Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Sins of emission

In today's Guardian there is news from the Blair camp that he will 'offset' his recent carbon burning jolly in Miami by paying a neat sum of £89.82. Is anybody else offended? Not that I have a problem with rich people getting more of what they want; but carbon credits to plant trees on an individual level is so ridiculous, surely it's one for the Tories?

And where does it end once you believe sins can be bought? Could you, for instance, get away with robbing Peter to pay Paul? Now don't get me wrong, I am all in favour of environmental reform and certainly don't need convincing that the current situation is one that will have us all eating soylent green by the year 2050, I just didn't realise we could buy our way out.

All of this guilt assuagement reminds me of an article in the FT (which I 'offset' with a read of Hello) a few months back about the sale of indulgences by the Catholic church in the early 16th century, whereby people could, in effect, purchase forgiveness of past sins by handing over enough money. Needless to say Martin Luther was not impressed, so why are we? Since when did we accept that the ability to buy retrospective forgiveness for sins of emission is a substitute for not sinning in the first place? Or put another way: the amount of sinning in Catholic Europe did not diminish with the invention of indulgences.

Sorry, Tony Blair, your Miami vice guilt is irrelevant: surely the only thing that should matter in offset schemes is that emissions are cut. By making the issue political you are allowing people to discredit an approach that deserves to be taken seriously. Now that really is a sin.

To check your carbon footprint click here. For cheap deals on designer holidays click here. Which will you choose?


Anonymous max said...

Hold on, people bought papal indulgences because they thought it would stop them going to hell. Buying carbon credits has a slightly stronger basis in fact. Sure, t's not perfect - see this, for example. And unlike some, it doesn't make me feel any better about myself.

But the point about collective action problems is that solutions have to start from somewhere. If carbon offsetting helps signal to politicians that there's an appetite for national or international moves on climate change, that has to be a good thing, doesn't it?

4:04 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Carbon credit schemes are eco-guilt relief for Middle England and image polishers for corporates.

Middle class people middle class problems and solutions.

But Max do feel free to give me the real facts if I am all wrong about the environmental impact of inefficient lightbulbs in afghani schools!

4:25 pm  
Anonymous Dave, a script writer said...

This sort of initiative strikes me as being nothing but surely symmbolic. Empty symbolism at that which strikes of New Labour. Please convince me that the sort of people who would be contributing to the rebuilding of Ugandan rainforests aren't the people who need convincing that the environent actually needs serious help.

4:29 pm  
Anonymous Gordo said...

Dear Tony Blair,

If one desires a touchy feely ecological approach they will vote for David Cameron. You don't need to make the decision this easy for them.

Gordon Brown

4:31 pm  
Anonymous honkman said...

Shut the f*ck up about your carbon footprints and do something real about the problem if you are so concerned. Buy an existing rainforest perhaps? What does a logging company pay for an acre of rainforest? What would it cost to talk some junglw ridden govt into a 99yr land lease? It surely has to be cheaper and have greater immediate impacts on climate than replanting rainforest somewhere it has already been razed and waiting for it to grow back in.

Or you could just plant another fucking tree.

4:37 pm  
Anonymous Ben said...

What surprised me after linking to the carbon site you gave us here CS is how cheap it is to buy offsets. In a world where the USA (in particular) calims not to afford action to reduce global warming it is increasingly hard to believe.

4:46 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As carbon offsets are not that popular at the moment I would have thought that the price is artifically low, particularly given the EU's allocation policy is generous. And this is also why I dont think they'll necessarily be a good investment despite my concerns about the price.
Good blog. Found you from the Guardian.

5:05 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's the Carbon, Stupid.

I am waiting for that slogan!

5:28 pm  
Anonymous Jamie said...

Honestly, I think this is a bad idea. Although it restricts CO2 emissions, it allows some people to emit carbon dioxide. Now other people will ask: "why are they allowed whilst we aren't?" I honestly think that no one should be allowed to contribute to global warming. Besides, why set a limit of _results_ when it is possible to actually counteract the _causes_ of the emissions? By "causes" I mean unelectrified railways and thermal electric plants.

5:30 pm  
Anonymous Sandra said...

I read an interesting book on this area not too long ago: Mayer Hillman's "How We Can Save The Planet" (2004, Penguin Books), which was called "A small classic on a big topic" by the New Scientist. Proposes a radical carbon rationing system. Could count towards anyone on CS's cultural detox diet :-)

5:31 pm  
Anonymous yelena said...

Ok, first I'll undercut my credibility...

I'm an American. (I'm a Democrat/I didn't vote for Bush/I don't eat babies...)

That said, I wish we'd adopt this proposal. It is utterly brilliant and has many ancillary benefits that make it more compelling than any alternatives.

Sorry to let the side down City Slicker!

5:32 pm  
Anonymous GenRegs said...

I love how you called it 'Waitrose worries' on the Guardian page. I am coining that one for all the fairtrade mugs out there!

6:38 pm  
Anonymous gayinbrixton said...

Sorry my footprint is crap. Thanks for hotels link I just booked up for Hamburg for a long weekend.

There are some great deals on there people: If you need a helping hand at choosing where to go to kill off the planet, check out Farol in Cascais, De Las Letras in Madrid and Klaus K in Helsinki from now until the end of April.

Nice one CS! Hope you get a trip soon darling.

6:43 pm  
Blogger ems said...

Brilliantly written CS.

Agree with Anon #1 - offsetting is guilt relief. I'm holidaying in Cornwall this year.

12:11 am  
Anonymous max said...

Well, it's good to see you all taking a stand. Doing something simple makes you feel a bit middle-class, so you'd rather feel smug about doing nothing ... I suggest you all have a read of this, then take a look at this. Our leaders need convincing to 'do something real about the problem', and worry that people won't vote for it. Even if offsetting is symbolic, it sends a signal. Right now, that's what really matters. Get over yourselves :)

11:38 am  
Anonymous Jen12 said...

Environmentalism is becoming a religion. A false hope founded on nothing bearing apocalyptic omens. We are all heading for damnation? Please, see through this. I agree individual tree planting is pointless. It is actually a scientific fallacy.

12:26 pm  
Anonymous honkman said...

There is simply not enough money in the world to offset emissions from flying. Combine all the treasuries and gold reserves and assets and gilt-edged security bonds of every country in the world into one big lump sum and you are still not even close. How much, for example, will it cost to put Bangladesh on stilts? What day-rate were you thinking of paying workers to carry ice and snow to the top of Kilimanjaro? How many laboratories with how many tenured research fellows before we fine-tune the gamma-ray that's going to zap the ice-crystal clouds in the upper troposphere caused by vapour trails?

Fossil fuels have to stay in the ground. Carbon offset schemes flatter the fallacy that we can continue pretty much as we are.

12:29 pm  
Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Excellent piece as always CS!

For my recent trip to Australia for two, I found that our emissions from this flight are: 9.17 Tonnes of CO2
The cost to offset this CO2 will be £ 68.75.

Now, of course, the fallacy of all this is that the flight would have taken place without me. But in my desire to be a good bugger, where do I mail my £ 68.75 off to, anyway?

5:26 pm  
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