Carbon Offsetting: Pardon My Emissions

I recently paid $84.18 to EcoNeutral, a carbon-credit and offsetting company in North Vancouver, to pardon my emissions. Forgive me for living, but I drive a little, own a modest condo and took a flight this year.

Thus, according to EcoNeutral’s online “carbon calculator,” I am personally responsible for the emission of 5.61 tons of carbon dioxide – which, as Al Gore is quick to tell us, is a polluting greenhouse gas that’s causing our global climate to change.

My 5.61 tons is at the low end of the scale, says James Tansey of UBC’s Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability and co-founder of the not-for-profit carbon-credit organization Offsetters Climate Neutral Society. You frequent-flying, SUV-driving McMansion homeowners who like playing on resource-depleting golf courses – you’re annually emitting eight or more tons of CO2. I don’t know how you can sleep at night.

End of the World as We Know It

1947: The nuclear age begins with the Doomsday Clock’s first appearance on the cover of Bulletin magazine: seven minutes to midnight. Nuclear annihilation becomes an omnipresent fear.

1953: Two minutes to midnight. The U.S. tests the hydrogen bomb. “The hands of the Clock of Doom have moved again,” Bulletin announces. “Only a few more swings of the pendulum and, from Moscow to Chicago, atomic explosions will strike midnight for Western civilization.”

1968: The Population Bomb, a bestseller by Paul Ehrlich, predicts an overpopulation disaster for humanity: “India couldn’t possibly feed 200 million more people by 1980.” (Unless you borrow an idea from Soylent Green, the 1973 apocalyptic science-fiction film in which human cadavers are recycled to feed the masses.) “In the 1970s and 1980s,” Ehrlich predicts, “hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”

1975: Ice age predicted by 2000. “Prepare for the next ice age,” says Science Digest. “A new ice age must now stand alongside nuclear war” as a threat to mankind, reports International Wildlife. Newsweek proclaims the coming ice age “catastrophic,” with “drought and desolation” and “the most devastating outbreak of tornadoes ever recorded.” The magazine also predicts “long freezes” that will make it “impossible for starving peoples to migrate.”

1984: Three minutes to midnight again. The Doomsday Clock ticks once more. Ronald Reagan, elected U.S. president, calls for the Star Wars missile defence system.

1999: Y2K. A CNN/Time poll reports almost 60 per cent of the U.S. is concerned about the impending turn of the millennium; nine per cent believe it signals “the end of the world.”

2006: An Inconvenient Truth. The film featuring former Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore wins an Oscar. Republican senator Jim Inhofe, chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, says, “Global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” A year later, Gore will win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Of course, the real action will come when the B.C. government starts penalizing corporate emissions. Then buying a pardon won’t be voluntary. The Arnold Schwarzenegger/Gordon Campbell-driven Western Climate Initiative is scheduled to open its six-state, two-province carbon trading market in August 2008, under a provincial law that will require B.C. companies to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions to 33 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020 or face fines. Or, just as I have, they’ll have to buy compensating carbon credits.

I tried to talk with EcoNeutral’s CEO Robert Falls about all of this, but while his company was willing to take my money he declined to respond to my email queries. According to the company’s website, how-ever, my $84.18 will help its Ecosystem Restoration Associates (ERA: Clever, eh?) plant a little over a quarter-million carbon-capturing trees in the District of Maple Ridge.

You’d think I’d be happy about that. So why this buyer’s remorse? First, there’s the science. Then there’s the hype. Yes, I know that anyone who doesn’t believe CO2 causes climate change is considered the intellectual equivalent of a creationist. But what about Jupiter and Mars?

University of California Berkeley scientists Imke de Pater and Philip Marcus report evidence that Jupiter is in the midst of global climate change. (No one driving SUVs there.) Temperatures on the planet have risen as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit; it may be the reason, they suggest, that its Great Red Spot is growing larger. National Geographic (February 2007) reported that Mars, too, is getting warmer: “NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor and Odyssey missions revealed that the carbon dioxide ‘ice caps’ near Mars’ south pole had been diminishing for three summers in a row.” The head of space research at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory, a Russian named Habibullo Abdussamatov, said, “The Mars data is evidence that the current global warming on Earth is being caused by changes in the sun.”

What if it were all about the 11-year sun-spot cycle? How would I know? I’m not a scientist. But Tim Patterson, professor of geology at Carleton University, is. He asks why Earth’s temperatures rose so dramatically before the early 1940s, given that 80 per cent of human-caused CO2 was produced after the Second World War. And why was there a 30-year cooling period after the war, when CO2 emissions began to rise like the famous hockey-stick graph?

“Many researchers realize the difficulties trying to make CO2 the key factor in climate change,” Patterson said in a speech in October 2004 in Toronto. Because of that, he said, research has accelerated “into the idea that there really is a connection between variability in solar output and global temperature.”

Trust me: I have no idea whether solar output, CO2 or the Blue Fairy is the cause of climate change. But look at how poorly we have predicted disaster in the past and how vigorously we promoted it. The mass media have been breathless. Ever since the end of the Second World War, we have all faced the imminent end of the world as we know it. Weekly. At the right are just a few of the warnings we’ve received.

Need more information? Want to offset your carbon emissions? Find out where and how in BCBusinss Online’s Carbon Offsetting Resources.