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Jan. 17 - Award-winning Documentary, BURNED: Are Trees The New Coal? Premiers in Savannah on Georgia Film Tour

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Savannah Business Journal Staff Report

January 17, 2018 - The BURNED: Are Trees the New Coal? Georgia premier will take place in Savannah on Saturday, Jan. 20. This screening is one of nine taking place in cities in North Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia as part of the Barnstorming Tour of the southeast. BURNED tells the little-known story of the accelerating destruction of our forests for fuel, and probes the policy loopholes, huge subsidies, and blatant greenwashing of the burgeoning biomass power industry.

Award-winning filmmakers Lisa Merton and Alan Dater, will team up with Dogwood Alliance and the Stand 4 Forests GA campaign for the Savannah screening and Q&A.

BURNED has received high praise from a number of film festivals including the American Conservation Film Festival, where it won the Audience Choice Award, the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, and the Cinema on the Bayou Film Festival.

The film follows a dedicated group of forest activists, ecologists, carbon scientists, and concerned citizens who are fighting to establish the enormous value of our forests, protect their communities, debunk this false solution to climate change, and alter energy policy both in the US and abroad.

The subject peaked the interest of filmmakers Dater and Merton when they first learned about the biomass pellet industry in the Southeastern US. Every year, tens of thousands of acres of forest are cut down, turned into wood pellets, and shipped to Europe to be burned for electricity. While biomass is being subsidized as a renewable substitute for coal, the science shows that burning biomass from trees actually produces more greenhouse gas emissions per unit of electricity than the coal it’s replacing.

“After every screening to date, we have heard a chorus of incredulous comments from people who had no idea that southern forests are being burned to turn the lights on in Europe,” says Chris Hardee, an associate producer on the film. The filmmakers say one of their key goals is to raise awareness about the use of forests for biomass energy as a false climate solution. They also hope to move community members and policymakers to take action.

“The film’s release and tour are happening at an important time because policy decisions on both sides of the Atlantic are being made about how to classify biomass energy in the future,” Lisa Merton says. “Decisions we make about forests today will play a critical role in our climate trajectory for decades to come.”

Georgia has joined North Carolina and other southeastern states at the center of increasing international scrutiny around the wood pellet and biomass industry. In the past several months, resolutions opposing the use of taxpayer funds to subsidize the industry have either been passed or proposed in Georgia municipalities. Chatham County was a leader in this move to support and protect local forests with unanimous passage of a similar resolution last year.

The science community as also weighing in. In November, 100 scientists signed a letter to North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, urging him to address the threats that the wood pellet industry poses to forests, communities, and the climate.

“Georgia has an opportunity to be a real champion for forests and for the climate,” says Vicki Weeks, the Georgia State Coordinator for the Dogwood Alliance. “We are not only passing forest protection resolutions at the municipal level, but are also working to expose the true impact of industrial-scale wood pellet facilities on our forests, climate, and communities. Thanks in part to our work to raise awareness of the impacts on air quality, we have seen the largest plant in Georgia add an additional filtration system to their plant.”

The Georgia portion of the Barnstorming Tour will kick off in Savannah on Saturday 1/20 at the Coastal Georgia Center Auditorium with a screening followed by a question and answer session with the filmmakers. The tour will continue in Athens with a showing at the Cine Theater on Monday, 1/22, co-sponsored by the Georgia Climate Change Coalition. Filmmakers Merton and Dater will be joined in Athens by Dr. James Porter for the Q& A session following the screening. Porter is an UGA ecologist whose photos were featured in the critically acclaimed film, Chasing Coral. The Georgia tour will wrap up in Statesboro on 1/23, where it is being co-sponsored by the Georgia Southern University Green Ambassadors. The Barnstorming Tour will then move to Louisiana with a screening in Lafayette, at the Cinema on the Bayou Film Festival.


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