By Llana Samuel, Staff Writer
One of the best things about Savannah and Armstrong in particular, is its lush greenery. Whether the leaves are blocking your path to class during the fall or shading you from the Southern heat in the summer, one would be aware if they were missing.
So why aren’t students noticing that our forests are being destroyed and sold abroad as biomass? It’s simple: we aren’t being told.
According to the Dogwood Alliance, a group that exposes deforestation in order to educate individuals and corporations, “European policy-makers are promoting the burning of Southern forests for electricity to meet their clean energy targets.” Each week, train carriages filled with wood pellets are transported through Savannah to the port where they are then shipped to Europe. Energy giants in Europe, such as Drax Group, use them as biomass fuel for their customers who are oblivious as to where their “clean energy” is truly coming from. This year, the policy makers will meet in Europe to draft their climate change plan for 2030.
“I believe that it is paramount to alert locals about the Our Forests Aren’t Fuel campaign because the EU’s appetite for wood pellets is leading to massive deforestation right in our backyard,” Rita Frost said. Frost is a Texas native who grew up playing in her local woodlands and is now working in Savannah with the Dogwood Alliance to spread the “Our Forests Aren’t Fuel” Campaign.
Many of the local volunteers, mostly students from around the city, are astonished to find out that this process has been going on for years. Frost also pointed out that “we need a global grassroots movement that tackles climate change and its fallout.”
The campaign group, fueled by local environment enthusiasts, has already garnered over 700 signatures for their petition to present to the UK consulate on Trade & Investment in Atlanta and they aren’t stopping there. Plans to present an investigative report at a press conference, as well as a march in Atlanta this spring are already in the works.
For many students, getting into their major program is just as, if not more important than saving southern forests. For some, doing both is equally important.
“As a Law & Society major, I get to use the knowledge I’ve learned to help our local community,” said Armstrong student and campaign intern, Amy Byrne.
Armstrong prides itself on being a green campus not just in scenery, but also in practice, which makes this issue even more important as it is so close to home. The southeast is already the largest exporter of wood pellets in the world.
“With Armstrong being a tight community, it is important that students spread the word and donate a portion of their time to volunteering or signing a petition.” said Byrne.
Despite scientific reports like the one from the World Resources Institute mentioned in the New York Times’ January 28 paper, plants such as the one in Waycross boast carbon neutrality and continue to burn trees releasing even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In fact, over 750,000 tons of wood pellets are shipped through Savannah from the Waycross facility, often unnoticed by locals, each year.
Until European companies are forced to change their environmental practices for obtaining biomass, the conversion of once natural forests into pine plantations across the south for biofuel abroad will sadly continue.
In a region that hosts some of the most diverse ecosystems in its forests, it is only a matter of time before the woodlands in Savannah fall victim to this new industry practice. Thankfully, students and locals across the city are campaigning to have their voices heard by the companies responsible.