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Friday, 1 June 2007

Carbonsplifferous [Am]

The climate. You know it’s really serious when the US starts agreeing to finding targets for emissions. If you weren’t frightened before, which you should have been, I reckon it’s proper frightening that they’ve turned round the mother of all self-denials.
Anyway. It’s happening and stuff has got to get done. I think I’ll probably kill myself the first time I see Fiona Philip’s revoltingly sincere gormless face talking about how we all need to do better but so be it if the populace will listen. Morons.
And as for carbon approbation, the Lurker has discontinued referencing me as ‘G-Man’, swapping it out for ‘C-Man’ which is slightly distressing, if only for the fact that I can’t launch headcrabs at him any more. Now, we’ve all established that actually children are a major contributor of lifetime carbon, so in fact the real crim is Slim with 3 and KV with 7, albeit by different mothers, however the Lurker is obviously poking a little bit on my 3.2 litre car which I do 600 miles a week in (sorry) and Chateau Amnesia.
So obviously the real deal is to use less energy and lack of heating in the east wing may help but more has to be done. To this end I will be swapping to train when the new lines come in. I may also well end up getting a hybrid for a motor although one has to note problems with certain levels of hypocrisy and lack of detail here. The Lexus 430h may be hybrid and therefore is Congestion Charge free in London but puts out several times more emissions than a little Smart Car which has to pay it. This is pretty basic stuff which TfL should get right, right?
Moreover there is a lack of accurate data on the whole-of-life carbon contributions of products in general. Ok your Prius may do a lot of miles but just how much did it take to make the batteries etc? You could do whole blogs on these individual issues so I’m not going into detail here but it means that choices are not as clear as they should be.
And then, since I do have a larger house and a larger car, although we recycle, I wanted to make some effort to address the stuff that we do inevitably put out. Even if I reduce by a quarter (which would be huge) I’m still putting out 75% of what I do now and for each of us, that is many tons of CO2 a year. So this brought into mind carbon offsetting….
There have been some doubts raised about the efficiency of carbon offset providers – is it really efficient / does it really work / is it a rip off / will credits be double sold etc? So I did a little investigation and found a 44 page report by the not-for-profit organisation Clean Air Cool Planet ‘A Consumer’s Guide to Retail Carbon Offset Providers’ which can be found off this page; . A cup of coffee and a read later this turned out to be a fairly serious look at the issue and inspired some confidence.
The CACP paper is a due diligence report on 30 global offset providers ranking and rating them for their efficacy. It does highlight why research matters and you might be interested to know that about 70% of the providers do not make it to ‘Tier 1’ status. However, CACP does recommend five ‘Tier 1 Providers’ in Europe; , , , , . These provide multiple schemes to carbon offset in a number of different ways, from energy efficiency to funding alternatives, anaerobic digestion schemes to reforestation in geographically sensible places etc etc
So choosing a couple from this list (Driving green and Carbon Neutral) and knowing that all these schemes and one’s calculations are likely to be subject to some pretty large rounding errors I have bought credits to 150% of our family’s output. So am I an environmental paragon? Hardly. Carbon negative even? I doubt it really. But I’d rather be a G-Man than a C-Man….


  1. 9/10 for effort am but I can't help but think you're entirely missing the point and are deluding yourself. Chucking someone a pony every month and carrying on with your life as a ravenous consumer really isn't what's needed to solve this problem. The planet needs a radical change in lifestyle to make a difference, and a sticker of a tree in your beemer window isn't going to cut it.
    It's these big changes that are going to hit the hardest, especially for those who think bigger is always better, new is the only option and growth is the only future. It's time for a rethink.

  2. Well that's the general objection that gets thrown around in the telegraph or where-ever but I did try to be quite clear that this is a i) change in approach - switching transport / changing car etc PLUS ii) an offset commitment - both are essential.
    Estimates vary but an average UK person is considered to output about 9 tonnes of CO2 a year (source: Lib Dems paper for Green Switch tax proposal). If you can radically slash and I mean totally slash things under your control rather than the things beyond your influence you will still output multiple tonnes of carbon a year as a family. A family of four HALVING their carbon output (which is bloody difficult) would still output 20 tonnes a year.
    Yes, one needs to make the effort in the first place as I indicated in my first blog but perhaps was not quite so clear. But if offsetting works (insert multiple disclaimers here but CACP is extremely proficient at what it does and the companies I went for have been doing this for a decade), what I have done is put my money where my mouth is and taken us to a 150% offset to attempt to make us net negative by several tons a year. Its only an attempt but I feel like it's a good one or at least as good as it gets for now.

  3. Nice one am, but plugging the ozone hole with fiftys...would all those metal strips not keep the heat in the atmosphere?
    G man is accurate, if in doubt thrown £1,000's at the problem ;)

  4. Am, it still seems half arsed to me. I mostly see carbon offsetting as a conscience clearing move just as one jets off to barbados for three weeks. If you can afford the offset, great, do that and go on holiday to the lake district instead. I think the scale of change that's required hasn't sunk in, and offsetting while valuable and important, particularly for essential activities, can distract from what needs to be done.

  5. Of course there's something distasteful and unpalatable about the monied classes paying for indulgences if you choose to take it like that. But it relies firstly on a large 'if' which isn't necessarily the case at all - you can't assume that because people are offsetting that they aren't also taking action. As we both agree you have to take action as well to be really good at this.
    That's views on how people should behave and it matters. But this is also just a straight balancing act. You are responsible for putting carbon into the air and you can also choose to take carbon out of the air in a variety of ways from more or less literally to more virtually. You do have the ability to have a 'net' position on what you contribute and what you take away. You can mutter about people's motivations all you like but the net position is still what it is.
    Lurks said; so you cut back, you do what you can, you also offset some - that's all I've tried to do.

  6. Now I'm the guy that gave G-man the original stick for his pretty high carbon footprint. That said, I think you're being pretty unfair on what he's saying. He's not saying carbon offsetting is the be all and end all, he's also raised the point that it's questionable as to how good these things are without independent verification and has linked some research on the subject. Great, I've wanted to know that stuff and I didn't see anyone else mentioning it.
    I'm not sure exactly what one expects a man like Am to do in his circumstance. He commutes to work in a car because rail is really just a non starter. He works from home when possible. He's looking to address the car and take other measures such as his larger-than-average house and researching carbon offsetting on top of that strikes me as an entirely sensible strategy for doing his bit.
    Yeah, in an ideal world he wouldn't commute all the way into London by car and he'd have solar panels and wind turbines and grow all his own food but let's be fucking reasonable here. I think there is a valid counter argument, however, that pretty much ANY money one spends on carbon offsetting could actually be spent in generating very real savings at home via a variety of mechanisms.
    If you can afford it and you have the substantial real-estate, PV panels, solar hot water, wind turbine (he lives at top of a hill also) are also pretty peachy ideas. But I mean come on that really is thousands upon thousands versus hundreds of quid level in carbon offsetting. I'd be happy anyone makes the effort to look at their shit and what they can do given funds and time/effort they can afford.
    I really do not have time for those people who clearly do exist which trot out the fact they spend money on carbon offsetting and are neutral or whatever rah di rah. Because unless they examined it properly, the chances are they're basically dumping money into what are essentially the penultimate modern day scam. I don't think that necessarily applies to C, soon to be G-Man, though.

  7. One thing that I should probably add that's quite important: As mentioned above, the concept of scamming or lack of verification is a serious concern and with the multi-billion carbon trading industry there for the taking by serious organised criminals.However I learned from the report (it'll be 15 minutes out of your life to read it with a cup of coffee - give it a go) which I don't think is common knowledge is how much the independent verification has moved on. Under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Kyoto protocol there are systematic protocols for verification procedures. However verification is aimed at big business and can be costly. There is also the Gold Standard which is endorsed by 37 non-governmental agencies worldwide. There is also a developing Voluntary Carbon Standard under development. These things also combine with market traded instruments such as Certified Emissions Reductions (CER) which is a tradeable certificate for one ton of CO2 reduction or avoidance and Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) etcSo the concept of audit and verification is critical and has been put in place. Since I've always worked in business control / review functions this has a big resonance with me.If you do read the report you'll see the independent body that carried it out explicitly makes the point of quality of offset. Paying someone to do what they would have done already is the lowest quality offset and ineffective. However highest quality offset is real and there is a true ability to buy (sorry) something that takes real CO2 out of the global equation. If you don't do the research as Lurks said, you could end up doing jack all or paying fraudsters but there is a completely legitimate and effective market out there which I really defy anyone to possibly gainsay if they've spent the time looking into it. Take 15-20 mins and read the report if you have the time. Direct link is here in pdf

  8. What I would like to see, before any invests in anything like this, is a report card of their working on how they claim to offset x amount of CO2. This whole thing is a bit of a bugbear of mine as it is, there's all sorts of random figures quoted for all sorts of things but you can never see the working to see what kind of assumptions they've made

  9. insulating that huge fucking house properly would be a start now wouldnt it, heat must be leaking like a bitch to that garage, and to the crawlspace and roof. windows are crap, ninja 3 glass windows atleast, and some passive waterheating through hoses under the roof and under that HUGE lawn (can even get transparent rooftiles for added efficiency). and get some solarpanels.goverment here had a drive where you got taxcuts for drilling for groundheating. and a heatexchanger, of course.
    and then you get a car that fucks as little as possible for the stuff your gonna use it for. and a toycar that you use for fun on sundays. with a huge fucking emission spewing engine, because if we dont have SOME fun me might as well be ants and then who gives a fuck if we get drowned or burned to death by that evil, evil sun.

  10. Actually the whole thing about windows is interesting. We're kind of lead to believe that windows are bad and ought to be firmly double insulated. Yet in most homes loft and cavity wall insulation have far more of an effect and are a lot cheaper - you can basically order massive rolls of it and do it yourself for piss all. In fact I must do this, apparently it ought to be done to a depth of 30cm (!) where as I'm on around 10cm max and our bungalow is constantly buffeted by high winds so must lose large amounts of heat that way.

  11. I had a think about this. Then had a think about this some more. And the conclusion I came to was the my initial knee-jerk reaction was bang on the money. This is rotten.
    Fair play to Am for taking measures to reduce his emissions, as well as offsetting the remaining deficit, but the very notion of creating a market for carbon forgiveness seems to me to be deeply dangerous.
    Even in an ideal world where these schemes work, or that corporate self-interest doesn't reduce their efficiency, or that these schemes don't exploit the third world, or that they're not just one large scam. Even in this optimal situation what you're effectively creating is a free pass for the wealthy to carry on with business as usual. Chuck a bag of money at it, salve your conscience.
    But what it will really do is create a two tier system. The rich can continue to take holidays abroad, drive ludicrous cars, or live in cavernous mansions, because they can afford to offset. Meanwhile, those who can't afford to offset will be told that they have to give up their cars, forgo their holiday, downsize their houses.
    This isn't what will happen of course. What will happen will be that the poorer strata of society will see the good life and decide that they want it too, that they are entitled to it and continue to pollute as ever before.
    We don't need to figure out ways of matching our output with input. We need to be raising consciousness across the board that the only real solution is to cut output. Creating a multi-billion dollar industry out of selling modern day indulgences is definitely not the way to go about this.

  12. As it happens, because our house was built by a guy who was interested in energy efficiency only 13 years ago, our lagging and insulation is huge in this house and certainly miles on from your average UK house. All walls have it built in as an integral part of the wall construction and the roof / loft spsce stuff is also as deep as you can possibly imagine. No credit to us here but to Keith who built the house and who also put in dual heating, plastic rather than wood where it made insulation sense and so on.
    The house might not live up to Scandi triple glazed ultra standards (which shall we be a bitch for a second and suggest was to do with keeping the cold out and reducing heating costs rather than some historic uber-forward-looking society on emissions as much as they want to regulate every breath in your collective heads

  13. Dave you've summed up the social unpleasantness of the situation - that a Tim-nice-but-dim could be an avid consumarist and utterly coincidentally pick an efficient offset without a decent motivation in his miniscule number of neurons and actually be hugely less carbon impacting than you.
    Unfortunately it's totally true.
    Your approach is socialogical. That you haven't read the paper is quite clear and unfortunately, bizarrely for your extremely honed mind you're completely unscientific where you are on other fronts in very incisive ways.

    Read the paper, the Kyoto stuff & Gold standard and then come back to refute it, sure but you are confusing two unrelated issues. Offsetting doesn't mean you don't act. The paper explicitly implores people to ensure this is not the case in its concluding paragraphs. However there is a net carbon position and your outrage doesn't address that at all.

    Carbon output less carbon reduction investment = your personal contribution to carbon in the atmosphere. You may utterly deplore the fact and the horrors of the motivation of SOME (not all) of those who invest in the deduction side but that's the scientific reality. It is a net sum game. You have to disprove carbon deductive investment to gainsay it. And with the greatest respect you can't.

  14. I certainly appreciate where Dave is coming from but I don't believe you've got a straight up choice between those with money doing more to reduce their carbon footprint or carbon offset schemes. I think it's likely they'll just carry on with business as usual or they'll carry on with business as usual with a carbon offset scheme. Lesser of two evils?

  15. I'm more than capable of understanding the logic behind a simple summation dear boy. You decry my approach as being sociological, but how else is one to approach something that is so... sociological? I agree entirely that we could all drive around in fast cars and live in large houses if we offset accordingly. Of course we could, this makes perfect sense. But my point is that there is a danger that this isn't how it will happen.
    I should stress that I am well aware that this is a "gut reaction", rather than having any basis in data.
    The trouble is, your approach depends on everyone doing the offset thing, as well as encouraging people to reduce. I'm merely saying that if the offset thing takes off, it will mean that the rich can continue as normal and the poorer will think "why bother?". This is especially true of the developing world where not only will they not be able to afford to offset, but their countries may end up exploited as part of the offset industry.
    I also have the fear that putting money into offsetting technologies may have the effect of taking away money from reduction technology research, such as alternative power sources.
    Perhaps your paper addresses these fears, I will have to spend an hour looking through it, but the impression you've given so far is that it merely reassures the reader of the trustworthy nature of the offsetting schemes.

  16. The one thing that everyone agrees here is that carbon reduction is an imperative in itself.
    I'll add then that an offset is something completely different but important.
    I had already thought that 'offsetting' has a distinct strength and inherent weakness in it. The strength is the suggestion that you need to offset yourself in full i.e. don't just give a tenner to famine relief -there's a quantification of your output and you need to meet it to 'offset'. The weakness which is the flip side of the same coin is that it suggests that 100% is enough. I've gone to 150% as some extremely rough sketch to allow for rounding errors. But inherently you could contribute to net reduction like you do to charity if you like.
    What will be critical in the real reduction is pressure on businesses and government. Therefore I would say the debate in here and the agreement illustrates precisely the pressure that must be bought to bear; you must invest in reducing for reducing's sake which is critical and you should be accountable for that. We will judge you on that. Secondly if you offset, it is valuable, but do not confuse the second with an excuse not to do the first. The reassuring nature (truly proved) of offsetting is not a justification of the need to reduce (even if mathmatically it might be true) it's a very narrow approach to a multi-billion input problem and the imperative will be to argue this 'unacceptability approach' absolutely lock stock and barrel. If the pressure is kept up that way, it'll secure both goals

  17. Lurks, I think you're probably right. The trouble with my approach is that it depends on the consciousness raising efforts of the reduction lobby being successful across the board. Which is by no means a forgone conclusion.
    Maybe Am's approach is right? I just can't help feeling somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of buying the right to produce more of the very thing that is causing the problem in the first place, no matter how efficient the resulting removal.