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G lobal warming has spawned a new form of commerce: the carbon trade. This new economic activity involves the buying and selling of “environmental services,” including the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, which are identified and purchased by eco-consulting firms and then sold to individual or corporate clients to “offset” their polluting emissions. While some NGOs and “green” businesses favor the carbon trade and view it as a win-win solution that reconciles environmental protection with economic prosperity, other environmentalists and grassroots organizations claim that it is no solution to environmental problems such as global warming.
Carbon trade works like this: an eco-consultancy that brokers environmental services conducts an eco-audit of a client and comes up with a presumably accurate estimate of how much carbon the client’s activities release into the atmosphere. Carbon is the common denominator in all polluting gases that cause global warming. At the other end of the operation, the firm scours the world in search of environmental services that could offset its client’s emissions. These services are usually forests and tree-planting projects and are known in the business as carbon assets or carbon sinks, because trees remove carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in their wood. The activity of these sinks is often called carbon sequestration.
Using a variety of methodologies, the environmental services broker arrives at an estimate of how much carbon a particular sink sequesters, and then assigns it a monetary value and sells it to a client. The client then substracts from its carbon account the carbon sequestered by its newly purchased carbon sink. The client is said to be carbon-neutral or climate-neutral when its carbon assets equal its carbon emissions.
The carbon trade is legitimized by the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement that aims to deal with the threat of global warming. The CDM is one of the Protocol’s market-based “flexible” mechanisms, which include emissions trading and joint implementation.
Two examples of environmental services brokers in the carbon trade are Climate Care and Future Forests. The London-based Climate Care is a non-profit organization that sells carbon offsets to individuals and companies and uses the money to invest in climate-friendly projects, like wilderness protection in Uganda, energy efficiency in the Indian Ocean island state of Mauritius, and small-scale hydro power in Bulgaria. Its corporate clients are mostly travel agencies like Ecotours, Whale Watch Azores, Nature Trek, and Andante.
The for-profit Future Forests, also based in England, says on its web page: “We help you to see how much CO 2 is produced by the things you do, and suggest ways you can reduce those emissions. What you can’t reduce, we can neutralise (or ‘offset’) for you—by planting trees that reabsorb CO 2 and by investing in projects that cut down CO 2 emissions, such as those which use renewable energy sources.”
Future Forest’s clients include celebrities like Pink Floyd, Simply Red, Kitaro, and film director Ridley Scott, and corporations like Fiat, Mazda, Volvo, Marriott Hotels, Tower Records, BP, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Warner Brothers, and Harper Collins.
However, some environmental organizations believe that the activities of these two institutions are no help to world climate, and they released a joint communique on this matter in May 2004.
communique included declarations by Heidi Bachram of Carbon Trade
Watch, a group campaigning to curb global warming: “We are
concerned that these companies are indirectly blocking the real
solution to global warming, which is reducing and finally halting
fossil fuel burning. The idea that people can burn fossil fuels
and then plant trees to clean up the carbon dioxide which results
is simply wrong. This false ‘solution’ will merely keep
people digging up oil and coal, instead of trying to shift to clean
“Pretending that a tonne of carbon stored in trees is the same as a tonne of fossil carbon ignores the very basics of the natural carbon cycle,” said Jutta Kill, director of SinksWatch, an organization that monitors projects claiming to neutralize fossil fuel pollutants. “There is enormous scientific controversy about how much carbon dioxide any given tree-planting can take out of the air, and for how long.”
“There’s a difference between planting trees, which benefits the climate, and planting trees as part of a program sanctioning further fossil fuel burning, which does not,” states Mandy Haggith of Worldforests. “It’s the difference between green action and green- wash.”
“To be able to say you’ve ‘neutralized’ the emissions from your car by investing in efficient stoves or machinery, you have to be able to calculate exactly how much of an improvement over ‘business as usual’ you’re making,” says Larry Lohmann of the campaigning group The Corner House. “But there are huge disputes raging over these calculations. Experts are coming up with estimates that differ by orders of magnitude.”
According to Oilwatch, “‘carbon sinks’ are not the solution and they will bring more problems, without solving the root cause of the problem. Like it or not the industrialized countries—which are responsible for the climatic tragedy that is occurring—have a great problem to solve and that is the reduction of emissions and the transition to clean, renewable and low impact energy sources. Only then could a solution to the future of the Earth and its inhabitants become possible.”
“The real solution is the conservation of energy, the reduction of consumption, a more equitable use of resources and equitable development and distribution of clean and renewable low impact energy sources,” states the World Rainforest Movement.
“Yet, while it is almost a platitude to say so, the political will of governments will be necessary. This is scarce, and when it does exist, it must face very powerful and implacable interests.”
Carmelo Ruiz is an environmental reporter. His writings have been published in Grist Magazine, the New York Daily News, E Magazine , the Ecologist , and other media.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.