Wednesday, April 11, 2007

climate ba-stewards

Despite the terrifying predictions about climate change, despite the new IPCC report giving, for the first time, empirical data that shows the previous predictions were right, I'm still hopeful.

The radical social change needed is within our grasp. A deep and clear awareness is endemic. Direct action of a sort unseen a year ago is going off all over, blockading runways and just today another coal-fired power station was occupied.

The deniers are shrinking in number and being seen as the desperate and dishonest bastards that they are. The last great pillar of denial, ExxonMobil, has withdrawn funding from denialist organisations.

And in many ways we're outrunning the opposition. The new denials - saying that there's some easy fix like biofuels or carbon offsets - are being discredited even before they take hold.

So it's with particular anger I discover a new Christian offsetting organisation, Climate Stewards.

I've written here and elsewhere about why offsets are a fraud. But there are degrees of fraudulence.

Nobody can deny that low-energy light bulbs do, as the name implies, use less energy than incandescents. So an offsetting firm dishing those out - whatever we think about offsetting as a whole - is doing a better job than one that plants trees, an activity which cannot be called an offset.

To quickly explain: Burning fossil fuels adds CO2 to the atmosphere. Trees absorb it as they grow, then inevitably die and rot or burn, releasing that carbon. As Oliver Rackham said, planting trees to offset carbon emission is like responding to rising sea levels by drinking more water. Which is why most offsetting firms use energy efficiency projects these days.

Climate Stewards go with the cheaper, vaguer and utterly dishonest tree option however. They do concede 'there are risks such as fire and decay'.

Gotta love that choice of word, 'risks'. As if petrification or varnishing is likely to happen to most of their trees.

but beyond that, there is a simple and, when you think about it, very obvious reason why all offsetting is nonsense.

Your emissions happen now. A ton saved today is very different to a ton saved over a few years. The emission is doing damage in the time between emission and absorption. If we keep offsetting a day's emissions over a period of years, we can never catch up.

So, if it is to be a real offset, it'd have to save the emissions in the same timeframe as they're released.

If we want to offset a return flight from London-Malaga, we could give Climate Care money to dish out low-energy light bulbs in poor areas of South Africa. To offset 0.75 tonnes in the two hours of our actual emission, that'd be about 70,000 low-energy light bulbs. That's about £120,000 for the offsets.

When someone comes to me with a receipt of that kind for their flight, then we'll start talking about the injustice of letting the rich do whatever they can pay for.

Incidentally, for the London-Malaga flight, Climate Care reckon the emissions are only 0.38 tonnes and ask for £2.81 to cover the offsets. Which I estimate would buy the planting of just under half a sapling.

I thought that was really bad until I discovered Climate Stewards. They say it's only 0.143 tons and want a mere £1.43 to offset it.

The thing that really gets me about Climate Stewards though is their Christian approach.

They say

A fundamental part of being a Christian is the responsibility towards God’s gift of creation for this and future generations. Caring for the whole environment includes addressing the accompanying issues of poverty, justice and equity.


Aviation is simply unsustainable. Most people will never fly out of straightforward poverty. And if they did fly, the climate couldn't take it.

I've yet to find anyone who flies who doesn't emit way above a sustainable amount. So, are they paying to offset in the timeframe? No, nobody can afford that. In which case, they are being inequitable and unjust.

They are saying that humanity should emit within safe limits but they're going to take someone else's share without asking. Or they are saying we should all be allowed to emit what our money allows us to.

We certainly do need to address equity and justice. It means changing a lot about how we live. It can be done whilst still keeping warm and eating well. But personal car use has to pretty much disappear, and aviation is the one industry for which there is no alternative, it has to be all but eradicated. (Sounds really extreme, sure; but find me the sustainable aviation solution).

Until then, things that keep us flying whilst paying to plant a fraction of a sapling are things that bring catastrophic climate change closer.

Climate Stewards don't just do even less than other offsetters - saying activities emit less, need less money to offset them, and put the funds into schemes that do not and cannot work. They claim to be doing more, 'addressing the accompanying issues of poverty, justice and equity'. This makes them even worse than the others, the lowest of the lot.

And as they keep give plane users a clean conscience, keeping them flying at the expense of the climate, who bears the brunt? Last week we were told.

The IPCC report predicts that billions of people will face water scarcity and hundreds of millions are likely to go hungry, mainly in the poorest regions least to blame for spewing the fossil fuel pollution that scientists believe are driving up temperatures.


IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri expanded, 'it's the poorest of the poor in the world, and this includes poor people even in prosperous societies, who are going to be the worst hit'.

If, as he claims, the Abrahamic god is a vengeant god with a hell for those who commit misdeeds then he surely has a corner in Richard Nixon's room waiting for Climate Stewards.

They are our enemy every bit as much as the coal-fired power stations and the oil companies.

1 comment:

durruti said...

I wrote about another major source of environmental pollution on my blog that you may wnat to add in to the equation:

http://opnd.wordpress.com/2007/02/06/what-a-gas/

I enjoy what you say and how you say it. Keep up the good work ;)