The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has a glimmer of hope among the bleak warnings. The report calls for a huge shift that focuses efforts on the maintenance and growth of natural systems. Natural systems like forests. To avoid the worst, the report urges us to conserve half of the Earth’s lands. The report also underscores the need to deviate from “maladaptive solutions”, or well-intentioned solutions gone wrong. To preserve the livability of our planet, we must change course and stop large scale biomass immediately.
What is biomass?
Biomass is an ambiguous term that is also called bioenergy, wood pellets, woody biomass, and more. No matter the name, it means burning trees in power stations for electricity.
For over a decade, the biomass industry has operated on a foundation of faulty logic. They claim it’s a renewable and carbon neutral form of energy. But biomass releases climate warming carbon into the atmosphere every step of the way. The industry cuts down forests of the Southeastern US and converts them to pellets. They ship our forests overseas. Then they burn our forests in foreign power stations as an alternative to coal.
The worst part is they do this on our dime. Biomass companies receive billions worldwide in renewable energy subsidies from taxpayers.
This industry couldn’t survive without taxpayer dollars. Governments throw money at biomass companies because they think biomass can help their countries reach renewable energy goals. All the while biomass is pushing those countries and the rest of the world further away from a clean energy future.
What are the impacts of biomass?
The biomass industry destroys rich, biodiverse forests and replaces them with single species plantations. Quickly converting carbon sinks into carbon emitters. These plantations can take decades to store the same amount of carbon as mature forests. Decades we don’t have.
Our planet desperately needs viable renewable energy now so that we can move away from fossil fuels.
It increases carbon emissions, forest destruction, and harms us all by increasing pollution and weakening climate resiliency.
Unfortunately, the demand for biomass is rapidly growing. What was meant to be a transitional energy source has unleashed a Pandora’s box of climate catastrophe. Large scale forest destruction in the Southern US hurts climate resiliency worldwide. Losing a forest may be a local issue, but burning a forest is a global one. To help you understand how we got here, we created this list of Biomass Baddies propelling the rise of this polluting, propped-up industry.
The Big RED Lie: EU Commission – Renewable Energy Directive I & II
Communities that have Enviva in their backyard have spoken out against this company as a bad neighbor.
Their plants run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Nearby residents never get a break from the incessant noise, dust, volatile airborne compounds, and pollution. All this amounts to increased rates of cancer, asthma, and tree loss. Tree loss increases air temperature, which can lead to even more health risks. Enviva’s entire operation negatively impacts community health and climate resiliency.
Enviva also promises good, high-paying jobs when they come to town. Check out their Indeed employee reviews to see how they really treat their workers. Former employees complain about dangerous working conditions, lack of job security, and bad management practices. Enviva talks a good game, but in reality they crush their people like they destroy our forests and climate. Reality doesn’t match their boasts about the great jobs they bring to rural communities.
Take Action: Hold Enviva Accountable to Communities.
The Greenwash Ghouls: Sustainable Biomass Program (SBP) and Other Certification Schemes
In cases where people showed up to protest, like in Greenwood, SC or when hundreds of people have spoken out in opposition, like in North Carolina, it doesn’t change the outcome. Georgia’s EPD, South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (SC DHEC), and North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (NC DEQ) granted permits for new or expanding biomass facilities. This was despite fierce opposition from the Black and Indigenous people that will be living with dirty air as a result. They’ve done so without any consideration for those already burdened with existing pollution sources.
In Gloster, MS, Mississippi’s Department of Environmental Quality (MS DEQ) fined the Drax Amite plant $2.5 million dollars for exceeding air pollution limits for over three years. This fine amounts to a slap on the wrist and is around the amount of money Drax receives daily in subsidies. MS DEQ is yet to notify local residents the pollution occurred, and they haven’t invested a dime in repairing the community’s health.
How are these agencies protecting human health and the environment when they allow our people to be poisoned and our forests to be destroyed?
Take Action: Tell the EPA No More Extraction!
The Avoidable Future: Japanese Markets
Japan is now the world’s fastest growing market for wood pellets. Japan’s Prime Minister Suga committed the country to carbon neutrality by 2050. Large energy manufacturers have had to follow suit. For coal burners, like Sumitomo, we’ve seen a massive shift from burning coal to burning forests. As a result, Japan has dramatically increased imports of wood pellets from forests.
By 2025, Enviva expects to produce 7.1 million tons of wood pellets (compared to 3.6 million tons in 2019) to meet Japanese demand. This is a staggering increase in production. More and more the future of our forests and climate is tied to Japan’s biomass industry. Companies like Sumitomo and the Japanese government should avoid biomass if they don’t want the negative impacts on forests and high greenhouse gas emissions.
The Nature Conspiracy: The Nature Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) mission is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. That’s why it’s mind-boggling that they falsely promote wood production and logging as a solution to the climate crisis. They’ve used their power and influence to shape forest policy that benefits the forest industry, not climate justice.
In fact, they supported over $1.5 billion in subsidies for the forest industry as part of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. They have also promoted forest carbon markets. This allowed fossil fuel polluters to “offset their emissions” with sham forest conservation efforts for TNC’s financial gain. TNC has also refused to recognize the impacts of wood products and logging on climate, biodiversity, and environmental justice communities.
That’s why a coalition of scientists, faith, and environmental justice leaders along with forest defenders has released: The Nature Conspiracy. A tell-all exposé calling out TNC for its duplicity.
The coalition produced the exposé after years of failed attempts to open a dialog with TNC only to have their concerns repeatedly dismissed. The exposé was released alongside an open letter to TNC’s CEO, Jennifer Morris, that more than 150 organizations signed.
Why is the world’s largest conservation organization using their massive resources and influence to promote forest destruction? As recently as 2021, they allowed a major investor and board member of Enviva to sit on their Advisory Board for the NatureVest program. They’re also a member of the Forest Climate Working Group along with both Enviva and Drax. This group promotes investments in wood markets as a “natural climate solution.”
TNC is the wealthiest, most powerful environmental organization in the world. The coalition hopes that public awareness will prompt funders and policymakers to demand accountability for the problems of industrial logging. In addition, they hope public pressure motivates TNC to shift their focus to protecting forests and communities instead of enabling polluting industries like biomass.
Where do we go from here?
Whether it’s sunken cost fallacy or malice, it’s a mistake to classify biomass as carbon neutral. Governments and corporations have wasted more than a decade pursuing a maladaptive climate solution.
Biomass is worse than the energy source it intended to replace. Biomass has never been and will never be a clean, renewable energy alternative.
It’s possible that none of these baddies set out to intentionally harm our forests, climate, or people. But instead of focusing on the intent of biomass, we should be focusing on its impact.
The impact is more climate-warming carbon in the atmosphere. The impact is weaker resiliency against rising waters and temperatures. The impact is Black and Indigenous communities living with greater air pollution and susceptibility to disease. It’s losing forests and biodiversity at a massive scale, especially in the US South. It’s wasting billions of dollars in subsidies that could be invested in truly renewable clean energy alternatives. The impact is we’ve lost valuable time propping up an industry that isn’t economically or environmentally sustainable.
Many of the same scientists that have warned us on climate are now warning us against biomass. We should listen to them. Forests are a natural system that removes and stores carbon. They’re key to our survival and climate adaptability. Forests are our best climate defense. Protecting forests protects our future on this planet.