World Rainforest Movement

Carbon neutral: it’s magic!

There is no doubt that public opinion has become aware of the climate change issue. However, for most people this is but a headline in the newspapers and they tend to think that although this is in fact a major problem, there is no need to worry about it because the UN is working to solve it and that surely science will invent something to prevent it from happening. 

Thus, specialized agencies outline “scenarios,” models, forecasts, complex formulas presenting the issue in an aseptic and depoliticized way, without addressing the root of the problem: the consumption of fossil fuels. On the contrary, formulas are invented that distract attention and postpone solutions. This is what is happening with the idea that it is possible to become “carbon neutral”: magicians put tons of carbon dioxide into their top hats and then show them empty for the public to applaud.

This is the way it works: companies or individuals are told that they can reduce to zero the carbon emissions they release from their activities (their “carbon footprint”). All they need to do is to put money into projects that will supposedly offset from the atmosphere the same amount of carbon they release. This has become another “market niche.” 

The Carbon Neutral Company has cashed in on this. In its webpage it offers a system to calculate the “carbon footprint” of people’s or companies’ activities: travel by plane, car or public transport, or the consumption of energy, heating, etc. All these activities, specified by the interested party, lead to a result measured in tons of carbon dioxide emissions.  And here is the telltale trail! But do not despair; do not even consider changing your lifestyle, because the company provides the solution: in order to “neutralize” those emissions, just invest a specific amount of money – also a result of this calculation – into some of the projects from its portfolio. As expected, one of the sectors of these projects implies the planting of tree monocultures.

But, like the hat trick, this is just a hoax! As has already been argued by author Kevin Smith, not only is it impossible to assess just how much CO2 is taken up by trees but basically, the locked-up fossil carbon is entirely different from the carbon which is part of the live carbon-cycle. Every time fossil fuels are burnt, the locked-up carbon that was trapped underground is converted into active carbon.  However, the reverse process is impossible. Once active, carbon might be fixed in a tree trunk for a while, but in the long run the wood will be burnt or rot away releasing the carbon back into the atmosphere. It will add to the active carbon pool.

Offsetting carbon emissions is a deception. The carbon neutral magicians want to do business by generating a state of complacency and, what is more serious, in this way they are postponing awareness about the need to adopt the necessary drastic measures to curb climate change. 


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