Wanton profiteering appears to be at the very heart of "carbon offsets." Put simply, a wide range of respected scientists, environmentalists, researchers, agriculturalists, and activists believe that carbon offsets are a "scam", "fantasy", "fiction", "nonsense", "fraudulent" and worse. And they've been saying so since 2000, though to read the newspaper you wouldn't know it.
Gore, GIM and Carbon Neutral
Al Gore's GIM works "with two offset providers (The Chicago Climate Exchange and the Carbon Neutral Company) to ensure our London and Washington D.C. offices are fully carbon neutral."
Carbon Neutral -- once called Future Forests -- has come under fire from various environmental organizations and activists. These groups say that carbon offseting "is a scam."
In June of 2000, the World Rainforest Movement Bulletin noted that the UN's Climate Panel had disappointed environmentalists by tacitly approving a "carbon market" that would generate profits for certain companies while allowing carbon emissions to continue unabated.
The panel -- the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) -- issued a Special Report on Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry (LULUCF). In May of 2000, the report claimed that an accounting system for trading trees or soil for industrial emissions was feasible. Among the authors of the report were numerous parties that would benefit directly from such an accounting system.
This report was roundly denounced by environmentalists:
|...How was it possible for the IPCC to produce such a report? ...one of the reason's for the report's failure is, sadly, surely quite simple: some of the authors (and the companies they work for) will benefit financially from having drawn the conclusions they drew...|
Future Forests and other carbon offset companies have an intriguing history that is directly tied to the UN, the IPCC, and its recommendations.
The Carbon-Offset 'Fantasy'
A UK-based environmentalist group called The Corner House, in a 2001 report, describes the carbon-offseting scheme and labels it a "fantasy":
|...The following "carbon equations", for instance, which represent the current market approach in microcosm, are cited in recent promotional material by the British tree-planting firm Future Forests [Ed: now Carbon Neutral]:|
* 7 trees = 5 London-New York single air tickets
* 5 trees = 1 year's driving of an ordinary car
* 2 trees = 4 pots of tea a day for 6 years
* 40 trees = 1 average home's CO2 emissions over 5 years
These calculations are part of Future Forests' invitation to individuals and corporations to become "carbon-neutral®". It doesn't matter how much fossil fuel you use, or what you use it for. Simply write out a cheque and the carbon professionals will punch numbers into their computers representing your carbon-dioxide emissions, plant the requisite number of trees, and watch over them for you...
Further, Corner House derides the idea that conservation steps can be traded for emissions to make pollution "climate neutral", calling it "nonsense."
How much for that Carbon Offset?
New Internationalist illustrates just how nonsensical the carbon-offset trade is:
|If the science of offsets were as well established as the companies selling them insist they are, then there should be little disparity between their estimates of, for example, a flight’s climate impacts and the remedy.|
* According to Climate Care, an Oxford-based offset company that has a partnership with British Airways and funds projects in the South, a globe-spanning trip flying from London to visit NI offices in Toronto, Christchurch and Adelaide and then returning to London would emit approximately 6 tonnes of CO2 and would cost $85 to offset.
* Another British company, the Carbon Neutral Company (favoured by rock stars), says the same trip would produce only 4.3 tonnes of CO2 and would cost just $60, which apparently buys 4 trees in Durham.
* An Australian company, Climate Friendly, asserts that the journey emits 11.63 tonnes of CO2 and would cost $195 (US) to offset by financing wind projects.
* Finally, Dutch offsetter, Green Seat, has determined that the flight will emit 8.68 tonnes of CO2, and would cost $180 to offset, which apparently buys the required 434 trees in Africa.
Thus, to offset a flight, the carbon-offset accounting geniuses have arrived at prices of $60, $85, $180, $195 or a maximum discrepency ratio of 3.25 to 1.
Now, that's science!
Carbon Offsets: a "fictitious" new market
Even earlier, in May of 2000, a presentation at the Agrarian Studies 2000 Conference at Yale University denounced the carbon offset market in extremely stark terms.
|...This [carbon-offset] market is being put together not so much by states as by a burgeoning international web of technocrats, multilateral agencies, corporate alliances, brokers, lobbyists, consultants, financiers, think tanks, lawyers, forestry companies and non-government organizations...|
...the [biological climate-change equivalents, or carbon sequestration credits] commodity to be traded in this new market is fictitious...
That's right. Fictitious. Further, the Yale presentation offers a series of stunning rebukes to the carbon offset trade:
|It's a striking sociological fact that the impossibility of constructing a non-fraudulent, standardized technical commodity of biological climate-change equivalents through plantation forestry has so far proved no obstacle to attempts to create a market which would make rights to that commodity privately ownable, transferrable, and accumulable...|
A fraudulent market?
The presentation went on to describe the interests of additional parties positioned to profit from this "fictitious" trade, naming the following "web of actors":
* Corporate Networks tied to mining and fossil fuels
* Industry-friendly think tanks and NGOs who act as facilitators of the carbon trade
* Consultants set to profit from brokering, managing and certifying carbon offsets
* Professionals such as genetic engineering researchers who might optimize trees for carbon absorption
* Plantation owners and their state backers who stand to financially benefit
* Forestry companies who have announced expansion plans to address the carbon offset market
The National Institute of Health defines a conflict of interest as "employees, consultants or members of the government bodies using their positions for purposes that are, or give the appearance of being, motivated by a desire for private financial gain for themselves or others such as those with whom they have funding or business or other ties."
The vested interests of the UN's IPCC Panel
Solar energy portal Ecotopia reports that members of the IPCC "...had vested interests in reaching unrealistically and unjustifiably optimistic conclusions about the possibility of compensating for emissions with trees... [and] should have been automatically disqualified from serving on an intergovernmental panel charged with investigating impartially the feasibility and benefits of such 'offset' projects."
The IPCC panel consisted of:
* Richard Tipper of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management (ECCM), a consulting company deriving revenue from carbon-absorption forestry projects. According to Ecotopia, "ECCM works closely with Future Forests... Tipper helped form ECCM some months after being appointed to the LULUCF panel."
* Mark Trexler, a founder of Trexler & Associates, a pioneering firm "poised to make millions of dollars by promoting and monitoring carbon sequestration and other 'climate mitigation' projects."
* Pedro Moura-Costa, an executive of Ecosecurities Ltd., a consulting firm specializing in the "generation of Emission Reduction Credits" from carbon-offseting activities. Ecosecurities has offices in the US, the UK, Brazil, Australia and The Netherlands.
* Gareth Philips of SGS Forestry, a division of the Societe Generale de Surveillance (SGS) of Geneva, the world's largest inspection, auditing and testing company. SGS Forestry derives revenue from its carbon forestry projects. SGS certifies Costa Rica's carbon offsets and "hopes to expand its work."
* Sandra Brown of Winrock International, an Arkansas-based organization which accepts contracts from "public and private" sources. Winrock "provides forest carbon monitoring technical services to U.S. government agencies and a wide range of private sector and non-governmental organizations. "
* Peter Hill of Monsanto Corporation, which has a "large stake in genetically modified organisms, including, potentially, organisms modified to take up or store carbon more efficiently."
The World Rainforest Movement investigated these bizarre financial ties and concluded that the IPCC report "must now be shelved due to their clear conflict of interest and a new report instigated which will be free of the taint of intellectual corruption."
A $10 to $250 Billion Fiction
Just how big a market is the "certified tradeable offset" business set to commence in 2008? The World Bank estimates a $10 to $20 billion market. That may be a pittance compared to the real value of carbon trading.
In 2005, Grist Magazine went further, offering that "carbon could become one of the largest markets in the world, with a trading volume of $60 billion to $250 billion by 2008."
Sadly, the entire "fiction" has few backers among serious scientists and researchers. The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), based in Laxenburg, Austria, evaluated Kyoto-style accounting systems and stated, "We cannot compare the effectiveness of fossil fuel with land-use change and forestry activities with respect to reduced emissions."
|This finding -- confirmed by both the Royal Society, the UK's independent national academy of science, and Canada's David Suzuki Foundation, as well as many eminent individual scientists -- is devastating for the Kyoto Protocol.|
It means that it's impossible to trade surface-level carbon -- in trees and soils -- for CO2 emissions from cars, industries and homes. The commodity which would be traded in such a market doesn't exist.
Of course, pieces of paper can be and are being exchanged claiming that some patch of wooded land "compensates for" some set of industrial emissions.
But in atmospheric terms, these documents are worthless. Buying and selling them can only further destabilize climate. With the Bonn agreement of July 2001, the Kyoto Protocol has lost "all environmental integrity". Any "confidence in the emissions trading system" is misplaced.
In other words, the whole carbon offset boondoggle appears to be a "fraudulent market" of epic proportions. It has been denounced by scientists, environmentalists, academics, and researchers almost continuously since May of 2000.
But it goes without saying that when you're talking tens of billions of dollars, you can be certain that Al Gore, Michael Milken, Tony Coelho and the mainstream media will be anything but disinterested observers.
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