Category Archives: Carbon Offsets

Shades of Green: Guardian Takes the Green Festival to Task


The media loves a good conflict. So in a way it is no surprise that the Guardian (the San Francisco Bay one) has picked up on a growing level of dissatisfaction with the consumerist Green Festival, set to return to San Francisco in April 2010. In their article published December 16th, they covered our Cheatneutral shenanigans and also got some great quotes by the activist and author of Endgame, Derrick Jensen. I totally agree with what Jensen is saying here:

“Where is the overtly revolutionary material?” Jensen asked. “Where is the acknowledgement that capitalism needs to come down, or the discussion of the psychopathology of those in power? They talk only of alternative economies, but look what happened to every alternative economy — they get taken over and consumed by mainstream culture.”

It is this undercurrent of docility and powerlessness that permeates the Green Festival that is troubling. The assumption that buying a hemp necklace or a new water filtration system is somehow enough to halt the downward spiral. This is not a problem that requires tweaks, but a complete system overhaul. And increasingly, the Green Festival is looking like the greenwashed arm of that very system.

One thing is for sure. Carbon offset companies are vultures who are growing immensely wealthy by peddling a lie- that you can continue your extravagent western lifestyle and be ‘green’ at the same time. Here in the Bay Area it’s hard to go anywhere without seeing a “Terrapass” bumper sticker claiming “I clean up after my car.” These companies are guilty of false advertising and preventing real and lasting social change that is badly needed to respond to the threat of climate catastrophe.

If you don’t believe me, check out the blog of the Terrapass corporation, particularly their naive and ill-informed post praising Obama for his performance at Copenhagen.

Happy New Year everyone, and here’s to a 2010 of disobedience and confronting false solutions.

I’m off to the woods.

Copenhagen, The Shame of a Generation? Not if This Generation has Anything to Say About It!

As our representatives at the Copenhagen Conference descend to a new low, drafting secret agreements that exclude the developing world,  there seems to be a new peak of energy, creativity and determination being demonstrated by people through art, music, film, and simply putting their bodies on the line to demand climate justice.  Check it out below.  Do send in more examples and I will add them.

By the way, what’s up with Canada?   My Canadian friends have begin talking about moving to the US in protest.  O dear.   It’s all about the tar sands it seems.

Survival of the Fattest

If one piece of art can sum up what is happening at Copenhagen, it’s the one above. Jens Galschiot’s sculpture Survival of the Fattest depicts the developed world, represented by an obese goddess of justice, tipping the scales of justice as she gets a free ride on the back of the developing world, represented by a thin African man.

The inscription reads: “I’m sitting on the back of a man. He is sinking under the burden. I would do anything to help him. Except stepping down from his back.”

The Story of Cap and Trade

Annie Leonard brings her simple, no nonsense, and populist style to the seemingly complex issue of cap and trade, which forms the basis of U.S. climate legislation, and is (dubiously) supported by a number of mainstream environmental organizations like the NRDC.  Find out “why you can’t solve a problem with the thinking that created it…”

Having a Good Time…

A great song and hilarious video by Theo Bard, addressing the entitlement of consumption.  Theo was arrested for blocking a coal train around the time he wrote this song.   I love it: “if you’re having a good time everything will be fine…”

Become the Bike Bloc

This lot has energy and a creative plan to harness human power to resist false solutions at Copenhagen.  Their mysterious large device, pioneered with Bristol cycle engineering prowess, is being assembled at an ultra secret location in Denmark to prepare for actions on the 16th.

The Great Climate Swoop

In October, hundreds of people converged on the Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal burning power station in Nottinghamshire, England with one single goal- to shut the mother down.  This is one of an increasing number of direct actions directed at the source of greenhouse gases.  I was speaking with a friend who was there, and he said he saw the mass action as having been successful, even though the plant remained operational.   “At least now it’s pretty clear that they can’t build a coal fired power station without spending millions of pounds on barbed wire and electric fences in order to defend it against their own people…”  Rumors are that there will be an attempt to reclaim the negotiations on Dec. 16th.  I wonder how fast the water cannons will come out.

I don’t believe in global warming

This is a good one- hits the nail on the head “If I believed in global warming then all I would think about is global warming.” (as opposed to more important things like sex, presumably) Welcome to Planet Earth circa 2010.

Polar Bear

Produced by Plane Stupid, this is clearly a response to those cuddly and friendly appeals by environmental organisations to ‘save the cute polar bears.’  This video reminds us that climate change caused by aviation means a grizzly and sad end to these beautiful creatures, as seen in tragic new photographs of a polar bear eating its own cub. (Warning this is reality.  And yes even more graphic than the video)

Rap News: Lord Monckton Rap Battles Al Gore

The Australian outfit Juice Media have created quite the stir with their spot on, tuned in rap news- the presenter Robert Foster lays down the lyrics: “it’s tempting to cry victim when the system tries to curb behaviors, but are we the victims, or are we the perpetrators?

Carbon Offsets or Car Ban, Off Streets? A Tussle over the Meaning of Green

In the days leading up to Copenhagen, it seems that everyone has been talking about false market based climate ‘solutions’ such as carbon offsetting and trading. A couple of weeks ago, I cycled over to the Green Festival in San Francisco, put on by the non-profits Global Exchange and Green America (formerly Co-op America), to find out why carbon offsetting continues to be promoted as a solution, despite evidence that it can actually worsen emissions, and provide psychological cover for carbon-heavy lifestyles.

With this in mind, I put on a suit and tie, bought a half dozen helium heart balloons, tied them onto the back of my bike and coasted into downtown, red balloons flailing wildly in the wind as I flew down the Post St. hill.  The romantic descent was only quelled somewhat by a sudden waft of urine as I navigated around garbage trucks through the Tenderloin.   Luckily the balloons were hard to miss, and (I hoped) would act as airbags in case of assault by four wheeled death monster– an idea actually in development according to the blog Copenhagenize.

Why was I doing such a thing on a sunny Saturday afternoon in November when I could have been out riding on beautiful Mt. Tamalpais overlooking the Pacific Ocean?  Screw nature.  Forget love.  I was heading to the Green Festival obsessed with profit.  Yes that’s right.  My mission was to gauge American consumer interest in an innovative new product created by 3 young entrepreneurs in the hills of mid Wales.

CheatNeutral.com, the company created by Christian Hunt, Alex Randall and Beth Stratford, promises to ‘offset’ your indiscretions by channeling your fee to another couple so as to “buy” their fidelity.   The idea is that the overall ‘heartbreak, pain, and jealousy in the atmosphere’ would thereby remain stable.   Romantic candlelit interludes and carnal pleasure fests alike- quantified and fed into the capitalist system, a privatisation of the most private areas of your life.

According to Operations Director Beth Stratford, Cheatneutral is one of a growing number of ‘guilt management tools’ now being marketed to assist in the rationalisation of a whole range of immoral and selfish acts.

But would San Francisco, the sex positive playground of the West, the home of the polyamorous burning man hipster, the Lusty Lady and the Barbary Coast take the bait, buy the snake oil and pay to break their partner’s heart?  Or would it click that carbon offsetting is a dangerous distraction from the changes in behaviour that are now essential if we are to avert a future catastrophic crumbling of civilisation?  Perhaps both.

Eager to find out, the new San Francisco marketing director for Cheatneutral.com strolled into the giant hall with hundreds of exhibitors flown in from around the country, thousands of attendees from the Bay Area and the vibe of a giant Whole Foods Market.  My mission: to separate the sneaky cheaters from the loyal and faithful- to see whether the Green festival is really green– or just greenwash.

I handed out Cheatneutral Flyers, and explained the valuable service that we offered.   Past stalls with hemp dresses, organic lotions, yerba mate beer, and assorted green sundry, I plied the trade, and neither the humour (nor the serious message) seemed to be lost on people, besides a few who started inquiring about prices and who I had to hurriedly explain that it was actually a joke.

Walking down the hallway, I ran into none other than Gavin Newsom the San Francisco mayor who has had his share of embarrassing extramarital affairs.   A moment like this only comes along every so often.  I strode up to him, his handlers visibly nervous at the approach of this suited man with a walrus moustache grasping a bunch of heart balloons.  “Mayor Newsom, I’d like to tell you about our company.   We’re Cheatneutral.com and we’re proud to be able to offset your sexual indiscretions for a small fee.”   He looked confused for a minute, then smiled broadly.  Apparently, he has been waiting for just such a service.  He accepted the flyer, then continued down the hall, the gallons of product in his coiffed hair leaving a slime in his wake that would rival the Exxon Valdez.

I approached the booth of a company called “Brighter Planet” who sell carbon offsets- even allowing you to earn them for every dollar you charge to your credit card!  Talk about missing the point.

Here are the chilling words from their website:

“At Brighter Planet, we’re proud to be pioneers of a new environmentalism: one that is accessible to everyone, fits easily with one’s lifestyle, and is fun to share. We invite you to sign up and join our growing community!”

I had a genial conversation with the guys from the company- one of them couldn’t stop laughing, while as soon as I started taking pictures he became very huffy and kicked me out of their booth.    I guess it’s hard to admit that you are making a living by lying to people, making them feel green when they’re really not.

The day ended with a rap and ride by Fossil Fool, with his phenomenal new pedal powered mobile sound system:

“Don’t be greenin’ it if you ain’t meanin’ it

Only hurts the movement for those who believe in it…”

The Low Down on Offsetting
Offsetting isn’t going to deliver us a stable climate any more than clicking your heels together and saying “there’s no place like home”.  Offsets and other carbon trading measures simply allow the global rich to continue their unequal, immoral, and selfish appropriation of the Earth’s atmosphere.  Offsetting and other false solutions to the climate crisis need to be stamped out and ridiculed at every opportunity.

Put simply, carbon heavy behavior like excessive consumption, driving and flying need to become so socially repugnant that if you choose to engage in them you will lose your friends and everyone will hate you.  Period.  Full Stop.  It cannot be overstated the dramatic and tectonic- yet potentially sudden changes that this will require.

Guys who speed around in fancy cars must be deprived of the sex that presumably results from this primal macho display.  Nothing like starving Africans and flooded homes to extinguish a girl’s appetite.  But don’t worry we at Cheatneutral will compensate you for your flaccid moments with our Offset Project Program.™

Joking aside, bottom line is that we need to make this into a battle for individual hearts and minds- and that inevitably means behaviour shift as well.   For too long we have been afraid of confronting each other’s oil addictions, discouraged by green organisations petrified of “offending the motorist” or being seen as too marginal.

Yet a major intervention, with all the family and friends round, sitting us down, smiling, and telling us that things can’t go on like this, is now what we desperately need.  That for our own lives and happiness we should move back into the neighbourhood where we live, stop working so much so we can buy stuff we don’t need, get acquainted with our neighbours and ride a bicycle.  Doesn’t sound that bad to me.

A climate friendly world would be a better world- but not for corporate greed (photo: Ecotopia)

The implications of the science are far more radical and marginal (by today’s standards) than even the most rabid hairshirt hippie ever dreamed up in a haze of cannabis laced idealism.  Yet, it doesn’t seem to be translating into personal limits.

We need to put the science of climate change first- not our heavily ad-influenced assumptions about personal mobility and Victorian attitudes about our relationship with the natural world.  Let’s figure out how much damage we’ve done, what it’s going to take to limit the worst of it, how much carbon all six billion of us can safely continue to emit, and restructure our societies to allow that to happen.

I’m talking- if not cold turkey- then a pretty cool bird.   Using fuel simply to meet basic human needs, and to assemble infrastructure we will need over the long term, before the resource becomes unaffordable and out of reach.  A pre-planned soft landing, lifting our heads out of the thick tar sands of oil addiction and see the forest for the trees (don’t get excited Green America- trees won’t offset the Alberta tar sands!).

As I understand the science there may not be even enough atmospheric space left for the global south to meet their basic needs like food, water, clothing and shelter and for us in the North to meet our own, without taking unacceptable risks to our safety (sorry, Donald Trump, your flight to the Bahamas is not a basic need).

The battle is not so much political or economic as moral.   We are not powerless automatons, a society destined to perish in our own effluent just because some asshole in a suit wants to sell us the latest product.   Presumably we all have free will and determine our own course in life- the effects of propaganda aside.

If we don’t buy their shit, and don’t buy into their insane growth-at-any-cost worldview, then their climate-wrecking machine will grind to a halt just as surely as a car without oil will sputter.

Anyone who’s been watching ongoing international climate negotiations can say it with confidence.   Copenhagen will not yield a safe, sensible plan for climate stability.  Governments and the corporations propping them up cannot be trusted it seems with such a basic function as protecting life on planet Earth.

It’s time to drop the pretense that the plane and the car aren’t selfish symbols of a 20th century level of unprecedented personal mobility that we can no longer afford- personally, culturally, or globally.  We can no more neutralise the billions of tons of carbon that we are responsible for ejecting into the atmosphere as offset that selfish and ill-advised cheat that tore apart our lover’s heart.  Love is not for sale.   Neither is the atmosphere.

The credit for the title of this post goes to Zach Houston, who I found in a corner typing poems for people on an old manual typewriter at the Green Festival.  Cheatneutral inspired a poem:

the car ban off streets
will be the only true
beauty is not even
having to travel
because we can
already be
there by
thinking
green
growth can
some how
hold out
against
predatory
marketeering
of sarcastic
surface fix
for sale:
nature, used

Carbon Detox: Time to Get Real

detox.jpg

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.