Thursday, February 01, 2007

Bandwagonesque climate change

A recent article in the Herald drove home some of the pitfallsof joining the climate change bandwagon.

In fact, a number of bands and promoters globally have made a point of offsetting their carbon-emitting activities with carbon offsetting. It's worth namechecking a few of those putting their money where their ethics are: The Big Day Out concerts; Dixie Chicks, Pearl Jam, Rolling Stones, the Cat Empire, Coldplay, and Foo Fighters.

I mentioned this practice last month: when you've done what you can to reduce your carbon footprints, carbon offsetting is the last step. Generally, this involves paying an organisation to plant trees on your behalf.

I also briefly mentioned there were issues with this approach. One big issue is that it's all very well planting trees by proxy, but how do you know your payment will result in the carbon offset actually happening? Do the trees get planted? Do they get maintained so that they don't die? And is that offset in turn offset by land clearing prior to the planting? Problems have happened in the past on all these points.

In New South Wales, however, you can get government-approved Greenhouse Gas Abatement Certificates. The question may then become, how do you audit the auditors?, but in fact that's a great deal better than taking on trust.

But again, I said offsetting carbon emissions is the last step. Two very valid criticisms of this process are that

a) it can lead to complacency, which “diverts attention and funds from the more significant tasks of developing clean sources, improving energy efficiency, and reducing consumption";

b) it is akin to the rich “buying indulgences”.

There's no substitute for reducing consumption and increasing efficiency of energy use. Only when you've done everything else possible does carbon offsetting appear much more than bandwagonesque.

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