Sunday, April 29, 2007

Proof of Threat

In kidnapping/ransom situations, those negotiating for the release of the hostage will often demand proof of life - some undeniable evidence that the person who being held is still alive. Without that proof, the ransom may be paid for no good reason - the hostage is already dead.

Climate Frog demands proof of threat - convincing evidence of an urgent need to take immediate action to offset damage that is already occuring or that is sure to come. The keyword here is urgency.

One current so-called "green" activity is the movement to use carbon offsets as a way to reduce overall carbon emmissions around the world. An article in the New York Times (registration required) explains the controversy around this practice and why it doesn't exhibit the Climate Froginess required to serve as an example here.

Under the carbon offset program (of which there are many, with varying standards), an airline might allocate a certain amount of its revenues to purchasing "credits" that would pay for some activity (planting trees) that would absorb the amount of carbon being emmitted by its jet engines over a period of time. The carbon would still be pumped into the atmosphere, but at least some action would be taken to deal with that fact. This, to me, seems like the anti-urgent path to carbon responsibility. How long will it take for those tree seedlings to grow to a size where they could actually absorb the carbon from a year's flights?

In Carbon-Neutral Is Hip, but Is It Green? by Andrew Revkin we learn just how controversial carbon offsetting has become in the environmental community.

“The worst of the carbon-offset programs resemble the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences back before the Reformation,” said Denis Hayes, the president of the Bullitt Foundation, an environmental grant-making group. “Instead of reducing their carbon footprints, people take private jets and stretch limos, and then think they can buy an indulgence to forgive their sins.”

“This whole game is badly in need of a modern Martin Luther,” Mr. Hayes added.

Proponents of carbon offsets say that it's better than nothing - that it's the only way that most carbon-produding corporations with shareholders can justify environmental responsibility. I don't buy it. As Auburn Professor Michael Solomon tells the article's author,

“Consumers are always going to gravitate toward a more parsimonious solution that requires less behavioral change,” he said. “We know that new products or ideas are more likely to be adopted if they don’t require us to alter our routines very much.”

In Climate Frog's world, carbon offsets would be like persuading the frog that he can stay longer in the heating water because someone somewhere is making a deal that will eventually slow the gas flow to the burner beneath the pot.

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