Carbon Credit Craziness

One of the methods that has been put in place to reduce global emissions of carbon dioxide is the idea of carbon credits. If your factory produces too much CO2, then you can compensate by purchasing a “carbon credit,” which is a promise made by some other entity that they will somehow make up for the CO2 you produce. So, the factory can reduce its impact on the atmosphere, not by actually reducing CO2 output, but by paying a nature reserve in Africa to plant more trees (which consume CO2 during photosynthesis).

It is sort of like a wealthy community that exports its toxic wastes to poor Indian reservations in the United States. In an effort to make it look like everybody wins, they point out that not only does this make their own community cleaner, it contributes economically to the impoverished tribe. They forget to point out that the tribe ends up with the toxic waste dump.

One of my coworkers left an article from Time magazine in the teacher’s lounge today that does a great job of tearing apart the concept of carbon credits, at least how they are presently implimented. The article is Limosine Liberal Hypocrisy, by Charles Krauthammer, and here are some excerpts:

Remember the Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore global-warming pitch at the Academy Awards? Before they spoke, the screen at the back of the stage flashed not-so-subliminal messages about how to save the planet. My personal favorite was “Ride mass transit.” This to a conclave of Hollywood plutocrats who have not seen the inside of a subway since the moon landing and for whom mass transit means a stretch limo seating no fewer than 10.

Leo and Al then portentously announced that for the first time ever, the Academy Awards ceremony had gone green. What did that mean? Solar panels in the designer gowns? It turns out that the Academy neutralized the evening’s “carbon footprint” by buying carbon credits. That means it sent money to a “carbon broker,” who promised, after taking his cut, to reduce carbon emissions somewhere on the planet equivalent to what the stars spewed into the atmosphere while flying in on their private planes.

In other words, the rich reduce their carbon output by not one ounce. But drawing on the hundreds of millions of net worth in the Kodak Theatre, they pull out lunch money to buy ecological indulgences. The last time the selling of pardons was prevalent–in a predecessor religion to environmentalism called Christianity–Martin Luther lost his temper and launched the Reformation.

I like the reference to the Reformation. Johann Tetzel was selling indulgences, which were certificates saying that said someone’s time in purgatory could be reduced, for a price. “As soon a coin in coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” Martin Luther responded by posting the 95 Theses on the church door, and the Protestant Reformation was underway. Souls cannot be saved with money. Likewise, a gluttonous lifestyle cannot be offset by poor people planting trees in Uganda. The article continues:

Sergey Brin, zillionaire founder of Google, buys carbon credits to offset the ghastly amount of carbon dioxide emitted by Google’s private Boeing 767 but confesses he’s not sure if it really does anything.

Which puts him one step ahead of most other eco-preeners who actually pretend that it does–the Goracle himself, for example. His Tennessee mansion consumes 20 times the electricity used by the average American home. Last August alone it consumed twice as much power as the average home consumes in a year. Gore buys absolution, however. He spends pocket change on carbon credits, which then allow him to pollute conscience-free.

What is wrong with this scam? First, purchasing carbon credits is an incentive to burn even more fossil fuels, since now it is done under the illusion that it’s really cost-free to the atmosphere.

Second, it is a way for the rich to export the real costs and sacrifices of pollution control to the poorer segments of humanity in the Third World.

Carbon credits, properly administered, could be part of the solution to increasing levels of atmospheric CO2, but the current system only eases consciences without actually doing much.

Grace and Peace

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