Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Environmentalists versus Environmentalists over Carbon Trading

Carbon cap and trade as a strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has wide support ranging from many beltway politicians to the large mainstream environmental organizations, but a coalition of environmental groups called Rising Tide North America doesn’t buy this strategy, at least the carbon trading part. To bring attention to their viewpoint they invaded the Washington, DC offices of Environmental Defense (formerly the Environmental Defense Fund) to protest Environmental Defense’s support for carbon trading. The Boston Globe’s Green Blog reports that the protest included holding signs saying “carbon trading is an environmental offense,” and “keep the cap, ditch the trade.”

One of the protesters, Rachel Smolker, whose father was a founding member of the Environmental Defense Fund, has issued a statement which is posted on the Global Justice Ecology Project website. Her statement includes the following sentiments about carbon trading:

“We cannot pretend that handing out permits to pollute and then trading them around like baseball cards is even remotely related to seriously reducing emissions. It is a great get-rich-quick scheme for the brokers, marketers and financiers who enjoy playing games with my childrens, future, and it is a huge gift to the polluting criminals."

Smolker also blasted carbon offsets, another controversial strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Offsetting emissions is a similar deceit, nothing but another fine arrangement of smoke and mirrors that allow some people to "feel good" while continuing to carry on business as usual. They provide a convenient way to sidestep and avoid real and necessary change. It is, without question, a lovely idea to provide funding to really good "quality" projects that hold promise of reducing emissions, but there are more straightforward ways to get there that do not require unfounded and unreliable measures of carbon flow, additionality, verifiability or permanence, and do not confuse fossil and biological carbon. We clearly need to halt, not offset emissions, even where it is a hard thing, a very hard thing to do.”

Whether carbon trading as well as carbon offsets will be effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions or are simply some sort of ploy as Smolker contends or just poor ideas remains to be seen. Both mechanisms are now being used in the Kyoto Protocol and the results so far do not seem encouraging. But there does not seem to be any clear strategy for “Confronting the Root Causes of Climate Change” as Rising Tide North America puts in their logo. A broad consensus on what to do seems always beyond reach.

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