Guilt Trips, Carbon Offsets and how to really prevent Global Warming
In answer to my friend’s question “What am I doing about Climate Change?”
No, I haven’t been protesting in the streets this time or gluing myself to the pavement, but I have just contributed to the Timor-Leste Community Forestry Programme via Gold Standard’s verified Offset Program. I know full well that many Offset Programs are flawed and a bit like the indulgences which used to be sold by the Catholic Church as someone put it. They also distract us from the other things which really need to be done or rather not done - to reduce actual emissions. However, retaining and restoring tropical forests remains an important one, along with helping our neighbours, so I am sticking with this one for now, especially as Timor-Leste was a place I wanted to go and help.
If you want to know why restoring tropical forests still ranks highly when properly done, watch the excellent Ted Talk by Chad Frischmann from Project Drawdown.
You could also do their excellent quiz, the results of which may surprise you as much as they did me.
Until now nearly all the focus has been on individuals – as with recycling it's much easier to point the finger at consumers, yet major issues such as mass transit, large scale renewable energy production or the infrastructure to support say, electric cars or switching to non –fossil fuels are largely beyond the capacity of individuals. I’m sure by now we have all changed our light bulbs, set the washing machine on Eco -wash and turned off our appliances when we aren’t using them, so protest we must if our governments aren’t listening.
Population, Proximity and Distribution
It’s easy to say that of course, and it may well work in small, largely homogenous and densely populated countries like those in Europe or Asia, but without wishing to make excuses for my own country or state, it becomes very difficult when you have a small population, are long way from anywhere and spread thinly over very large distances. At present, few people here have a choice as to how they get to work, how their children get to school, or where they buy their food. Those who could afford it got solar panels long ago, while the rest of the population has been stuck with higher charges as electricity providers have scrambled to make up the shortfall in their accounts.
The Displaced Footprint
There is also another aspect which troubles me. In Australia's case, Agriculture and Mining are the biggest contributors to our greenhouse emissions, yet we are producing these things for export to other countries to whom that carbon footprint - including the fossil fuels and power generation which enable it to happen, rightfully belongs. The same applies to countries which manufacture bulk goods for export. I suspect that our per capita emissions are already inflated by our relatively small population, but add to that the huge distances over which these goods are transported and the fact that most of these industries operate in remote locations, their impact will be disproportionately large. It’s all very well to say that Denmark for example, which I admire greatly in most respects –it really has public transport and cycling nailed, only has a per capita footprint of 6.5, but where for instance are its clothes, footwear and appliances made? Or its electronics and cars? In China? In South Korea? In India? And is that counted towards its footprint or theirs? And where have the raw materials come from? Australia perhaps, Brazil or maybe Canada, whose emissions are also high on a per capita basis, but which may be a little closer to the action. I'd be very happy for someone to tell me I am wrong about this.
Given that shipping and transport are primary factors in CO2 production, it is a good argument for a return to regional self –sufficiency which would also help our unemployment situation.This too is an issue which requires government intervention, well beyond the purview of the individual. While we are at it, could someone also please ask why all our public buildings and schools do not yet have solar panels? That is something which we as a nation could do easily to reduce our carbon footprint and it would create employment as well. Having said that, I know there is room for improvement at all levels, including here at home.