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Links (crossposted from my journal)

Article on why tree-based carbon offsets aren't a solution to fossil fuel consumption:
http://www.newint.org/features/2006/07/01/carbon-cycle/
In brief, it's because they only take carbon out of the atmosphere temporarily, and they may have other costs particularly when the carbon usage of developed countries is offset by single-species plantations in developing countries. (Our household's carbon is offset by Greenfleet, who plant mixed forests in Australia. And yes, I know it would be better for us to just cut out air travel, but that is not going to happen. So I think it is better to use a temporary partial solution than to do nothing.)

An alternative is paying countries which have forests to NOT log them:
http://www.climateark.org/alerts/send.asp?id=climate_rainforest
The link is to information about a petition to rainforest-rich countries proposing that they should be paid to ensure that the agreements exclude any industrial development. I found it while signing the petition below.

Petition to stop Gunns' stupidly huge pulp mill in Tassie:
http://www.climateark.org/alerts/send.asp?id=tasmania
This has a standard suggested text, which you can edit if you wish, and will be sent to Minister for the Environment Malcolm Turnbull, Opposition leader Kevin Rudd, Shadow Environment Minister Peter Garret, and a whole bunch of senators. Please send your concerns to Minister Turnbull before he is due to make his decision on the pulp mill on October 11.

You can learn what's happened recently in the fight against the pulp mill here:
http://www.getup.org.au/campaigns/latest.php?id=65
and if you're interested in reading a sordid tale of political corruption and intimidation of the press and the people, check out this article:
http://www.themonthly.com.au/tm/?q=node/512

Comments

Some years ago, Catholics who wished to atone for the sins but not actually stop sinning used to pay for "indulgences" from the Church. Their good deed of passing a wad of cash over to His Holiness was held (by His Holiness) to make up for whatever their bad deeds were.

This did not, of course, actually change any of their bad deeds. But it made both them and the Pope feel much better about everything.

It's always good to plant trees, and their effect, provided that they grow to maturity and are allowed to replace themselves naturally in the way forests usually do it, is most certainly permanent. But it's slow, whereas when we turn on our engines that's fast.

And slow absorbtion and fast emission are really what is causing this whole greenhouse gas problem in the first place. The fossil fuels were created over hundreds of millions of years, and we're burning them all up in a couple of hundred. That is, we're burning them one million times faster than they were created.

A tree takes about ten years to grow, while the equivalent amount of carbon can be burned in a car engine - or coal-fired station, or aircraft - in a matter of tens of hours. So you'd have to plant a shitload of trees to make up for your emissions. Otherwise, again you're putting carbon into the air a million times faster than it's going out of it.

It's all rather as though a person were saying that they could keep drinking without getting drunk, if only they could urinate fast enough to get it out of their system. And so the drunk stumbles to the toilet, puts his pint on the top of the urinal, unzips, holds on with one hand and sips with the other, and tries not to stumble.

Paying other countries to not cut down their forests does not offset any emissions at all. Only new growth can do that. In any case, the countries asking for payment for not cutting down their forests are ones where most of the logging is illegal. As much as 85% of all wood products from Indonesia and Malaysia were illegally logged. So they'll get money for not cutting them down, then cut them down anyway. If you think it good for us wealthy Western countries to simply give Third World countries money as foreign aid, then by all means I support that. But let's not pretend it's going to help the environment.

They best way to reduce the effect of our emissions is not to make them. "... that is not going to happen." And neither was it going to happen that the wealthy sinners of Europe were going to stop sinning... Too much trouble, really.

As to the Gunns' mill, well... do you use paper products? Currently, Australia exports woodchips to Japan for $2 a tonne, and they return it to us as paper products for $10,000 a tonne. As we keep using paper, we or someone else is going to have to keep logging wood to make that paper. Should it be us? Malaysian wood? Indonesian wood? It certainly won't be Japanese wood - their country is 64% forest-covered, and they're still the world's largest import of both softwood and hardwood logs. We can oppose all the Australian mills and logging we want, but Australians will still want wood products, so the logging and milling will still be done somewhere. Why should it be their countries getting the environmental damage and the money, and not ours?

The answer is simply to reduce our consumption of paper and other wood products. That's an answer remarkably similar to the one about carbon emissions.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Notice the one that comes first, we tend to forget that, I suppose because it's the one that actually affects our lifestyle and requires conscious effort from us, and occasional inconvenience.
Believe me, I know all that. I imagine most people in this community do. I thought that people might be interested in a couple of articles on how all carbon offset schemes are not the same. Perhaps I shouldn't have mentioned what my household does at all, but again, I thought it might be useful to people to know that some carbon offset schemes are available that are relatively good.
If you are able to completely avoid air travel, good for you. For me, and I imagine most of the population, taking an uncomfortable eight-hour bus journey at an inconvenient time for about the same cost as the one-hour flight to see my folks interstate is further than I'm prepared to go at this time. I am well aware that carbon offsets are not the preferred option in terms of the environment, but I am not going to change my habits because someone who doesn't know me or my situation or much at all about what I might do for the environment goes all self-righteous and compares me to a wealthy European sinner. (BTW, did you know that in medieval Europe there were only two days of the week in which a married couple were allowed to have sex for the purpose of procreation without it being a sin? Yeah, it was too much trouble alright.)

As for the Gunns' mill, yes, of course I use paper products. Of course I also avoid printing where possible, reduce size & double-side when paper use is unavoidable, reuse any single-sided sheets, use recycled paper and recycle what I've used. Funnily enough, I also don't buy cheap furniture that might have come from illegally logged Asian forests. I publicised this particular mill because a) I and most of the people in this group vote in Australia, not Indonesia or Malaysia, so we have more control over what the government here does; b) it's pretty hard for Australia to tell other countries they should stop logging their old-growth forests while we're logging ours at an increasing rate; and c) call me selfish, but I feel more concern and responsibility for some forests in Tasmania that I might someday walk in than some forests in Malaysia which I won't, because I'm avoiding overseas air travel...
I'm not suggesting you should or should not do things according to some abstract principle, I'm just suggesting consistency.

If your aim is to reduce your effect on the environment, then reducing your emissions is more useful than keeping them the same, then trying to buy into some offsetting scheme of dubious benefit. That applies whether you tell us about your flights or not. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Nothing in there about "offsetting."

If your concern about logging Tasmanian forests is the diminishing of their ability to act as a carbon sink, then you should certainly feel as much worry about Malay or Indon forests as you do about Tassie ones. The climate's a global thing, and requires a global approach.

Lastly, because of the global nature of the world, what we run into is the old principle that you shouldn't yourself do what you could not in all conscience recommend for the whole world. In this regard, have a look into "ecological footprint."

We in Australia are very much like wealthy European sinners of the middle ages. For example, while thinking about the efficiency of our vehicles and using biofuels, it's probably useful to consider that 92% of the population of the world have no cars at all. As soon as you turn the ignition or step into that aircraft, you're immediately in the top 8% of the world in wealth - and in emissions.

Now, if you don't give a shit about your carbon emissions and the global climate, then by all means, do as you wish. But if you want to claim a concern, then I'm simply pointing out that carbon offsets are not as effective as simply reducing carbon emissions; at best there's a delay of several years, at worst they have no effect, since a lot of the scehems involve plantation timber which will eventualy be burned off. Reduction is the better way to go.

I think that all you can ever ask of someone is that they act according to the principles they've expressed. I think it's fair to hold a person to the standards they're setting themselves.

"I want to reduce my effect on the environment, and this is a good way."
"Actually, if you want to reduce your effect on the environment, this isn't a good way, but that is."
"ZOMFG how dare you tell me what to do?!"

On the other hand, if you want to say that random strangers on the internet giving people advice about ways to reach their goals is wrong, well then I wonder what this whole post is about...

Reduce, reuse, recycle.
I'm not sure I understand the nature of your complaint. I KNOW that reducing air travel would be better than offsetting it. I said that. The point of my post was that if one had decided for whatever reason to donate some money to an offsetting scheme, that some are likely to have less positive effect than others. From my perspective, the conversation was more like:
"I want to reduce my effect on the environment, I have reasons for not doing the thing which I know would have most effect, but I'm doing this other thing which you might be interested in if you are in a similar situation."
"ZOMFG, you are an immoral idiot and should be doing the first thing".
Not so good for promoting change.

I know about the concept of an ecological footprint. I have made an effort to reduce mine so it's a lot smaller than most Westerners' footprints, though I know it's still way above the average footprint for someone in a developing country. I'm guessing you have too, and I'm guessing that yours could also be smaller - you're using a computer. (Of course I could be making a gross assumption here - maybe you access the internet from a computer made entirely of recycled materials and powered by an exercise bike?)

Consistency with one's own standards - I'm all for it. I'm human, I fail much of the time, so does everyone else. I don't think that disqualifies me from trying, or from taking part in conversations about trying. If we all had to withdraw from the electricity grid and the sewage and water pipelines to get our footprints down before we were allowed to post, there wouldn't be much information out there.
We always have reasons for doing or not doing things. I'm speaking of what's most effective. As on my blog post, the best way to reduce your drunkeness is to stop drinking, rather than paying someone else to not drink at all, or to lock the bottles up. But of course, any chronic drinker will have excellent personal reasons for drinking.

A computer and net connection is a trivial contribution to carbon emissions and pollution. The main contributors are not plastic bags, or standby lights on our tellies, or using cloth nappies, but quite simply transport, the transport of ourselves and the goods we get. So for example a dozen disposable plastic bags made in Australia have less impact than one reusable bag made in China.

Whereas my not driving a car and instead using public transport, and my consuming less than 1/10th the average Australian meat intake, those are significant changes. Transport's the thing to look at.

Worldwide, humanity consumes 4.6 barrels of oil per person annually - 15 in Australia, 25 in the USA, 7-10 in more efficient countries like Denmark, 2-5 in developing countries, and under 2 in impoverished countries. Of those 4.6bbl, 3.2bbl are used for transport of ourselves and our goods.

That's the simplest and most effective way to reduce your personal impact. Travel less, and buy things from close by, not far away. As this bloke noted about Live Earth,

"Live Earth also played strongly to another powerful denial strategy- the adoption of minimal and tokenistic behaviours as proof of our virtue. We are constantly encouraged to believe that we are ‘making a difference’ and ‘saving the world’ with small steps that, in terms of our overall emissions, have little if any effect."

Offsetting is more trivialising nonsense. Its aim is to convince wealthy Westerners to part with their hard-earned but not actually do anything different in any substantial way. They're cashing in on your desire to prove your virtue while not actually having the trouble of being virtuous. You're paying for indulgences from the Church of Offsets.

But hey, we each must do as we think rigth. So keep on flyin'.

(Anonymous)

transport isn't the thing, energy is the thing, energy production supposedly accounts for 50% of GGE while transport is somewhere between 8 and 25% (depending on how far back you want to audit).

If you think back along the line to what holds up the net connection and the production of computers and the energy infrastructure to support turning on your computer, then I think 'logging on' is much, much more than a trivial contribution.

Analogies can only go so far, if I pay someone to have cold showers instead of hot, then I have decreased their energy use, therefore the energy saved is mine to use.