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  • april.streeter 10:27 pm on October 18, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Carbon Offsets, , limits of growth   

    Why Wall Street Protestors Should Demand Carbon Cap and Trade 

    The Occupy Wall Street movement – is it an indicator of a coming Great Disruption, a la Paul Gilding, or just a visible manifestation of the more optimistic Big Shift espoused by John Hagel III and John Seely Brown in Thomas Friedman’s recent column?

    Gilding says our “growth-obsessed capitalist system is reaching its financial and ecological limits,” while Hagel and Seely Brown propose a Big Shift is happening – when globalization and the IT revolution merge to unleash a huge new global flow of ideas and opportunities.

    Maybe they are both right. So what are the protestors, poised on that thin line between the yin and the yang of it all, hoping not to get arrested, supposed to do?

    Agitate for carbon cap and trade. Yeah, it may seem like a funny thing to ask for when you can’t afford car insurance and a lousy bag of groceries cost $50 bucks.

    However, if we really are globally connected and unavoidably linked together, we need a piece of positive change that’s going to work for everyone from Manhattan to Mongolia.

    That’s where Gernot Wagner comes in. He’s writing a book called “But Will the Planet Notice?” that, among other things, tells the greenies among us that composting and going car-free is all well and good but isn’t worth a dime or a renminbi to Mother Nature.

    Policy change, Wagner is quick to note, is the only thing worth fighting for, and the only way to align the values of old Mama Nature with the self-interest of each and every one of us. Wagner, an environmental economist, details policy changes – on acid rain, and lead in gasoline – that let markets continue to work and solve problems.

    Perhaps that approach can work for both controlling climate change and leading us forward to a sustainable model of growth.

    If carbon has a price, and everyone, capitalist and composter, banker and bungee jumper, has to pay the price as they go about their business, the world becomes a different place. Everything changes, and it all boils down to this: If you pollute carbon, you pay.

    Of course it’s not that simple, is it. People have their grievances, their inequalities, their past injustices. Carbon cap and trade won’t recoup the money Wall Street ‘stole’ and redistribute it to me and the other 98.999%.

    However, it will make us stop blindly using and abusing our planet’s resources in continually chasing endless growth. All parents know kids need us to set limits, or they run amok, like the 9 billion-pound hamster. Setting up global carbon cap and trade seems like a logical first limit, doesn’t it?


    • christine 10:27 am on October 19, 2011 Permalink

      I know I am supposed to add something here April. But, what if I just agree with you? What if I just want to say, yes, that’s right. If you pollute, then you pay. If it’s expensive to do what is harmful to nature, then I and everyone else out there, will find a cheaper, i.e. less carbon polluting way to do things. As you say, easier said than done. Try changing anything in the American government! Try yes. Succeed? But we must try! We can’t give up.

  • Amy 2:35 pm on November 29, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Carbon Offsets   

    No easy way out 

    Some companies are taking the bold step of rejecting carbon offsets as part of their carbon-neutral strategy. Back in June, Yahoo, the world’s most visited home page, announced that it will no longer purchase carbon offsets for its operations, focusing its climate strategy on reducing the energy used by its data centers.

    Tesco followed in October with CEO Sir Terry Leahy’s pledging that Tesco would become a zero-carbon business by 2050 without purchasing offsets.  And last week, Responsible Travel canceled their offset program, saying that it might help travelers feel good, but it was not helping to reduce global emissions and might even be encouraging them to travel more. Justin Francis, the managing director of Responsible Travel, told The New York Times that carbon offsets had “become a kind of get-out-of-jail-free card.”

    It’s a trend worth celebrating. Carbon offsets were intended as a choice of last resort; in the past couple of years that has changed, with too many companies choosing to meet their commitments with offsets rather than focusing on a carbon-reduction strategy that 1) creates fewer emissions overall 2) cuts the unavoidable emissions, and 3) reduces the impact of company travel. Carbon offsets have also become a multi-million dollar, largely unregulated business. Just how many trees need planting to offset the emissions from a flight from London to Beijing? And by the time those trees are able to capture carbon, how many more long-haul flights will have canceled out their impact?

    What motivated these companies to move ahead of the pack? Maybe theycheatneutral didn’t want to be the butt of a joke by Cheat Neutral.

    Or maybe they realize there will soon come a time when public pressure, and government regulation, will limit the offset option. Buying offsets is not going to get us closer to our goal of making a substantive change in our carbon footprint.

    These companies have taken a strong position. We hope they’ll be transparent about how they intend to meet their carbon commitments without the offsets—so far, not all the cards are on the table.

    Carbon offsets have had value in making companies—and society—internalize the costs of carbon output.  Now we need the kind of actions that will really make a difference—and not just make us feel good.

    • Martin Wright 6:30 pm on November 29, 2009 Permalink

      If carbon offsets are indeed used as a ‘get out of jail free’ card, then they’re rightly maligned. But the unrelenting media campaign against them is in danger of becoming boorish and naive.

      To an extent, it’s all rather inevitable. Offsets had been overhyped for years – by much of the same media which is now queueing up to give them a good kicking. Some of them – the early forestry ones in particular – were always prone to accusations of flakiness. Many of them still lack a certain rigour (though if their impact is generally good, I’m not sure quite how much rigour we really need.)

      And – most important – it is of course always far more effective to curb emissions at source than try to soak them up later or stop them happening elsewhere.

      But the question remains: when you’ve cut your own emissions as far as humanly possible while still living in the 21st century, what do you do about the genuinely unavoidable ones? Paying for emissions to be cut elsewhere, particularly in a way which helps the rural poor in developing countries, is one way of taking at least some responsibility for the consequences of your actions.

      Taking that responsibility can even be inspiring. The sort of inspiration which comes from knowing that you’ve helped a woman in Nepal get a biogas cook-stove, say – so freeing her from walking three hours a day to fetch firewood from dwindling forests, and then spending the rest of her waking hours in a kitchen filled with enough woodsmoke to give her and her kids chronic lung disease for life. The inspiration which comes from hearing how you’ve enabled a Bangladeshi family swap their dirty, dim kerosene lamp for clean solar light. Or from learning that you’ve helped install a simple treadle pump which allows poor Indian farmers to grow crops throughout the dry season – so avoiding the need to uproot their families, taking their kids out of school, in search of sporadic work as day-labourers on building sites in cities far from home.

      These are the sort of projects, funded by small-scale, voluntary offsets, which can make a tangible difference both to carbon levels, and the quality of life of some of the world’s poorest people – none of whom, incidentally, give a damn whether it’s precisely balanced your emissions or not.

      Unfortunately, the “all offsets are awful” campaign is starving such schemes of funds – funds which don’t automatically get replaced from other sources. And tarring all offsets with the same brush isn’t neccessarily doing anything to cut emissions, either.

      Why? Because rather than drop offsets and take the train instead, many will use the backlash as a trigger to do nothing at all. Like those who smugly refused to give money to charity because they knew “the aid didn’t really get through”, they’ll now have the perfect excuse for inertia.

      Take your average Land Rover driver, quietly pleased that his driving miles have been offset thanks to a deal his company struck with offsetting organisation, Climate Care (who fund some of those projects I just mentioned).

      Then he reads that it’s all a con.

      So what’s going to happen? Is he really going to think: “Hang on, this offset stuff isn’t all it seems… I need to do more, much more”? So the scales fall from his eyes, he gives up his car, gets on his bike and stops flying to his weekend pad in the Mediterrranean? Get real, it ain’t going to happen.

      Yes, offsets should always be what you do when you’ve done everything else in your power to cut emissions (your own and other people’s.) But please don’t get caught up in the current orgy of political correctness which demands that we oppose them all on principle.

      It’s surely better to replace a single kerosene lamp with a solar lantern, than to sit there, principles smugly intact, cursing the darkness.

      love and lanterns, Martin

    • april.streeter 2:54 am on November 30, 2009 Permalink

      So should we or shouldn’t we praise the companies that eschew offsets? Is this just another way for them to greenwash? After all, in Tesco’s case at least, giving yourself 41 years to go carbon neutral means likely many of us and the people in power will be retired or dead by the time it’s time to see whether they’ve achieved the goal or not.

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