We’ve all heard the terms carbon credits, carbon offsets and “cap and trade”. We know this has something to do with the environment and global warming, but it is very vague. At least it is for me.
Naturally, I turned to Ecosia to research online. The best link I found to sort it out is this article about carbon offsets which explains it fairly clearly. It works rather like the indulgences of the early Catholic Church.
Basically, companies or industries that cause greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride) exacerbate global warming. They can pay to offset their carbon sins by providing funding for projects which reduce carbon in the atmosphere. Solar electric installations or wind power projects or tree planting, etc. The offset projects must be verifiable and enduring (longterm).
Not the Little Leagues
When we read about “carbon credits” and “cap and trade”, we are only talking about the big leagues — big corporations, nations. Regulatory agencies decide that Corporation X will be allowed permission to spew X amount of greenhouse gases. If they need to spew more, they will need to purchase carbon offsets (that is, fund projects which remove carbon from the atmosphere). This is one way to fund our forests.
If they manage to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions below their allotment, they can sell the difference to corporations which are over-spewing. (I realize that “spewing” is not really the correct term, but it leaves a lively image in the mind…)
This has created a carbon market, where these “pollution permits” can be traded like shares of stock with variable pricing. You’ve got brokers and traders betting on the rise and fall of carbon credit values. Wall Street is bundling them, shorting them, and creating derivatives from them — and if you don’t know what that means, you’re not supposed to. Remember the mortgage crisis and crash of 2008? Watch the The Big Short if you’ve forgotten how that happened. It doesn’t bode well for anyone.
And why, anyway, should the value fluctuate? Shouldn’t it all be based on the measurable weight of carbon sequestered or volume of greenhouse gas offset? Capitalism playing games with the planet, as usual.
So I am a little leery of this whole macro carbon credit scheme. Seems very morally dicey to me — you’re allowed to pollute if you can afford it. But I suppose it is a way of getting the biggest contributors to global warming to put some of their gains back into repairing what they’re breaking.
What About Us Pee Wee Leaguers?
I fully subscribe to Theodore Roosevelt’s advice: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” We need to apply the concept of carbon offsets on a more micro level. Some kind of mechanism whereby individuals & small businesses could contribute to carbon offset projects, and whereby carbon offset projects could solicit for funding. (And hopefully keep the Wall Street gamblers out of it!)
Of course, the projects have to be bona fide, because nobody wants to have their contribution go down some profiteer’s black hole of a scam. The organizations which certify the environmental assets of carbon offset projects, such as Gold Standard for example, cost quite a lot of money. Once again, that seems to be a scheme for the big leagues.
For individuals, there are peer-to-peer, online crowdfunding platforms, such as Gofundme.
“Oh, a Lot of Nickels and Dimes –“
“…Make dollars!” retorted Ann Sheridan to Ronald Reagan’s dismissive remark in “King’s Row” (1942). The big guys can — and should — do more, but let’s not dismiss too quickly the power of the people, the power of many small contributions.
We should set up a micro carbon exchange on such an online platform, which would allow people to personally offset their own carbon transgressions. Small businesses could donate to tree saving or planting projects, and gain public relations eco-credit on top of simply being environmentally responsible.
For example, when Pope & Talbot sold about 3500 acres of timberland to Kitsap County for a forest heritage park, they sold much of the land without the timber rights. The timber rights were retained by Pope so that they could harvest the timber at a later date. This way, the county was able to buy many more acres than if they also bought the trees. (A forest heritage park without trees??)
Most people who donated to buy the land for the park did not realize that when Pope said “harvest” they meant clearcut utterly. So there is a move afoot to fundraise the money to buy the trees on the remaining acres which have not been razed. This would be a perfect project for small donors. The land is in the public domain in perpetuity, making it an enduring carbon offset.
There are no doubt many such projects all over the country and the world. A micro-carbon offset exchange would be the perfect place for concerned people and businesses to plow funds into forests and reforesting.
Raise the Ticket Prices on Flying!
Airplanes contribute greatly to global warming. Yet ticket prices are lower than when I was a discount ticket agent in the mid 1980s, not even accounting for inflation which would make them even less expensive. That is nuts! Raise the prices of airline tickets and use the extra revenue to fund forests!
Nobody is going to choose less damaging forms of transportation — or choose not to go at all — when it is so cheap to fly. (Except for Greta Thunberg…) And if they did change their ways, well, that is a win, too, isn’t it?
Another source of forest funding I have been thinking about is by applying a landing fee to all flights arriving at our airports. Think about applying a $25 charge to every one of the 50 million passengers arriving at SeaTac Airport, for example. That would be 1.25 billion dollars raised in one year for forests!
Are people going to stop flying into SeaTac because of $25 user fee? No, they are not. In fact, I would say people would be happy to contribute to this cause, if they only knew how, and such a fee would make it easy for them.
How about it, Governor Jay Inslee? Declare a climate emergency and institute a landing fee for all major airports in Washington State. Use the revenue to plant trees and protect forests here in “The Evergreen State”. And while you’re at it, levy some appropriate fees on Amazon, Fedex, UPS and other cargo flights. You are the environment governor, right? There’s a lot of work to be done.