Category Archives: Carbon Offsets

Carbon Detox: Time to Get Real

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It’s not easy to admit that something that forms the basis of our lives and our societies could be leading us down a path of destruction, disorder and incredible suffering. Our addiction to fossil fuels is a lot like nicotine addiction- we come up with a whole set of psychological mechanisms to justify continuing our current behaviour, even as the warnings are growing louder and the side-effects more irritating (and as someone who is struggling with giving up smoking I can relate, believe me).

How can we begin to take responsibility? Accept that our loving family flying from all around the world to meet for a reunion is causing extreme weather that is leading to the breakup of someone else’s family in the developing world? Accept that when I boil a kettle to make a cup of tea (although it is a minor impact compared with aviation) I am also part of the problem.

There are no easy answers- this is a rapidly evolving area where social norms and morality are struggling to keep up with the latest scientific findings. But it seems that a man named George Marshall, who is also behind the Climate Denial website and the Climate Outreach and Information Network has thought about this problem a hell of a lot, and has produced what I think is the most important book ever written on climate change, called Carbon Detox- Your step-by-step guide to getting real about climate change.

Important because it could actually make a difference where hundreds of others have failed. It’s like a self-help book without the dogma. A call to action without the guilt. And have you ever read a book on climate change that encourages you to drive a Ferrari Testarossa around a racetrack at 160 mph or race a speedboat off the coast of Cornwall? I didn’t think so.

I can’t find strong enough words to recommend this book– you should buy it for yourself and for everyone you know for the holidays. Request it at your local bookstore, or order it from Amazon today.

More on Carbon Offsets….

I had a good conversation the other day with Alisa Gravitz, the Executive Director of Co-Op America, regarding their promotion of carbon offsets. They do mean well, and it’s certainly good to get people to calculate their carbon footprints to be aware of their emissions. But I remain unconvinced about the merits of the offsetting craze. The offset industry in general tacitly endorses emitting CO2, and distracts people from a necessary behavioural and political paradigm shift. For example, the new online carbon calculator, ZeroFootprint,
asks you what kind of car you drive and how many times a year you fly- they assume you must own a car and you must fly at least once a year. I realize this is indeed the case for most of us- but in neglecting to consider the growing number who are eschewing  fossil fuels in the design of their web site, they are part of the big machine perpetuating carbon intensive social norms, thereby doing a dastardly disservice to the cause of climate control. As you begin to understand when you watch the cheatneutral.com film allowing people to ‘offset’ their sins simply leads to the temptation to sin, and on and on. Guilt is a powerful force for change. We shouldn’t be so quick to attempt to alleviate it.

At the moment I am busily preparing some transport policy papers, but in the meantime, enjoy some good links. The PBS documentary is not to be missed. The cheatneutral film and website was done by friends of my friend Lewis, who live in Wales:

 

CheatNeutral.com: the film

http://www.scenewon.co.uk/scene_movie.php?movie=485#

 

 

GREAT Frontline (PBS) Documentary on Climate Politics in the US

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/hotpolitics/view/

 

 

 

 

 

Just in time for Bike to Work Day:

http://www.driveyourbike.org/

 

 

Carbon Offsetting: Snake Oil for the 21st Century

 

OK I am really quite angry about this- I feel like a puppet being used to cajole people into buying carbon offsets, a phenomenon I agree with George Monbiot and others equates to little more than the selling of indulgences.

Just when I thought I had seen the last of the media coverage of my plane-free journey, up pops an article by Co-op America that uses my story to encourage Americans to buy their way to “carbon neutrality.” Many offset companies are preying on Americans who are suddenly becoming aware of the vast damage being done to the planet from their routine, everyday activities, channelling that fear and goodwill into corporate bank accounts, instead of making necessary lifestyle changes and pressing for political reform.

 

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of companies out there claiming to make your polluting life “carbon neutral.” There’s a lot of money to be made from green products and services these days, so it’s important to be skeptical. I have asked Co-op America to print a retraction in its National Green Pages, and online where the story appeared, and they have agreed.

 

As Monbiot says, “They are telling us that we don’t need to be citizens; we need only be better consumers.”

 

Here is the letter I sent to Co-op America on Friday:

 

Dear Coop America,

 

My name is Josh Hart, and I am the climate activist who traveled from San Francisco to the UK last year without flying or driving. I was featured in the March/ April issue of Real Money as part of your feature on carbon offsetting.

 

I wanted to correct several false assertions in the article. First of all I am really quite angry that you used my story to promote carbon offsetting, a phenomenon I consider deceptive, dangerous, and counter-productive to climate protection efforts.

 

In your article, you printed: “(Carbon offsets) help Josh easily calculate how much of an investment will result in a GHG reduction to match the GHGs generated by his share of the flight.

 

For the record, I have never used carbon offsets, and have never promoted their use by anyone. In fact in my initial e-mail to your reporter, Joelle Novey, I wrote:

 

“There is very little potential to make aviation sustainable. The only meaningful way to reduce the impact of aviation is to fly less. A lot less. Like 90% less.”

 

I am against carbon offsets for the following reasons:

 

1. By claiming that offsets allow you to be ‘carbon neutral,’ offsetting firms are as deceptive, if not more so than the church’s sale of indulgences in the 15th and 16th centuries- you could commit all sorts of crimes like incest and murder as long as you paid off the church to “offset” your sins. Now apparently you can not only ‘offset’ your CO2 emissions but your marital infidelity as well- see http://cheatneutral.com

 

2. Carbon offset projects do not undo the damage that flying and driving cause. To pretend that they do falsely relieves guilt, delays crucial behavior change and undermines political will needed to prevent a climate crisis of unimaginable scale.

 

3. Carbon offsetting is an unregulated industry that has no standards governing its operation. There are hundreds of unscrupulous offsetting schemes being set up and preying on people’s valid concerns about global warming.

 

4. A ton of carbon saved now is far more important to climate stability than one saved in the future, because carbon traps heat over time. This is not calculated in most offset schemes.

 

5. Trees planted to “offset” carbon may well die in their lifetimes because of the effects of climate change. Regardless, when the tree dies it releases its stored carbon back into the atmosphere. This doesn’t undo the damage, just delays it perhaps.

 

6. A simple test is this- if everyone “offset” their carbon emissions, would we be collectively carbon neutral? No- if we still burned fossil fuels, there is no way of stopping the damage that those emissions cause. As George Monbiot, says, offsetting is like ‘pushing the food around on your plate to give the impression that you have eaten it.” See http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2006/10/19/selling-indulgences/

 

 

Carbon offsetting, though often conducted by well-meaning individuals, is a deceptive practice and counterproductive to the urgent necessity to immediately and drastically cut our fossil fuel burning. To pretend otherwise simply allows destructive and unnecessary travel behaviour to continue by giving the false impression that you can be “carbon neutral” and pollute at the same time. This is simply not the case.

 

We need to do all we can to immediately cut our carbon emissions at the source- that means driving and flying a whole lot less. Period. That means cycling and walking for shorter journeys, taking the train or the bus instead of flying, and avoiding long-distance travel wherever possible in favor of local getaways. It also means buying locally grown or produced goods wherever possible.

 

I urge you to cease your support for carbon offset programs, and instead focus your publicity on energy efficiency, encouraging behavior change, and building a broad based political movement to press the United States government to embark on an Apollo-scale effort to cut our emissions. That is the only way we are going to get this problem under control.

 

We can’t buy our way out of this one, I’m afraid.

 

Sincerely,

 

Joshua Hart

UK or Bust: Endorphins, Flying Fish, and Burning Man Rant

Day 17

10:39pm Ponta Delgada – Portugal time

Location: About 400 miles southeast of Grand Banks (where the film The Perfect Storm was set)

Weather: 1.5 metres swell

 

 

After lunch, I went up the bow, and tried jump roping and dancing around while listening to my ipod playing electronica thinking about Burning Man which is currently raging in the Nevada desert.

 

Speaking of Burning Man, I was glad to read that a group of burners is attempting to spread awareness about BM’s climate impacts, and even make Burning Man “carbon neutral,” attempting to absorb all the carbon from the RV’s trucks, cars, generators and er….burning men. As things stand now, Burning Man, fun though it may be for those attending, is no fun at all for those whose houses and towns are being destroyed by rising sea levels and stronger storms resulting from all that carbon being emitted into the atmosphere. Creating a temporary city of 30,000 people, with all their crap, in the middle of the desert for a week, can in no way be considered low impact. In my opinion (and this might change if I ever actually attended) Burning Man is a disgusting hedonist planet destroying indulgence fest for those with nothing better to do over labor day. I’m sure my burner friends will send me lots of hate mail for this, but that’s just the way I feel. When oil prices rise, and the true scope of the climate crisis becomes clear, Burning Man in its current manifestation, will be over. Likely to replace it are a series of local celebrations of music, art, dancing and culture that don’t require long distance car, air, or RV travel. Why not move in this direction now, without having outside circumstances force the organizers hand?

 

As far as attempts to buy carbon credits, to offset emissions from Burning Man, I think this is largely bullshit. Trees are planted to theoretically absorb a given amount of carbon over the course of their lifetimes. However, climate change is already killing forests, and there is no guarantee that these poor saplings will ever get the chance to absorb the sins of Burnings past. The only way to realistically deal with the looming threat of climate chaos is to STOP OR AT LEAST REDUCE THE AMOUNT OF FOSSIL FUELS WE BURN. Oh well, at the very least, the Cooling Man effort will raise awareness, and could lead to stronger efforts in the future. Check it out at http://www.coolingman.com

 

And to be fair, groups like Burners Without Borders have done great work traveling to Louisiana and volunteering to aid Katrina victims etcetera. But it’s still better not to spill the milk in the first place rather than make heroic efforts to mop it up…..

 

So anyway, it was great to get some exercise. I’ve been lying around for the past couple of days, reading and watching movies, and I began to feel a little like a blob. After dancing around on the deck, looking very silly, I went down to the exercise room and rode the stationary bicycle for a half an hour, sweating like a pig as it was warm in there, being right above the engine room. It’s easy to forget sometimes how good it feels to exercise, and I feel sorry for the millions of people out there who are missing out on that great endorphin high, sitting in a traffic jam or in front of their TV’s eating processed food. Get out there and ride your bike people!!!! It’s fun!

 

Right now I’m sitting in the crew’s lounge, with a couple of very drunk German officers, and Warren, an AB (able-bodied seaman) watching a DVD of Shakira, drinking beer and celebrating Friday Night!!!! I saw flying fish earlier- thought they were birds at first, but they disappeared underneath the sea. Pretty cool…….I’ve never seen that before.