Climate & Energy

The first rule of carbon offsets: No trees

A good reason we shouldn’t love trees, at least not in this case

Everybody loves trees. They are so popular as offsets they even make Wikipedia's definition: When one is unable or unwilling to reduce one's own emissions, Carbon offset is the act of reducing ("offsetting") greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere. A well-known example is the planting of trees to compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions from personal air travel. But does planting trees reduce global warming? Not in most places on the earth. The Carnegie Institution's Ken Caldeira summarized the result of a major 2005 study (PDF) this way: "To plant forests to mitigate climate change outside of the tropics is a waste of time." Why? Because forest canopies are relatively dark, compared to what they replace outside the tropics -- grass, croplands, or snowfields -- and so they absorb more of the sun's heating rays that fall on them. That negates the "carbon sink" benefit trees have soaking up carbon dioxide. Worse, the study found that planting a large number of trees in high latitudes would "probably have a net warming effect on the Earth's climate." Ouch!

Why economics (and coal) matter

Parsing 15 years of electric data

Environmental pressures have forced us to generate more of our power from natural gas, and this focus on gas has caused power prices to increase ... right? Wrong, conventional wisdom notwithstanding. And the lessons from the last 15 years indicate the importance of considering how markets will respond when mandating new technologies and fuels.

Umbra on fireworks

Dear Umbra, Our family has always lit a fair amount of fireworks for our 4th of July celebration. I would like to encourage my family and friends to find other ways to celebrate due to the CO2 emissions that will result. However, I don’t really know how much carbon is emitted. I already have to deal with the fact that many in my family are not taking climate change seriously, so I want to be knowledgeable when I state my case. Donna Elk Grove, Calif. Dearest Donna, Can one change a family tradition given only a few days of warning, …

We Always Thought It Was Industrial Strength

McDonald’s to power U.K. delivery fleet with its own grease Proving once again that everything’s cooler in Europe, McDonald’s has announced that it will run all its U.K. delivery vehicles on biodiesel — from its own greasy grills! The chain will convert the 155-lorry fleet to a mix of 85 percent fry grease and 15 percent rapeseed oil by next year, and says the switch will cut its U.K. carbon emissions 75 percent. Mickey D’s has already made a similar move in Austria, and is apparently drumming up other plans around packaging and recycling. All this comes on the heels …

After All, She Knows The Secret

Poll respondents pick Al, Oprah, and Kofi as climate messengers Recent polls have shown that people all over the world … join hands, start a love train, love train! Oh sorry, we get distracted. People all over the world are worried about the environment — and the latest poll says that Oprah could help save us. Run by the Nielsen Company and Oxford University, the poll asked 26,000 people in 47 countries to choose from a list of celebs and spokespeople they felt were best equipped to champion the climate cause. Oprah, Al Gore, and former U.N. chief Kofi Annan …

Al Gore's call to action

An editorial in the NYT

Al Gore: … we should demand that the United States join an international treaty within the next two years that cuts global warming pollution by 90 percent in developed countries and by more than half worldwide in time for the next generation to inherit a healthy Earth. … We should aim to complete this global treaty by the end of 2009 — and not wait until 2012 as currently planned. … A new treaty will still have differentiated commitments, of course; countries will be asked to meet different requirements based upon their historical share or contribution to the problem and …

Big Al succumbs to ethanomania

Predicts rabbit out of hat in three years, too

Here's a film clip of Al Gore making a firm prediction that "next generation ethanol" not dependent on corn or food crops will move out of the lab in "three years." He discusses the energy balance question, fails to question the use of coal for process heat, and suggests that there is some sort of "distribution network" that's going to be built. Sad.

Mongabay highlights for June '07

Some good news and some bad news

First up is an interview with Jack Ewing, owner of an eco-lodge in Costa Rica. I must admit that writing checks to conservation organizations is about as pleasurable as a trip to the dentist. Spending a week in a place like Hacienda Barú also supports conservation and is a hell of a lot more fun. I managed to photograph about half of the wildlife I saw while staying less than a week in Costa Rica. Best vacation I've ever had. I might put the video (much more interesting than photos) on YouTube one of these days. After reading that upbeat article, grit your teeth and click on the one about the eminent extinction of the orangutan and understand that palm biodiesel will play a large role in it.

Romm's rules of carbon offsets

Taking ‘em to the mat

The first rule of Carbon Offsets is, you do not talk about Carbon Offsets. Just kidding. This isn't Fight Club, but I do aim to pick a fight with those overhyping offsets. If a smart company like Google can seriously think it can go green by burning coal and then buying offsets and if a smart company like PG&E is bragging about a new program that allows customers to offset their electricity emissions by planting trees (a dopey program I'll blog about later), then something is very wrong about the general understanding of offsets. For those who want a basic introduction to offsets, Wikipedia has an excellent entry. I believe the more you know about and think about offsets, the less appealing they are, as these articles make clear. No rules of the road exist for offsets. Until now. In subsequent posts, I will offer my own rules based on dozens of discussions over the past decade with environmentalists, energy experts, corporations, and would-be offsetters. I'll post the first rule tomorrow, but it can be summed up in two words: No trees! This post was created for, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

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