Carbon Crusaders

Sick Site: Nothing is Perfect, but What is too Far? by ddelcourt
July 25, 2007, 7:21 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I recently ran across Carbon Credit Killers, a site dedicated to bulldozing and razing trees in order to “take away the pathetic excuse of Carbon Credits from those liberals who hide their shame filled lives behind money-bought lunacy.” I thought the site was a farce, run by the Onion or the Daily Show. But lo and behold, I am wrong. This organization sells carbon debits, designed to offset the carbon credits Al Gore and other “liberals” purchase to offset their footprint. I don’t want to give them any more publicity than this. Suffice it to say they represent an opportunistic, sardonic business plan that I despise. Enough.

Besides the absurdity of the site, this of course brings up the question of whether carbon credits are simply “feel good” indulgences for our environmental sins, or if they represent a positive ecologic solution to climate change issues. What it comes down to are two factors. The first, and most important, is whether these offsets are used to justify additional consumption. In the case where an individual has reduced to a minimum carbon impact level, then carbon credits are a method to take responsibility for their remaining footprint without abandoning house and car for nomadic living.

The second question relates to the carbon credits themselves. The additionality principle is often referred to. The simplest way of describing additionality is with this question: “Would these projects have been built if there were no credits?” If the answer is yes, then the credits are not additional and should not really be counted as offsets. For instance, if a forest that was devastated during hurricane Katrina was to be replanted, that forest should not be given carbon credits. Why? Because there is no added benefit. The forest before and the the forest after would have absorbed the same amount of carbon.

When it comes down to it, credits should be approached as an imperfect solution. However, they are one of the best options in the short term. What is not a solution is to do what the folks at Carbon Killers are doing, and try to rectify the issue by tearing down trees. What ignorance. Don’t agree? I’d love to hear why.


7 Comments so far
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While I think you will be hard pressed to find someone that actually
advocates the destruction of trees to make a point, I hardly think
that carbon offsets are an effective means of managing your carbon
footprint. A man who walks into a drug store and purchases a pack of
condoms is not congratulated for playing his part in not spreading
STD’s or unwanted pregnancies. He has to actively accept
responsibility and utilize the condom properly, even if it is a
lifestyle change or a sacrifice, before he has done his part. This may
seem like a bit of stretch when comparing the environment to
unprotected sex, but the basic message is the same. Carbon offsets are
way for well intentioned people to shirk their social responsibilities
and not sacrifice the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed
too. If you are not willing to make a decisive and drastic lifestyle
change for something that you believe in, you will never be able to
facilitate real change. If people integrate sustainable and
environmentally conscious practices into their everyday life,
eventually they will become instinctual and second nature, rather than
an inconvenience. When we allow people to buy a credit instead of
actively pursuing the most environmental route, we are justifying
their laziness and sending the message that it’s OK to cut corners
where the environment is concerned. I would rather see a little less
change now and a lot of change in the future. The money that currently
goes to carbon offsets would be much better utilized in a carbon
intelligence fund, a phrase that I’m not sure exists in that context yet, and the money obtained through it should be put towards the development of new sustainable technologies or the education of the next generation on how to properly care for our earth and halt the downward spiral we seem to be stuck in.

Comment by Abby Arisham

Abby, I agree with you that carbon credits can be a way for us to shirk our responsibilities to the environment. My question to you is the following: If a person already exhibits environmentally friendly behavior in their everyday lives, doing as much as they can, what is their next step to become carbon neutral? Solar panels, micro wind, geothermal, and other renewables are great but very pricey. A carbon credit, while imperfect, remains one of the best options to ensure that renewable energy projects are ever built in the first place. The Renewable Energy Credits associated with a wind farm or solar installation are an integral part in the financing of said operations. Without the subsidy from the REC’s, those installations would never be profitable and therefore would never be built. Change has to happen now. Awareness must be driven now. We can’t wait for the future because the damage is being done today. Hopefully, better technologies and tools for sustainability will arise in the near term, but in the meantime we have to apply those tools we have at present.

Comment by makemesustainable

I dislike the term ‘carbon neutral’ because I believe it implies something that does not exist. How many of the members of your site truly strive to reduce all of their carbon emissions? How many of those do you think will succeed? Furthermore, as you indicate, sustainable and environmentally conscious products are expensive. Why add to the financial burden by saying that in order to achieve carbon neutrality you have to be able to pay extra for it. Although it may not seem like much to you, for the struggling college student it could mean textbooks, or for an elderly person, prescription medicine. Sadly, life is not always tit for tat and the trade offs do not always equal zero. Consider for a moment an individual who has managed to reduce his carbon emissions significantly, although not completely. Instead of purchasing carbon offsets, he volunteers at his local YMCA two afternoons a month and helps set up youth recycling programs and shares his own sustainable tips and lifestyle with others. As a result of his actions, 150 children are able to reduce their own carbon emissions, take their ideas back to their schools and families and influence and implement their own environmentally conscious lifestyle plans. Is it better then to have 1 person with total carbon neutrality or 151 people working to reduce their emissions and influence others. The New England Journal of Medicine came out with an article the other day about how social networks can influence dietary habits. The friend of a person who becomes obese has a 171% increased chance of also becoming obese. That statistic is startling, but I strongly believe that it can be applied to actions other than eating, including ones with positive impacts, including environmental practices.

Comment by Abby Arisham

Comment by Pamela Benjamin

Dear Abby, (i’ve always wanted to write that)

I appreciate your spirited debate here, but to be honest I don’t quite get your point. I don’t think anyone would disagree that it is better to volunteer two days a week at your local YMCA and start a recylcling program there for wayward youth and ailing senior citizens than it is to buy a 12$ carbon offset, but those are two entirely different things. Most people especially those out of college do not have the time to volunteer or are not yet ready to make that commitment. While I think there are some major problems with the Offset market and the varifiability of where some of the money goes, in this case (Native Energy) I feel confident that the offset I buy through them has some real value, more value for my 12$ than a happy meal and two coronas (dinner of champions). Also when you make the analogy of the man buying condoms I wonder if you understand what a carbon offset is? It is not a pledge to alter your behavior, it is an investment in a renewable source. And no one is saying that “carbon neutral” which I agree is a loaded term, needs to be our ultimate goal, why not shoot for “carbon negative”? Ultimately I do agree with your most prescient point which I read as being that people gain more from taking action then they do from purchasing–more even then simply cutting back. When people start to take action they begin to realize that they are not sacrificing or doing without but instead taking part in a positive change. There is an opportunity here for us to step back and look at our lives, at each part– how we eat– how we move through our days– how we clothe ourselves–how we connect with eachother and our enviornment and reimagine all of that. We get to change our own peculiar worlds and that in itself is inspiring. Don’t believe me? Anyone who hasn’t rode a bike for years, try busting through midtown traffic during morning rush hour on your schwinn, cabs blaring, trunks honking, you get to work a little sweaty sure, but your hearts pumping a little faster and you can’t help but feel like you’ve come through something and out the other end, stronger, you realize your still tough like you were as a kid, we were all tougher then. I think its beacuse we still believed the world was ours to create.

Comment by adam

That Carbon Credit Killers site is crazy. Essentially, yes the concept of carbon credits is a moderate’s solution born out of the belief that everything has a value. It’s the belief of your average consumer–that everything has a price and you can, under restriction and within a limit, buy the right to pollute.

We’re talking about baby steps when it comes to effecting change on the industrial trends of the past… Well, all of _Western_ history, really, and carbon credits represent one of those steps.

Working with the mentality that the majority of Americans hold, carbon credits are likely one of the easiest ways to involve the general public and more importantly Big Business in sustainable practice, because it’s selling them a concept they are already comfortable with – consumption.

I would be very interested to know more about the accomplishments, or failures, and forecasts for carbon credits.

Comment by Liz

Looks like some hunting club in Arizona needed some money to pay for their land management. Anyone who would pay for this is a sucker. Instead of paying someone to plant trees for carbon offsets, why not plant your own trees? Build a house out of wood to sequester CO2. Build a wood picnic table or add a wood deck. Fill old coal mine shafts with wood waste. Remember that coal comes from wood. Yes, coal, oil, and NG are renewable, they just take a long time to renew.

Comment by Redding Holbert Jr.

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