What is with all this carbon offset stuff? You buy a plane ticket and, for a few dollars more, you can also buy carbon offset credits so that you can claim you’re not damaging the environment and you’re now net-zero. Right? Wrong! This whole thing is a joke on many levels. We don’t need net-zero, we need net-negative offsetting (and it has to be real offsetting).
One of the main problems us humans have created in the last 200-300 years is a dangerous over concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. It’s an urgent situation. The current levels of CO2 (and other “greenhouse” gases) are already acting like a blanket we’ve put around the Earth. It’s making our world hotter and hotter now as the years go by. The big problem is that we can’t just throw off this blanket. It’s a really hard thing to remove.
The first thing we should be thinking about it stopping adding more layers to this blanket. That is, stopping the addition of further greenhouse gases. Stopping further pollution. That’s going to be hard as our major economies are built directly on energy sources that cause this atmospheric pollution, but that doesn’t mean that finding a way to stop the pollution wouldn’t be very beneficial to us in the mid-term.
Now, let’s get back to that plane ticket and carbon offsetting. Every time we fly a plane we’re adding to the blanket that we’ve been creating around the Earth, and that means the Earth is going to get progressively hotter and hotter. We should be encouraging people not to fly (among a lot of other things of course) but by saying that you can buy carbon offsets and everything is just dandy, we’re not reducing the number of flights, we might be increasing them!
Of course, people who want to sell the flights, are going to say that buy purchasing the carbon offsets you’re actually absorbing the amount of CO2 you’re emitting, so it’s net-zero. Hmm. Even is the carbon offsets really worked (more on that in a moment), wouldn’t it be better to buy the carbon offsets AND not fly as well. Then we’d actually be helping to remove some of the blanket rather than just be happy to leave it there.
We should be trying to reduce the thickness of the blanket that’s heating the Earth. That would be good for us and our kids and their kids (and, importantly, for all the amazingly biodiverse life on this planet). The idea of net-zero is almost like saying “screw you” to our grand-children. Net-zero doesn’t cut it. We have to reduce the blanket. What has happened over the past 20 years? The blanket has increased every year in spite of net-zero, carbon offsets, COP meetings and all the crap that comes from politician’s mouths about how well their country is doing.
For the most part, carbon offset schemes are like magic tricks. They’re trying to get to to “look here” while the the other hand is doing something bad. Most carbon offset schemes don’t work. Wrong trees planted in the wrong place, they die or get washed away by floods, but some company got carbon offset credits at the start before it could even be verified that carbon was actually offset. What a scam. Don’t believe anything about carbon offsets. Some might work for sure, but the safest option is to assume they don’t work. Full stop.
If companies are going to use carbon offsets to justify their pollution, the carbon offsets should be very heavily verified. None of this saying that they planted trees somewhere, who knows where? In fact, if you ask questions like where did you plant trees and when, they’ll normally say they don’t know and that they’re working through another company. Then, if you ask that company, they’ll say that they work through several other companies to achieve the offsetting. Often, you’ll find that someone has bought some papers saying offsetting has been done, but nobody knows where, how and if it really worked (it often doesn’t!).
What I’d like to see is that for polluting activities (like flying, but I’m not trying to pick completely on flying – there are many polluting activities, of course – notably shipping, concrete, steel and animal agriculture) that net-zero is not acceptable, and the activity should be completely negatively offset. Let’s say the flight created 100 tonnes of CO2 pollution – I’d like to see a law that said all flights need to be negatively offset so that the result is -100 tonnes of CO2 pollution. Each flight means that 100 tonnes of pollution is being removed from the atmosphere. This can only happen with effective carbon offsetting schemes, but these should be heavily regulated. No scams. This would make polluting activities more expensive, but that’s fine. It’s actually a good way for the polluting activities to pay for the clean up of the atmosphere that’s required.
What would happen when we fill up a car with fuel? That’s a polluting activity (although much less than a flight). Under the scheme mentioned above, the company selling it to you would have to purchase carbon offsets (real ones!) that would negatively offset the carbon you will emit by burning their product. If the fuel you bought would release, say, 20 kgs of CO2, there would have to be 40 kgs of offsetting to achieve -20 kg of reduction in the atmosphere. How much more expensive would this make fuel, I don’t know. This will always be the main counter argument.
A negative offset scheme like this would be great, but it has the potential to affect people on the lowest income the most and that’s not fair. However, that’s easy to manage if there is the political will. We could simply reduce the tax on lower incomes. Or, maybe even better, we could give rebates on the first, let’s say, 1000 litres of fuel, of the first 2 flights per year. That way, people who don’t use much don’t have to pay so much and it’s the heavy users who have to pay the most. In any case, it could be managed without having too much of a negative impact on the people with less money.
Until I see a government introduce plans like this I will have to assume they are not serious (I don’t see any serious government in the world today – if there is one, please let me know). Net-zero just isn’t good enough really and a bit of a joke. Carbon offsetting is, for the most part, a joke. The fact that CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have been going up for the last 20 years is a (very sad) joke. All the COP meetings have reduced how much they’ve gone up, but they’ve still gone up! Essentially, that’s a fail! What are we going to tell our grandchildren? Let’s say we started the negative offsetting movement. That’s just about the only thing that might get some respect from them.
Related Links – Net-zero is not enough – we need net-negative
- Net Zero Is No Longer Enough – It’s Time For Net Negative, Policy Coherence And Robust ESG – Forbes
- Revealed: more than 90% of rainforest carbon offsets by biggest certifier are worthless, analysis shows – The Guardian
- Australia’s carbon credit scheme ‘largely a sham’, says whistleblower who tried to rein it in – The Guardian
- The Great Cash-for-Carbon Hustle – The New Yorker
- Extinction of convenience – from use10percentless.com
- Lockdown and Private Jets – from peterwhiting.net