Monday, November 30, 2009

A Sleight Of Hand


The lack of commitment to deal with the various aspects of the ecological challenges that civilization is facing is difficult to accept by those who believe that we are wise specie. But what if we are not? Could it be that we are much more interested in computing the number of angels that can dance on the top of a pin while the barbarians are at the gate? So much suggests that we have no interest in saving ourselves if that implies taking steps that demand change and sacrifice. I guess that in a weird kind of way we are in essence using a strange Cost-Benefit analysis that concludes that the cost of sustainability outweighs the benefits derived from it.
An excellent example to demonstrate the above can be seen in the calculations used to offset carbon footprints. The logic behind these calculations is simply astounding, astoundingly bad. Here is a brief explanation of how this is supposed to work. Large global corporations in the United States could buy vast areas of the tropical forest in Brazil for a relatively small some of money. Once the purchase is completed these international firms will send a group of consultants to number , measure and catalogue the trees in that “preserve” This would enable the owners of the forest, say GM, to estimate the volume of carbon that has been sequestered within the biomass of each of the trees. Some of the common estimates assign often 100 Kg of carbon to each tree. That is 1/10 of a ton and so if a ton of carbon on the exchanges is trading for say $20.00 then that typical tree has a value of $2.00. Furthermore we can assume that each acre has 400 trees and that the area of the preserve is 100,000 acres. The quick calculations show then that this preserve has trees whose value is $80 million of sequestered carbon. So why did GM buy this forest? Because GM is now in a position to claim a carbon credit worth 40,000 tons of carbon. GM can use this credit to offset part of its footprint or it can elect to sell this credit on an open market.
Did you follow the clever sleight of hand? The magic wand of the market created a certain sum of carbon and sold the right to a polluter. We convince our selves that we are polluting less when we are polluting more. Its sheer madness.

6 comments:

Suppresst said...

GM a polluter? Short of mandating that everyone in the world walk (and even cutting footpaths through the forests impacts the environment) name one product that can be manufactured to provide practical human transport that won't generate "pollution" as a byproduct of production?

Gus said...

Suppresst,
Since you have always had a fascination with truth then you should know that any and all activities are not environmentaly friendly. But that is not the point. If we truly hold our obligations to the future seriously then we have a duty to reduce our impact as much as possible and while doing so we must face the truth and not hide it as carbon credit and any other such creations whose only aim is to deceive.

Suppresst said...

Gus,

You wrote:
"If we truly hold our obligations to the future seriously then we have a duty to reduce our impact as much as possible..."

I agree with you on the above statement. What boggles my mind is you singling out an auto manufacturer as somehow exceptionally irresponsible by virtue of manufacturing cars.

Put yourself back 125 years in time, depending presumably on a horse for your transportation. Imagine yourself having children, all of whom are vulnerable to death from pneumonia since there is no penicillin. How can you construe the invention of the automobile as anything but a net positive?

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