An (Even More) Inconvenient Truth Why Carbon Credits For Forest Preservation May Be Worse Than Nothing

When released into the atmosphere CO2 remains active for 100 years. Forests on which the carbon offsets are based, rarely remain intact for that long.

Photography by Fernando Martinho, for ProPublic

RIO BRANCO, BRAZIL — The state of Acre, on the western edge of Brazil, is so remote, there’s a national joke that it doesn’t exist. But for geochemist Foster Brown, it’s the center of the universe, a place that could help save the world.

“This is an example of hope,” he said, as we stood behind his office at the Federal University of Acre, a tropical campus carved into the Amazon rainforest. Brown placed his hand on a spindly trunk, ordering me to follow his lead. “There is a flow of water going up that stem, and there is a flow of sap coming down, and when it comes down it has carbon compounds,” he said. “Do you feel that?”

I couldn’t feel a thing. But that invisible process holds the key to a massive flow of cash into Brazil and an equally pivotal opportunity for countries trying to head off climate change without throwing their economies into turmoil. If the carbon in these trees could be quantified, then Acre could sell credits to polluters emitting clouds of CO₂. Whatever they release theoretically would be offset, or canceled out, by the rainforest.

Five thousand miles away in California, politicians, scientists, oil tycoons and tree huggers are bursting with excitement over the idea. The state is the second-largest carbon polluter in America, and its oil and gas industry emits about 50 million metric tons of CO₂ a year. What if Chevron or Shell or Phillips 66 could offset some of their damage by paying Brazil not to cut down trees?

The appetite is global. For the airline industry and industrialized nations in the Paris climate accord, offsets could be a cheap alternative to actually reducing fossil fuel use.

But the desperate hunger for these carbon credit plans appears to have blinded many of their advocates to the mounting pile of evidence that they haven’t — and won’t — deliver the climate benefit they promise.  MORE

 

This credit card won’t let you buy anything else after you’ve hit your annual carbon limit

What you purchase matters: your purchase  either is life-affirming or it helps to trash the planet. Consumer accountability is a powerful incentive for individuals to take ownership of their role in adding to the climate emergency.

The Do Black card is a radical solution to expanding carbon footprints.

When you use a new credit card, it will eventually cut you off—not because you’ve reached a financial limit but because your purchases have tipped you over your carbon limit for the year.

“We realized that putting a limit that blocks your ability to complete the transaction is radical . . . but it’s the clearest way to illustrate the severity of the situation we’re in,” says Johan Pihl, one of the founders of Doconomy, a Sweden-based think tank that is launching the new card in collaboration with the UN Climate Change Secretariat and Mastercard. “We need to address how our consumption is impacting our planet.”

Doconomy is launching two versions of the card later this year. One just tracks your carbon footprint as you spend, and the other, called Do Black, takes the additional step of setting a hard limit on your footprint for the year. Initially, the data used to calculate the impact of each purchase will be imprecise—the system pulls the category code of a merchant that classifies it as a particular kind of store, then makes a calculation based on the general carbon footprint of the industry, whether you’re buying something from a fast-food joint, a clothing store, or an airline. The limit is based on a country-specific calculation of how much carbon each citizen can emit to stay on track with the 2030 goal to cut emissions in half.

[Image: courtesy Doconomy]

In the future, the calculation of impact will be tied to specific line items on a receipt to make it more accurate. Others are working on similar solutions; a startup nonprofit called Poseidon Foundation is beginning to work with retailers to track the impact of specific purchases and let customers instantly buy a carbon offset equal to their emissions. Ben and Jerry’s tested the concept at an ice cream shop in London last year. MORE

Hanes: Montreal takes small but important step in climate change fight

Mayor Valérie Plante announces city officials will reduce travel and offset their carbon footprint by buying credits.


Mayor Valérie Plante: “We need to invest massively in public transit systems versus investing massively in roads.” PIERRE OBENDRAUF / MONTREAL GAZETTE

When Mayor Valérie Plante jets off to Buenos Aires to attend an international summit of cultural cities, she will offset the 2.5 tonnes of greenhouse gases the trip will generate by purchasing carbon credits.

At city hall on Tuesday, Plante announced that all travel by elected officials, political staff and municipal employees will from now on be evaluated on the basis of necessity and the most ecological way to get there. And all air travel will be compensated by buying credits to the Bourse du carbone Scol’ERE, a program that funds environmental education for schoolchildren.

Plante didn’t offer a target for reducing travel or emissions or even say how much money is budgeted to buy credits. (Bourse du carbone Scol’ERE says one credit, which equals one tonne of carbon dioxide, costs $26.09). But she did say that about 150 trips were taken last year by city representatives and she has already minimized her own travel for environmental as well as family and financial reasons.

This isn’t a move that is going to single-handedly save the planet. And it’s a small gesture given the magnitude of the problem humanity is facing. But at least it’s also a show of leadership in the fight against climate change during a week where it has been sorely lacking. MORE