our only chance for surviving the most catastrophic climate impacts, but as we work diligently towards that vision, we wonder: is it enough?
With hurricanes slamming the East coast, fires overtaking the West, a global pandemic, and the struggle for racial and environmental justice, we are motivated to work. We are in mourning, and we are angry.
Meanwhile, the largest wood pellet manufacturer, Enviva, continues business as usual to push for new facilities and expansions of their established facilities while not meeting regulation standards for their pollution output. Enviva harvests trees and processes them into tiny wood pellets that are shipped overseas to be burned for biomass electricity to power Europe. This is an inefficient process that makes little sense.
For years each public hearing determining whether or not to approve Enviva’s permits has felt more or less the same. Enviva industry people show up and alternate between intimidation tactics and talking about how this will be so good for the local economy, provide jobs, etc. In advance of these public hearings, they usually provide charitable donations to some of the community members. Those who have accepted gifts also stand up and say that this will be good for the local economy and provide jobs. In one town, they bought the community center new computers and in another, they bought children backpacks. At a recent hearing in Greenville, South Carolina, a community member said they went around to all the neighbors and offered gift certificates. Simultaneously, Enviva covers all residents within a mile of their facility with a blanket of fine carcinogenic wood dust, contributing to rising respiratory illness, destroying the local landscape, running noisy trucks through the neighborhood at all hours of the night, and making the surrounding communities generally unlivable. Most residents who are able to be present at the public hearings have opposed Enviva expansions, citing decrease of comfort and deterioration of health.
All of this would normally be infuriating, but in a global pandemic that links respiratory illness with increased COVID death, we view it as a direct attack on the communities where Enviva builds their facilities.
This is an environmental justice issue.
If the economy boost Enviva always promises was an actual truth, we would see thriving wood pellet towns and an increase in employment for local residents. As it stands, Enviva targets low income towns with a majority Black population. After Enviva swoops in, the poverty rate in those towns remains more or less the same. In fact, Enviva often brings in their own people, providing minimal job opportunities to local residents.
When we zoom out and look at what Enviva is doing across the East Coast, our hearts sink. As a group dedicated to forests, we know what forests do because we’ve spent years studying them. We know they protect us from storms and flooding, filter our air and water, bolster economies with outdoor recreation and tourism opportunities, and provide homes for a rich biodiversity of plant and animal life. We all share a special connection to nature that allows for healing and serenity.
Here’s what else we know: We know that people united will never be defeated. We know that we will continue this fight until we see the future we believe in. We know that as we follow the lead of the luminaries of the forest, climate, and justice movement, we will win.
In closing I’d like to leave you with a poem that was cited in Assata Shakur’s autobiography, a book I highly recommend:
If We Must Die
By Claude McKay
If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!