The Stupidity Of The Carbon-offsets Programme

Vernon Coleman

When politicians fly off on their latest freebie holiday they respond to critics (who want to know why they are polluting the environment and adding to global warming, instead of staying in a tent in Cornwall) by claiming that they have purchased `carbon offsets' to balance their carbon `footprints'.

In 2007, the British Government said that everyone should have their own carbon swipe cards forcing them to take more care of the environment. (This will presumably not apply to ministers of their departments. Figures from the Sustainable Development Commission shows that Defra is failing miserably to cut its emissions. From 1999-2000 to 2005-6 its emissions rose 10 per cent to 12,600 tonnes. Mind you other Government departments were even worse. The Foreign office, for example rose 191 per cent in the same time period.)

Al Gore uses the same excuse as he flies around the world promoting the film which explains why people who spend all their time flying around the world are destroying the planet. When Gore found himself under fire for using 20 times as much electricity in his Nashville mansion as the average American, he defended himself with the same argument. He claimed he offset all his carbon dioxide emissions by buying green credits.

(Public figures all like to portray themselves as `green' and `environmentally aware'. When asked about the fact that he has three Hummer vehicles the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, announced that two of the vehicles had been converted to take ethanol. Managing to say this with a straight face must have required more acting skills than I realised he had.)

The European Union, the world's largest and most corrupt fascist organisation, has, of course, set up its own carbon trading scheme.

As you might expect, the European Union's scheme is of no benefit to the environment, the planet or you and me. As you might equally expect, it is, on the other hand, of enormous benefit to the large companies which are responsible for global warming.

Officially, the EU's carbon trading scheme was set up to encourage dirty power stations to switch to cleaner forms of energy. The British Government was, as it always is with anything which comes from Brussels, an enthusiastic supporter. Either because they are corrupt or amazingly stupid (or possibly both, of course) Britain's Government of war criminals made European carbon trading an integral part of their drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The two are not related, of course.

And in practice the scheme has allowed the dirtiest polluters, the companies really responsible for global warming, to push up their bills and increase their profits without lowering the level of their greenhouse gas emissions.

Even industry experts admit that the EU's carbon trading scheme has been a windfall which has allowed the big power companies to increase their profits by £1.5 billion a year.

You might have thought that if the EU really wanted to cut pollution it would have introduced strict fines for companies which produce a lot of carbon dioxide. But the EU bureaucrats didn't want to do anything quite so logical, sensible, simple or effective.

The EU's scheme gives permits to major electricity producers and manufacturers allowing them to produce a fixed amount of carbon dioxide every year.

Any company which reduces its allowed ration of pollution can sell its unused permit to pollute on the open market. A company which exceeds its allowed level of pollution must buy an extra permit to pollute.



But it gets barmier.

You will not believe how barmy it gets.

Anyone with functioning brain tissue between their ears would have forced companies to buy their permits to pollute. This would have given them a real financial incentive to reduce their level of pollution.

But oh no.

Not the EU.

The EU (supported and endorsed let me remind you by all three major political parties in Britain) succumbed to pressure from the polluters and handed out the permits free of charge.

The EU (the same one which tells member governments to charge citizens to have their household rubbish taken away) actually gave free permits to pollute to some of Europe's largest companies.

What the witless idiots at the EU presumably hadn't realised was that the minute the big electricity producers had their permits they would cut their output of electricity in order to reduce their level of pollutants. They would then be able to sell their spare polluting capacity to other companies. Having cut the amount of electricity they were producing, the big electricity companies were then able to put up their prices.

Double whammy!

A bunch of the world's biggest polluters made extra money by charging more for their electricity. And they made extra money by selling off part of their permit to pollute. (A permit which, remember, the EU had given them free of charge.) So, that's how the EU is protecting the environment and preventing global warming.

Makes you feel warm inside doesn't it?


Do carbon offsets really give politicians (and you) a good excuse for continuing to do whatever they (and you) like?

The idea of carbon offsets is that when you fly to Bermuda to stay in a pop star's home you invest in a project which either removes some carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or prevents some carbon dioxide being put into the atmosphere. There are now many small, and rapidly growing firms, offering a variety of such schemes (mainly, I suspect, to embarrassed politicians).

The British Government has announced that it is spending £3 million offsetting the environmental damage caused by the flights of Labour Ministers. (They have not explained why they didn't just keep them at home.)

Most of the people who `offset' are air travellers.

This is probably because itís fairly easy to isolate the damage done by a flight and probably because it is a fairly inexpensive way to feel good about yourself.

The truth, however, is that flying is a relatively insignificant factor in the production of carbon dioxide in the United Kingdom - producing only 5.5% of the nation's carbon dioxide. However, the companies which sell carbon offsets have targeted people who fly because they're easy to isolate and easy to make guilty.

Do these schemes work? Are they really going to make a difference?

The answer, I fear, is a fairly loud No.

Some projects (planting trees for example) would have taken place with or without someone paying a carbon offset `guilt' fee. As far as the planet is concerned nothing whatsoever is gained by giving the tree planter an extra fee for the right to his `carbon offset'. (There are persistent rumours that some unscrupulous individuals may sell the carbon value of their trees to numerous buyers.)

Since there is no register of who is paying for what it is perfectly possible that some slightly bent Arthur Daley character in some far off land could be selling and reselling the carbon offset value of the tree he planted many many times.

No one knows.

Nor does anyone really know the damage done by a flight or the value of a tree.

When the magazine Nature asked four offset firms for the carbon dioxide emissions per person of a return London to Bangkok flight they got four different answers - varying from 2.1 tons of carbon dioxide to 9.9 tons of carbon dioxide.

And, in practice, of course, the damage done depends on the number of people who were on the flight.

Fly by private jet and you are obviously doing far more damage than if you are crammed sardine-like into a charter flight.

Other projects which produce carbon offset brownie points (such as making biofuels) are at best worthless. (As proven elsewhere on this website).

The other problem is that it is pretty well impossible to carbon offset all the terrible things we are doing.

To offset the UK's annual emissions total of carbon dioxide we would have to plant and maintain for ever a forest the size of Dorset. Every year. And whenever a tree was cut down another one would have to be planted.

The Labour Government claims that other solutions include paying for energy efficient wood burning stoves to be exported to Nicaragua (how, pray, do they get there? By kite), installing energy efficient light bulbs in Kazakhstan, refitting low flow shower heads into showers and putting solar panels into houses.

Friends of the Earth is sceptical, pointing out that you might as well try `stopping sea levels rising by drinking a glass of water'.

The bottom line is that buying carbon offsets is just an easy way for well off politicians to feel good about themselves without having to give up their freebie holidays abroad.

And, it's a great way for people to make money.

There are now a number of carbon trading companies which make a living out of acting as agents for the industry.

In practice, the whole scheme is a load of worthless and irrelevant baloney which isn't going to make a damn of difference to anything. It doesn't make any difference to carbon emissions, global warming or peak oil. The only beneficiary is the daft sod who wrote out a cheque so that he didn't have to sell the Hummer or cancel the holiday to the Seychelles.

It's all a bit like the system of `indulgences' which was in vogue during medieval times. Sinners haggled with and then paid a corrupt priest a fee to absolve their sins.

Nothing changes.

Except that the planet is screwed.

And we did it.

Copyright Vernon Coleman 30th August 2007

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