Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Confess! You've Been Using That Carbon-Based Energy Again, Haven't You?

Caz on carbon offsets:

As lots of other people have been telling us, this chap sincerely believes that by “offsetting the carbon emissions” generated in a particular circumstance, the actual emissions are, somehow, reduced to zero. He cited, by way of illustrating the concept, that they would generate carbons, in one city, but they would off-set them in another city, in order to achieve the zero-sum of carbons.

This, of course, is the equivalent of suggesting that it’s okay to eat all of the broken biscuits, because they don’t have any calories....

It doesn’t quite work that way though, does it. Because you pay your $200 and all the while you keep spewing out carbon by going about your everyday life. In the meantime, the trees, that may or may not be planted in your name will take around 30 years to soak up the carbons you were responsible for this year...

Got an idea: I'll start up a carbon offset company. First thing, I'll publicise the Greenhouse Effect by posting up all these pictures of plants belching out Greenhouse Gases with the caption,


I'll also do a round of posters with lots of hellish pictures of a 'post global warming world'. Basically, I'll just pull a whole load of pictures of fiery abysses with people burning up and screaming in pain and what-not. I'll title it:


Then, I'll tell everybody about my service selling carbon offsets. I'd have to give it a catchy name: something like, oh, I don't know,


Then to round things off, I'll have to give my company a catchy name, too. Something like


Don't know what you think, but I reckon this idea could be a goer!


alexis said...

I've noticed the parallels between ecological guilt and Catholicism too. When I'm in my most environmentalistically angsty moods, I'm sunk in a sense that whatever I do, just by existing, just by being human, I'm making an (adverse) impact on the ecology. As soon as I was born, I was compelled by my biology to consume 'good' oxygen and exhale 'bad' carbon dioxide (and that's the very least of it). Even if I decided to kill myself now, to reduce my ongoing consumption of oxygen, my decomposing body would still release god-knows-what gases. If this sense of being inherently (ecologically) bad ain't the latest incarnation of the doctrine of original sin, then I'll eat my rainforest.

The feeble gestures I perform - taking out the recycling, using public transport - are all offered up as acts of atonement. They give me a feeling of ever so slightly recouped virtue.

I think the real conceptual problem I have is in thinking that humans are separate from, and inferior to, nature. The sense of separation, if not the sense of inferiority, certainly has a precedent in the church: "I renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil."

Karen said...

The other week I saw a 4WD with a sticker on it saying it was carbon neutral and I thought "Wouldn't it be better to simply not have a 4WD instead?". It's very like indulgences- it doesn't stop people from doing exactly what they want to do, it just lets them feel better about doing it. Indeed, sometimes I wonder if it actually emboldens some people to be more wasteful.

TimT said...

Well it does, because one cumulative effect of a culture of guilt is to disenfranchise people from what they actually do.

If everything we do may have unintended and unpredictable ecological or moral consequences for which we are guilty, then where does that leave us? Even doing nothing could have 'consequences'. Every single act or non-act is morally the same. It's a dud philosophy.

sarahj said...

it's not just Catholocism, it's _all_ the brands of Christianity that are about the guilt tripping and do-this-if-you-want-to-escape-hell stuff. Plus, the creation story is in the Talmud.

alexis said...

But the doctrine of Original Sin - that humans are innately sinful, born sinful - is the product of a specifically Catholic theology, and it's this, the sense that just by being human, just by being born, we are a scourge upon the earth, that informs lots of environmentalist angst.

alexis said...

And, though, yes, the creation story is in the Talmud, we are not able to read it without the interpretive accretions of thousands of years of theological dogma. We have been told what that story means before we even set eyes on the written words.

alexis said...

And indulgences - also a Catholic innovation.

N.B. The point of this is not to criticise Catholicism, but to identify the cultural origins of contemporary ways of talking about the environment, and to propose the inaptness of that way of talking, in this arena.

TimT said...

There is some evidence for it being an early Jewish doctrine. One thinks of 'The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons.'

Karen said...

Yes, but there's something very reassuring about guilt (if I can be perverse for a moment!)- that whole "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed" schtick. Sometimes it's easier and even pleasant to prostrate oneself, in all one's unworthiness.

And maybe that's repeated in this separate environmental angst arena too.

Caz said...

Karen - you're talking about ritual atonement, rather than guilt.

Genuine, uncontaminated guilt serves a useful purpose for individuals, helping them to correct wrongs, change behaviors, or even avoid threats and dangers.

Church / socially imposed guilt is pointless, worthless and creates no end of hypocrisies.

It should have been predictable that the rise of secularism in the West would lead to substitution Timmy – the rise and rise of environmental religiosity.

Humans can be such twats.

Karen said...

SBS news tonight: The Total Environment Centre has produced a report critical of carbon offset schemes.

Caz said...

Well, I "reported" it first.

Caz said...

People should buy a pet rock instead, or several, which would prove to be the exact same *value* as "carbon offsets".


Stupidity bothers me enormously.

Are people really this dumb?

TimT said...

Are carbon offsets what happens when carbon dating doesn't work?

Karen said...

Apparently there's a special government agency or some such to support the carbon offset companies. Lots of money to be made, growing industry and so on. Head of agency and representative of one company were very dismissive of the report. Oh, and the Big Day Out is "offseting" its carbon emissions.

Sorry, that probably just made you crankier!

TimT said...

No, no. *Gloomily* I'm used to it.

sarahj said...

This from Elbert Hubbard: "Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped."

And from Albert Einstein: "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."


And puritanism is pretty strong on the denial of pleasure and 'indulgence'.

TimT said...

I'm not all too sure who Elbert Hubbard is, despite knowing that he has a Wikipedia entry. But with a first name like 'Elbert', he has to be smart!

Caz said...

I'm only familiar with the Einstein quote Sarah.

Karen - the federal and state governments all have numerous business development schemes, and numerous of those include incentives for the development of existing and new technologies to address environmental matters. REDI and Commercial Ready schemes, for example, each have a component of carbon offsets from which companies can potentially benefit significantly (money for jam), if their project gets gov't funding (many apply, only few are chosen). Indeed, part of the criteria for eligibility is around the supposed environmental benefits and carbon offsets.

These schemes are not new, they have been around for quite a few years, but most of them run out this year. After that, we can expect that new funds and eligibility criteria will be announced, perhaps even with beaut new names for the schemes.

Many hundreds of millions of tax payer's dollars go into these schemes.

Karen said...


I'm glad to hear our money is so hard at work!

Email: timhtrain - at -

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