Monday, March 05, 2012

Carbon offsetting: de rigueur or distraction?

A few friends have asked me for advice about voluntary carbon offsetting. Here is an edited and somewhat extended version of what I wrote to one earlier today. I freely admit that my understanding of all the finer points of this field remains somewhat shallow and so I am very open to correction, questions and further discussion (as I am on all my posts).

Voluntary carbon offsetting is the practice of paying money to organisations that seek to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions (usually at a set price per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent) as a way of reducing our personal climate impact. Voluntary offsets are somewhat distinct from offsets in compliance carbon schemes (such as national or regional carbon markets). The latter probably require their own discussion at some stage.

Voluntary offsetting is most commonly associated with flying, since modern jet-powered aviation is, per hour, the most climate-destructive activity open to the average citizen of the wealthy world.* I plan on posting some thoughts on the impacts and ethics of flying at some point in the future, though let me say here that I don't think that flying is an unequivocal moral evil never to be permitted under any circumstances. I do think that it represents one of the more difficult questions facing contemporary cultural assumptions and habits, not least because, unlike many other activities, few easily substituted alternatives exist.** It also represents, for those who fly more than once in a blue moon, the most obvious point at which significant carbon reductions can quickly be made.
*It may be surpassed by political careers that attempt to thwart responsible climate action, certain kinds of investment banking, or owning factories that produce extreme greenhouse gases such as HFCs, but such activities are not generally available to most people. The main contender for this title, procreation, is a special case since it involves the creation of a new agent.
**Airships anyone?

Some companies or events also choose to pay for carbon offsetting in order to be able to claim that their activities are "carbon neutral" or "zero carbon". Most corporate claims to phrases such as these will be based at least partially in offsetting, since most human economic activities are associated with a carbon footprint of greater or lesser size.

There is a lot of debate around carbon offsetting, some of it around the relative merits of different kinds of offsetting and some about the ethics of offsetting at all.

The tactics of offsetting: evaluating different schemes
Let us first consider the various kinds of offsetting programmes. It is worth noting at the outset that no options are perfect (indeed, some may be only slightly better than nothing, or even worse than nothing), so it remains the case that the only real way of being carbon neutral is avoiding the carbon-intensive activity in the first place. I don't have specific company recommendations (though am happy to receive recommendations in the comments), but I will offer a few thoughts. There are three basic kinds of offsetting:
Forestry schemes (i.e. tree-planting): The idea here is simple. Trees are made (mostly) of carbon that has been sucked out of the atmosphere, so as trees grow, they reduce atmospheric carbon concentrations. More trees means less atmospheric carbon. Well-managed forestry also has a host of other benefits, from supporting biodiversity and local employment to regulating and enhancing local rainfall. I would also include various soil management schemes here. In the past, some forestry schemes had very poor planning or oversight, meaning trees were planted in inappropriate conditions and without ongoing management and thus quickly died, representing a worse than useless investment. There is generally better accreditation today (or so I am told, though I'm not any kind of expert on offsetting accreditation), which is good, since any planting scheme needs to put appropriate species in suitable locations, rather than just plonking anything anywhere. Nonetheless, from a climate perspective, the benefits from tree planting are generally deferred for decades and are highly vulnerable to future changes. If the forest is cut down, or dries/dies out due to climate change, then the benefit is lost. So a tonne of carbon stored in a forest (or potentially stored in a forest in a few decades) is not the equivalent of a tonne of carbon left safely underground as unused fossil fuel, though it is still better than a tonne of carbon floating in the atmosphere and upper ocean. Technically, the carbon is not removed from the active carbon cycle, just placed in a slightly slower part of it.

Development schemes (e.g. supplying renewable energy to developing nations, or supporting energy efficiency programmes): These have many of the same benefits and drawbacks of other forms of international development. While the most popular renewable energy schemes often don't actually reduce current emissions (e.g. building a wind turbine for a settlement without electricity actually adds to short-term emissions), they do represent an investment in improving human flourishing (at least potentially, depending on many other factors) in a way that (hopefully) avoids future emissions (compared to a future in which the same development occurred with fossil fuel power). Probably the best kinds of scheme here focus on long term infrastructure investments with ongoing and self-reinforcing benefits. It is not clear to me that the developed world doesn't owe this kind of assistance to the developing world in any case, and so while voluntary support for good projects is worthwhile, I don't see that it equates in any kind of morally useful way with offsetting one's damaging activities elsewhere.

Permit retirement: These are probably less well-known than other schemes. The idea is for the offsetting organisation to use your money to purchase emission permits in open compliance markets (like the EU carbon market) and then retire them from use, preventing their use by other polluters and so shrinking the total pool of potential carbon use in that market. Though somewhat more abstract than the other options, the benefits are immediate and measurable - as long as the scheme as a whole is working effectively, which is another very complex question for another day (see here for an accessible animated critique of carbon markets).
In general, I would be very hesitant about schemes offered by airlines themselves, who have a vested interest in picking projects with very low prices in order to bolster the idea that the negative impacts of air travel are small. Many airlines have a poor or mediocre track record on selecting quality offsetting schemes. If you are paying only cents or a couple of dollars per tonne of CO2e abatement, then you may well be supporting something that isn't very effective.

The strategy of offsetting: should we be doing it at all?
Second, and more importantly, lying behind questions concerning the relative pros and cons of various offsetting tactics is a more serious strategic debate about the desirability of offsetting altogether in light of its effects on moral culture. On the one hand, offsetting encourages carbon emitters to become familiar with their footprint and take some kind of financial responsibility for it. Yet on the other hand, given that all offsetting options have drawbacks sufficient to render an offset tonne not equivalent to a tonne not emitted in the first place, then the practice of offsetting represents a potential moral hazard insofar as it hides this reality by implying a climatic and moral equivalence between them.

For me, the key question is this: does supporting a culture of offsetting distract members of wealthy nations from the more important tasks of actually reducing our personal footprint and supporting responsible climate politics internationally and in our own backyard?* While I think that offsetting can do some real good and represents a retrieval ethic (trying to salvage something good out of a harmful situation), offsets come a long way down the priority list and if they become anything other than peripheral to our climate strategy then they risk becoming another distracting tokenism from the real challenges. Offsets are not necessary a token effort if people are also facing the hard questions of reducing their personal footprint and supporting responsible politics. But much of the discourse around offsets treats them as get out of gaol free cards, justifying the activity for which the offsets were sought in the first place.
*By responsible, I mean political discourse and policies that take our scientific and ethical situation seriously. This likely means radical changes to our practices (or incremental changes that work in large increments!) in order to minimise radical changes in our climate and biosphere. I know of no major parties in the Anglosphere that hold positions I would consider responsible on this matter. I don't want radical policies; I want deeply conservative policies that aim to conserve the global climate in a recognisable form for our children and grandchildren.

Some have therefore compared offsets to medieval indulgences: a price paid for a clean conscience, which often functions to justify the acts committed in the first place. If my carbon-guilt can be washed away for a small fee later (or even preemptively), then my carbon-intensive assumptions can continue unchallenged.

In sum, I think that probably the best course of action is to reduce one's own footprint as far and fast as possible, to support responsible climate politics, to support thoughtful international development, and then to "sin" boldly (in Luther's phrase) without supporting a culture of modern day indulgences. Nonetheless, I'm not totally opposed to offsetting by those who do so in good faith, via a reputable and accredited organisation. However, this should be done simply as part of one's charitable giving to worthwhile causes rather than in any attempt to assuage guilt or achieve boastful self-righteousness through "carbon neutrality".

Finally, here are some links to other discussions of carbon offsetting that I've found useful (this list may grow in future, especially if people suggest relevant links in the comments).
Dark Optimism. Building the moral case against offsets, with cartoons.
African land grabs and carbon offsets. Stephen Leahy outlines one of the dangers of rich countries relying too much on paying poor countries to offset their emissions.
Cheat Neutral. A thought-provoking spoof on voluntary offsets. It is worth noting that adultery does not equate directly with carbon emissions, which are a cumulative, rather than absolute, evil.


James Ferguson said...

Hi Byron,

I agree offsetting is fraught with problems and we need to demand better implementations - I for one have been guilty of using the airline schemes and not asking the obvious question about how they can be so cheap.

However I find the argument about all offsetting being innately immoral quite flawed. This in particular:

"donating to Amnesty doesn't justify my doing a little bit of torturing"

is quite specious.

Emitting carbon is not morally equivalent to torture, nor adultery which I've also heard it compared to. We literally can't avoid emitting some carbon - breathing, methane etc - as oil company PR agents are so keen to point out. And humans have been emitting carbon throughout history, for most of it without any impact at all as the carbon was quickly reabsorbed. Nothing about that is analogous to torture or adultery etc.

Better analogies would be someone who litters but offsets it by paying someone else to pick up their own litter. Or alternately if McDonalds were to offset the health impacts of their terrible food by paying for customers to eat an appropriate amount of nutritious food.

In the case of forestry schemes for example accreditation schemes could only grant offsets based on actual carbon absorbed (trees grown), granting offsets for theoretical future carbon absorption is clearly weak accounting. And they could further only grant offsets for carbon that would not be released if the forest was cut down (which must be a substantial part of it assuming the wood was not then burned) unless the forest was locked in some sort of National Park.

I've raised the broader point on the Facebook group before that the parts of the environmental movement come off as wanting to use the threat of climate change as a stick to further their agenda including parts of that agenda that aren't required for climate action all at the risk of delaying or sabotaging climate action. Something akin to "In order to achieve tougher pollution regulations in Australia I'm willing to delay climate action such that X thousand additional Pacific Islanders lose their homelands and undergo tremendous suffering".

There is a legitimate argument about revolutionary change vs incremental change as you indicate, though my intuition would be with de Toqueville that incremental change inspires and unlocks revolution, and I'd want evidence to the contrary before attacking incremental improvement.

Moreover, it's not just a question of revolution vs incremental change. Carbon trading and offsets are market mechanisms that permit more efficient change (making the easiest changes first and sooner rather than later). It often seems the environmental movement opposes these idealogically - because of its tendency to ally itself with socialism and to favour command economics (bans and regulations) over market economics (trading mechanisms).

Given the urgency of the problem I'd want to "be all things to all people" and market mechanisms are what Western societies know and trust - they're harder to oppose.

Granted the existing 'first draft' implementations need to be fixed, but I'm not convinced that there's evidence yet that they can't work faster and as effectively as the command solutions.

byron smith said...

Hi James,

Thanks for a thoughtful comment that raises many of the important issues in this debate. My reply is intended in all respect and I hope stimulates further discussion.

The Amnesty example is indeed disanalogous, I grant. Even as I put it in, I felt hesitant about it. Littering comes closer, being a cumulative problem (unlike adultery or torture), though it misses the severity of the problem. As bad as waste pollution is (and there are a number of problematic outcomes besides simply aesthetic ones), it does not come near the scale of harm associated with climate change.

The McDonalds example is interesting because as I understand it, some of the harms associated with eating such foods are not nullified by some equivalent amount of healthy food. Similarly, there are direct harms associated with most combustion of fossil fuels that are not addressed by the removal of an equivalent volume of carbon from the atmosphere (mercury and sulphur pollution, habitat destruction associated with extraction and so on). My central point is that while most offsets programmes (esp well-designed responsible ones) do some good and go some of the way towards mitigating the harms associated with fossil fuel combustion, no offsets programme reaches a moral equivalence.

This is important, because you'll note that my conclusion is not that the activities that occur under the banner of offsets are useless and in principle a bad thing, but that they do not reach the level of achieving what they (implicitly or explicitly) claim - to render one's fossil fuel use ecologically or morally neutral. My critique was therefore of the (somewhat inflated) role they play in thinking and planning and in enabling certain accounting practices that (somewhat) obscure and minimise the net damages being done.


byron smith said...

Yes, better accreditation could help to reduce the gap between reality and perception, but never close it. Fossil fuel combustion plus new forest containing the equivalent carbon is not ecologically or morally equivalent to avoiding the emissions altogether. Apart from the non-carbon costs of fossil fuels mentioned above, the fact remains that carbon has been moved into the active cycle from the inactive (or at least very slow) cycle, and much of it will not be naturally sequestered back into the inactive/slow cycle for thousands or tens of thousands of years. Yes, it is better in a forest than in the atmosphere, but even in a national park, it is not nearly as safe as it is sitting deep underground. This is so not least because our current trajectory (which includes the assumption of growing offsets programmes) is, according to a recent NASA study, on track by 2100 to see something like 40 percent of "major ecological community types" (i.e. biomes like forest, grassland, tundra) switch to a different type, and all ice-free land areas are likely to see something like a 30% change in vegetation cover. That is, even with our present best offsetting efforts, huge areas of forest could be lost, and the carbon stored in them. National parks don't guarantee protection from drought or increased fires.

As for the CO2 emitted by respiration, it has its origin in food, and ultimately, photosynthesis in which CO2 was absorbed from the atmosphere. Thus, respiration is largely associated with movements in the active carbon cycle and is conceptually quite distinct from activities that transport fossil carbon into the active cycle. (We will leave to one side questions of land use change and the depletion of long term carbon stores in the active cycle associated with agriculture.)

parts of the environmental movement come off as wanting to use the threat of climate change as a stick to further their agenda including parts of that agenda that aren't required for climate action all at the risk of delaying or sabotaging climate action.
This is indeed a risk (and not just from the environmental movement - business interests hold the process hostage to a far greater extent over their often quite narrow economic interests). Nonetheless, we must keep in mind that (a) climate change is not the only deadly serious issue that we face (though not all issues cited by environmentalists are equally weighty, I freely admit) and (b) there is a genuine debate about the depth of social and cultural change required to address the climate threat at more than a superficial level. As I said in the post, I am actually in favour of incremental change (for theological and philosophical reasons I am quite suspicious of revolutionary thought); I simply believe that the increments required for an honest response to our climate threat are quite large! It is also an open question whether current cultural assumptions about contemporary hypercapitalism are compatible with the scale of changes required. Notice I did not say (as some would) that capitalism itself must go, but I do believe that it cannot survive in anything like its present form if we are to have a global response to our ecological crises that approaches anywhere near moral adequacy. Therefore, simply adopting the assumptions of contemporary market practices without further consideration (even out of desperation as the only tools available to get the job done) may actually underestimate the size of the task and the inadequacy of the tools currently at hand to meet it.


byron smith said...

And so notice that I am not here contrasting market solutions with command solutions, but speaking about cultural changes (see here for some of the changes I'm thinking of). I presently remain somewhat agnostic about the best policy path to support (not achieve, merely support) such cultural changes. But if we are to use market-based mechanisms, then in order to change cultural assumptions, they must undergo analysis and critique on the basis of how they might presently be reinforcing the very assumptions that got us into the mess in the first place.

byron smith said...

I've now removed the Amnesty reference as a distraction from the point being made.

My underlying point is not that emitting carbon is wrong in and of itself (as torture is), but that the practice of offsetting all too often and all too easily serves as a barrier to consideration of more important questions about reducing our dependence upon climate-disrupting activities.

byron smith said...

Mongabay: Possible fraud in a Norway/WWF REDD project in Tanzania. Of course this is a single example, though it illustrates one of the challenges of such programmes.

byron smith said...

New Internationaliste: Critique of offsets. This raises a number of similar points, though is from 2006, so the numbers may no longer be accurate (if they ever were).

byron smith said...

An acquaintance asked about the active/inactive carbon cycles reference on Facebook and I thought I'd record my answer here. Here is the question:

One thing that struck me after reading the part about forestry replanting schemes is what is the best way to take carbon out of the carbon cycle. You say that planting trees doesn't really solve the problem because it simply shifts the carbon into another stage of the cycle without really taking it out of the cycle. How do we take the excess carbon out of the cycle altogether, apart from pumping it back into the ground from where it came?


Answer: By far the easier, cheapest and most reliable way of doing so is to avoid bringing it up in the first place. Unburned fossil fuels have to be at the heart of any serious climate strategy. If we want to have a better than 75% of avoiding going above 2ºC by 2100 (which is still a very dangerous place to be, though far better than 3, 4, 5 or 6!), then we need to leave something like 80% of proven reserves in the ground (and cease all exploration for more).

Once it is into the active cycle, then getting it into forests and soils is still worth doing as it can delay the climate effects for some decades or centuries - or longer if the forest is preserved intact (though if we face dangerous warming, then no surface temporary store is really safe from biome change under a changing climate). Of course, improving soil carbon and forest growth both have all kinds of other benefits too, making them great things to do.

byron smith said...

However, to get carbon out of the active cycle on a more permanent basis, the most reliable natural way is through rock weathering. This is the main way that atmospheric concentrations (which have sometimes been well above 1000 ppm) have declined in the past. All you need to do is wait for continental drift to push up a few mountain ranges and then let them erode. The process of weathering includes a chemical reaction that binds carbon dioxide into the material that is then taken downstream and deposited at the bottom of the ocean. It only takes a few million years.

It may be possible to accelerate this process by selecting certain kinds of rocks, crushing them into a powder and spreading the powder over a large area. When done right, it removes more CO2 than is required to crush and distribute the rocks in the first place. Of all the various proposed schemes that attract the label "geoengineering", this is currently the one I feel least horrified about. But this is yet to be proven at any kind of scale and would not be cheap.

However, it may still be cheaper than carbon capture and storage (a.k.a. carbon sequestration, a.k.a. "clean" coal), which, in order to make a significant dent in emissions, would need to consume something like 1/4 of our coal burning to power the process, and would need infrastructure (pipes, wells, etc.) on a similar scale to the present oil extraction industry. And even then, this is *not* reducing atmospheric concentrations, merely lowering emissions, and so does not represent the removal of active carbon, but the immediate replacement of one form of inactive carbon (coal) by another (CO2 in porous rock formations). There are also questions as to just how inactive this would be: could the extra pressure trigger fractures and/or earthquakes leading to slow or rapid release of the sequestered carbon? That's still a somewhat open question. And then there is the matter of finding sufficient suitable geological formations. We know of many, but not nearly enough to make CCS cover anything like the present coal burning load (let alone future growth in China and India).

Another way that carbon is taken from the atmosphere is through gaseous exchange with the oceans. Yet it only goes into the top 700m or so (the upper ocean), and it remains in the active cycle, since any future lowering of atmospheric CO2 levels (for example, by crushing huge amounts of the right kind of rocks) will trigger release of some of this marine CO2 back into the atmosphere. And obviously, while it's in the oceans, it is lowering pH, a very significant problem in its own right.

Some of this marine CO2 is converted into organic carbon by phytoplankton, some of which will die and fall to the ocean floor, where it is somewhat safer. And very slowly (over thousands of years), the upper ocean is turned over with the deep ocean, allowing the movement of some carbon into the deeper seas (though this also brings the acidification problem to more marine ecosystems).

The bottom line is that there is no easy way of removing large quantities of carbon from the active cycle on a humanly relevant timeframe. CO2 is a ratchet problem: easy to raise; very difficult to lower. And so by far the best solution is to avoid putting more carbon into the active cycle in the first place by leaving fossil fuels unburned.

Matt Humphrey said...

Hey Byron,

long time since we've connected. but I still get the feed! I just thought I'd point you to one resource connected to my work with A Rocha and that is a partner project, Climate Stewards:

I take all of your points and the continued discussion about offsetting schemes. What I would just want to footnote on this is my experience of participating in Climate Stewards offsetting programs over the last 3 or 4 years. My wife and I don't travel often but being I married a girl from the opposite end of a continent, we do get back once a year to seem my family. Part of that trip now is logging in to the Climate Stewards site and donating towards their projects in Ghana and South Africa. It doesn't serve to 'excuse' our travel, just the opposite: it is a practice which makes us more aware of the cost(s) of our travel, more discerning in our choices to participate in these costs, and desirous to participate more fully in work which heals and restores.

I am currently working with a local festival that is aiming to be carbon neutral this coming year. We had a long discussion recently about whether they should participate in a carbon offsetting scheme to claim ' carbon neutral' for the festival. I advised against that sort of claim because I don't want this to be an absolution of guilt but an ongoing call to repentance. Getting 500 people to an outdoor festival for a weekend has many costs, no way around that. In lieu of cancelling the festival entirely, I think we can use it as an opportunity to speak of the costs and the myriad of ways we can address the costs. In the end, we are considering a donation to Climate Stewards as well as a local tree-planting action day, which will be paid for by the festival and hopefully involve many of its participants. Not an easy fix, not a top down scheme, but one practice which I think bears good fruit.

byron smith said...

Matt - Great to hear from you! I've been intending to be in touch and see what you're up to these days.

The approach you've outlined sounds like it is very much consistent with the kinds of concerns I was trying to raise in this post. I am not against all offsetting, I simply think that we have to be very careful in how it is discussed and "sold" and rationalised by users lest it become an all-too-convenient distraction.

Can you say a little more about why you support the particular scheme you mentioned? As I said in the post, I am no expert on the details of various schemes and would love to find a few that I can feel positively about.

byron smith said...

Inside Story: A clean energy future for whom? One of the most intelligent analyses of the current Australian legislation, getting into the details of which elements originated with the ALP and which with the Greens, as well as a useful discussion of the critical place of international offsets after 2020 in the overall effect of the scheme.

byron smith said...

A comment below a Guardian article by Ban-Ki Moon about the Rio +20 summit that I thought was worth including here.

Dr. (Hon.) Ban Ki-moon:

At Rio, more than 100 heads of state and government will join an estimated 25,000 participants to map our way ahead. For too long we have sought to burn and consume our way to prosperity. That model is dead.

The vast majority of these 25,000 participants will have burned and consumed their way to Rio, for example by flying long distances on jet aircraft burning liquid fuels from petroleum. That model, unfortunately for our future as a species, is very far from dead. I applaud what the participants are trying to do, and hope they succeed. However, I strongly suspect that despite having the best intentions, they substantially reduce their chances from the start by rejecting modern information technologies which can readily be made carbon-neutral in favor of the traditional (in fact prehistoric) method of physically gathering in one place to hold a conversation.

One long-distance return flight burns enough fuel per passenger to consume on the order of one year's carbon allowance under an equitable distribution. (Heads of state and captains of industry who fly personal aircraft burn many times more.) That is, if we accept even a generous target for climate change, work out the remaining fossil fuels humans can collectively burn "safely", and divide that number by global population and some number of decades in which to burn them, the resulting per capita allowance is so low as to virtually preclude any flying. Given that large-scale agriculture invariably produces some emissions, it will require some care for a person just to eat without exceeding the allowance. (Drastic reductions in foods with high associated emissions of production will be required, e.g. beef, pork, lamb, dairy, anything air-freighted, and many out of season fruits and vegetables grown in fossil-heated greenhouses.)

If the UNFCCC process should ever succeed in producing the global agreement that climate science demands, it will be very hard to keep the airports open until someone produces a credibly carbon neutral aviation fuel at scale (which probably won't occur for decades, although a binding climate agreement might motivate people to try harder).


byron smith said...


Although globally aviation accounts for "only" some 2% of total man-made greenhouse gas emissions (depending on how one chooses to weight the so-called aviation multiplier), it is one of the fastest rising sources due to the explosive growth in air travel (which far outweighs the slow gains in aircraft efficiency). More importantly, few activities do more than frequent flying to inflate an individual's carbon footprint. Thus flying is a definitive rejection of equitable sharing of resources. Each person who flies generates many times the equitable emission allowance, thus requiring some dozens of other people to do with even less.

Every other sector of economic activity which produces emissions faces challenges to reduce them. Even something as seemingly straightforward as adding insulation to buildings is difficult - you often can't give away insulation to homeowners. If flying gets exempted from doing its share to cut emissions, every other sector will naturally clamor for a similar exemption.

To solve the climate problem requires determined efforts from everyone who currently emits greenhouse gases, at every level from individuals, local governments, small and large businesses, nations, and the international community. When the people who negotiate the rules show no interest in abandoning one of the most egregious and inexcusable sources of personal emissions - flying - it becomes hard to believe they could be serious about negotiating the agreement that scientific reality demands. If they did reach such an agreement, they would have difficulty persuading their constituents back home to live within limits that they (the negotiators) refuse to live within themselves.

In the unlikely event that the author is reading these comments, I implore you to set up a technology team to virtualize these international conferences as soon as possible. The world must abandon archaic biosphere-destroying habits and embrace the future of efficient technology. Move bits, not bodies!

byron smith said...

Having said that flying in a commercial jet aircraft is the most climate-destructive activity open to the average citizen of the wealth world, I've just discovered that some places (at least in the US) offer rides in a fighter jet to paying passengers. My quick back-of-the-envelope calculation puts the emissions from this at something like 8-15 tonnes CO2e per hour. Wow.

(For perspective, an economy seat on a flight Sydney-London emits something like 3 tonnes CO2e for a 20+ hour flight. And an average Australian emits something like 18 tonnes CO2e per year (excluding imports, coal exports and flying)).

byron smith said...

BBC: Greenwash - a "carbon-neutral" airport.

byron smith said...

Leo Hickman: Should we stop flying?

Hickman gathers perspectives from a number of experts about the (increasingly common) claim that since aviation emissions are to be included in the EU ETS, then it doesn't matter if you fly, since the permits required by the airline to justify the flight will be removed from the pool and so you'll be causing emissions to fall elsewhere.

byron smith said...

Guardian: What's the best form of carbon offsets?

"you shouldn't "kid yourself" that carbon offsetting can somehow lead you towards a status of carbon neutrality. It patently can't. But that shouldn't disguise the fact that many of the projects that carbon offsetters support are in of themselves "good" projects worthy of our support.

"My problem has always been - and is, in all probability, likely to remain - that carbon offsetting is both a distraction and a delusion. Fine, support those projects, but do so because they are worthwhile causes, not because you think it is somehow ameliorating your carbon "sins"."

Great summary of my position.

byron smith said...

Science Daily: Land-Based Carbon Offsets: False Hope? Forest and Soil Carbon Is Important, but Does Not Offset Fossil Fuel Emissions

"There is a danger in believing that land carbon sinks can solve the problem of atmospheric carbon emissions because this legitimises the ongoing use of fossil fuels [...] These land management actions should be rewarded as they are an important part of the solution. However, no amount of reafforestation or growing of new trees will ultimately off-set continuing CO2 emissions due to environmental constraints on plant growth and the large amounts of remaining fossil fuel reserves."

byron smith said...

The Conversation: Carbon offsets can do more environmental harm than good.