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Twigging on to fat-cats and watchdogs

This year’s Argus Biomass conference kicked off “Year of the Dog” with an update on what is certainly the largest new dedicated biomass power project in Europe, if not globally, currently under construction in the UK – MGT’s Teesside. However, there were other strays roaming around the Landmark venue dogmatically barking up a number of the wrong (whole) trees.

The well-attended opening session at this year’s Argus Biomass conference in London, UK was followed by reviews on global wood pellet and woodchip market trade flows and dynamics, pellet pricing and trading panels, shipping, and logistics management. In short and thus far, the conference rocks as did Pablo Paracchino outside King’s Cross later in the evening.

Italian percussionist Pablo Paracchino (centre) with friends jamming outside King’s Cross in London, UK.

Apart from using wooden drumsticks, Pablo’s views on bioenergy remain unknown. Year of the Dog, on the other hand, refers to the Chinese animal zodiac and China came up for discussion in several presentations during the day. However, there were other strays roaming around dogmatically barking up a number of wrong (whole) trees at the event.

Though few in numbers and geographically dispersed, the decibel level in cyberspace, Twittersphere and column length in newsprint of these self-appointed watchdogs has increased rabidly in a bid to ward off perceived intruders such as tree owners, researchers or policy-makers muscling in on their territorial claims.

Some ignore or avoid these strays for fear of being bitten wary of the health implications a potential bite might lead to. Some indulge and encourage them to continue barking up a specific tree in a deflective move to ensure that they are less likely bark up the tree belonging to the hand that feeds. Others bark back, though few have been won over by a barking contest.

At this year’s Argus Biomass, one such watchdog with an axe to grind felt compelled to “flashmob” action with primordial masks to be provided for “half an hour of elegant revelations” – thank you for the invitation.

Apparently, “the biggest industrial burner of trees in the world” was to be “holding court” inside the Landmark conference venue along with other, presumably fat-cats, banking on not getting exposed behind the luxury “greenwash veneer.”

Well, imagine the disappointment after grabbing the glitz. Despite having spent two days as opposed to half an hour, inside said luxury veneer and wood-paneled rooms, incidentally, the real McCoy and not some laminate look-alike, Sauron and a horde of orches from Mordor failed to appear. Perhaps Sauron was delayed, in disguise or was deep undercover – there is one more conference day to go to twig it out.

The bone of contention – rhetoric, innuendo, and sarcasm aside – are the divergent outlooks on a whole range of interlinked context-dependent issues such as definitions, carbon dioxide source and its “accounting”, forestry, forest management, harvesting methods, wood quality, the rule of (forest) law to mention a few. Some of these were topics on the first-day agenda, for instance, SBP certification.

To be perfectly clear, watchdogs are needed to voice legitimate concerns and, in the broader forest industry context, have resulted in tougher legislation, trade rules, and various certification schemes to mention a few. Furthermore, a stray can make a great watchdog, providing that it knows the how, why, what, where and who to bark at in raising that concern and the when to shut it and move on once it has been addressed – ethos, pathos, logos, kairos, and topos.

Being critical and opinionated is easy, being constructive about it to effectuate change (for the better) is that much more difficult. A precondition to any meaningful dialogue is establishing a same-page starting point with or without primordial masks, inside a luxury wood-paneled Landmark ballroom or in a Dogwood Forest (not to be confused with assisted living services in Atlanta)

Watchdogs that bark for the love of their own voice when proven to be out of tune or as a means of extortion are a disservice to society.

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