23 Feb 2007

Carbon offset is no solution

This is from Schnews....carbon neutral seems to be getting you all het up, either for or against...so this will be of interest

FOREST GRUMP

SchNEWS uproots the carbon offsetting myth

Where there's a crisis there's a cash-cow, and while SchNEWS has looked before at the stupidities of industrial carbon trading (See SchNEWS 514), it's time to turn up the heat on those firms at the cashing in consumers fears about Climate Change. This week activists from London Rising Tide occupied the offices of the Carbon Neutral Company (CNC), at the forefront of the dubious practice of carbon offsetting. Rising Tide had been invited to take part in the load of hot air that is the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change (chaired by CNC) - but sensibly they chose to barricade themselves inside the CNC offices instead. They left voluntarily at 4.30pm without arrest, meanwhile others had carried out an action outside the company's offices in Kings Cross.

CNC's stock in trade is exploiting western guilt about the state of the environment. People send 'em cash and in exchange trees are planted (or not) to offset carbon emitted by the now guilt-free paying customer. Does selling units of carbon amount to the privatisation of the atmosphere? Are customers buying hot air? We aren't talking small potatoes here - 'voluntary' offsetting was worth around £20m in 2005 and is expected to top £300m over the next three years. Maybe money does grow on trees after all....

CNC's founder, lifelong tree-hugger Dan Morrell (ex-video game importer, fashion retailer, night-club owner and advertising middleman), got creative when he saw the potential of the new market in 'carbon trading' - where in effect 'units' of emissions become commodities to be bought and sold. And who makes up his market? Rich people in high-polluting countries who feel guilty but want to be able to throw money at the problem. People who simply have to make that weekend shopping trip to New York, but don't want to feel too bad.

Morrell's latest attempt to cash in on the forthcoming apocalypse is media circus 'Global Cool', where such scientific luminaries as the Foo Fighters and Sheryl Crow line up to help make saving the planet sexy. He's even roped in Tony Blair to hold a celeb-studded do earlier this month in aid of it. Their slogan? 'sign up and save a planet' (see www.global-cool.com). And of course this whole enterprise is pushing carbon offsetting as a solution - Now that's synergy! Rising Tide make the analogy that if the planet was a running bath, full almost to the brim, then offsetting CO2 emissions is like saying "I won't turn off my tap. I'll pay someone else £10 to pay someone else £2 to turn off their own tap." This, of course, in no way faces up to the reality that just about every tap needs to become a mere dribble with global carbon emissions needing to go down 60-90%.

Even if the Carbon Neutral Company was planting the trees paid for, the whole exercise is next to useless. Desperate Dan claims that it would take ten trees to cancel out the carbon emissions of one US citizen for four months. So if the average Brit goes through six trees worth per four months - eighteen a year - do the math! To cover the whole country's emissions it would require a billion trees a year to be planted. Within 30 years the whole country would be completely covered in pines. At least there'd be no room for airport expansions...

Fluffily-named carbon eco-capitalists like 'Climate Care', 'Offset My Life' are offering similar cynical products Our favourites CNC were flogging this package for £12.50: a Valentines Green Box with some organic chocolate, a keyring made of recycled leather, and - get this - a certificate for one month of carbon neutral driving - where 325kg of carbon has been set aside allowing 1,000 miles of happy motoring. Bargain! Conservation charity Trees for Life were offering the chance to buy your loved one a dedicated Scots pine in Caledonia for £15 - or snap up the special two for £20 deal!

Run Forest Run

The Rising Tide occupation came the day after a Carbon Trade Watch report was published. "The Carbon Neutral Myth - Offset Indulgences for your Climate Sins," is highly critical of the offsets industry, arguing that not only are supposed climate benefits impossible to quantify, but that projects are also being imposed on communities in the global South with little consultation.

The report also explains how these companies are using number-crunching trickery to boost their eco-friendly boasts - similar to the profit-inflating scam pulled by energy-criminals Enron. The wheeze is called 'future value accounting' and in the tree-planting game it basically means that when your eco-merchants 'sell' you a tree, they do so on the basis that a certain amount of carbon emissions will be offset or neutralised - but the truth is that this figure is actually an estimate based on the tree's whole lifetime and what it may neutralise in the future if it stays healthy and reaches full maturity - in up to one hundred years time! Whether there will still be an environment suitable for sustaining that tree in a century's time does not come into the equation.

In addition, these great claims are made despite the fact that there has only been limited research into the actual long term benefits of tree-planting. "Carbon in a tree is not stored safely," says Jutta Kill, of the environment group Fern. "Trees burn, trees die down, there's insect infestation." Last year WWF, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace issued a statement saying they do not support forestry projects to offset carbon emissions and last month a new US study claimed that where you plant makes a massive difference to effectiveness -

Little independent monitoring is done to ensure that plantations are properly managed, or exist at all. Take the roaring success of the project between green rockers Coldplay and CNC where the carbon emissions from the production of their last CD was to be offset by 10,000 mango trees in India. 40% of the saplings died because villagers didn't have the water to support them, and money promised to villagers to maintain the trees didn't come through. In Uganda (and other places across the global South), people have been expelled from their land to make way for plantation schemes, while workers are paid below subsistence wages for toiling on the West's conscience-relief fantasies.

So in the end offset companies just breed complacency by selling 'peace of mind' to consumers. They are just another way of exploiting the poorest people for profit and only offer more distraction from the critical task of tackling our unsustainable consumption patterns and business practices.

1 comment:

mayank said...

Granted that not all (re)forestation projects are successful, infact only a small percentage are, and that the offsetting companies are more or less commercializing and promoting commoditization of Carbon "units".
But isn't that the point - i.e. to be able to present a financial advantage to the people working towards sustainable and green projects.
Plantation projects are anyways not the only possible offsetting projects, what about community based Biomass and biogas projects, which have return value and thus postive effects on the effected population.

Making a generic statement by out rightly dismissing offsetting and carbon credits is a bit misplaced. Under certain regulations, they can generally prove to be a good and effective step towards climate change mitigation. And very simple steps such as
- Demanding transparent financial transactions
- Choosing only certified or verified projects with community welfare

So instead of blasting CDM and CN one can incorporate these as a part of the molification upon climate change. Not saying that it should be followed as the first or the only measure but in conjuncture with reduction of carbon signature by working on lifestyle changes and by promoting such projects or their developers directly.