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Mar 30,2007
Take a breather on carbon chatter
by The Peoria (Ill.) Journal Star

What do the NFL, the band Coldplay and the humanities college at the University of Utah have in common? They've all pledged to become carbon "neutral," a blissful state of being in which the amount of greenhouse gases one emits is supposedly offset.

It's the environmental equivalent of Weight Watchers. People figure out their carbon "footprint" - how many emissions they release at home, at work and through travel - and try to atone for their global warming sins. The NFL is buying energy certificates to offset the electricity used at the Super Bowl. The University of Utah is donating to a charity that pays indigenous Costa Ricans to preserve their rain forest.

The trend has been around for a while, but it really took off since Al Gore's documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth." Now, eco-conscious brides are planning carbon neutral weddings. Even petroleum giant BP has gotten in on the act, offering a carbon calculator on its Web site.

It sounds brilliant on paper, but it's really a sad commentary on both our nation's lack of leadership in setting a sustainable energy policy and on our own flawed consumer mind-set. (Never mind the fact that, as mammals, people can never be truly carbon neutral, due to that pesky activity called breathing.) As federal environmental regulators drag their feet on measures that could dramatically reduce emissions - not just carbon, but sulfur dioxide and mercury, too - we're doing silly things, like planting 10,000 mango trees in India, as did Coldplay. There are much better ways to conserve closer to home. Swap out incandescent light bulbs for fluorescent ones. Drive less. Better yet, petition municipal governments to improve public transportation, and support the construction of renewable energy sources, like wind farms. Demand that Washington, D.C., raise automotive mileage standards, as Al "The Goracle" himself did before a congressional committee Wednesday.

Further, the United States, the world's most prolific polluter, should revisit its stance on the Kyoto Protocol, the global greenhouse gas pact that it walked out on in 2001. The U.S. doesn't have to join, but it needs to be back at the table in a leadership role.

Meantime, consumers need not buy dubious online credits to faraway charities to assuage their global-warming guilt, like the papal indulgences of yore. All this well-intentioned greenness is just so much buzz unless it translates into policy. Take Coldplay. As the band continues to tout its stewardship, most of those mango trees have reportedly died from neglect. Forget neutrality. How about getting active?

898 times read

Related news
Time for a carbon tax? by Nick Schulz posted on Aug 03,2007

Climate of change by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch posted on Oct 26,2007

Aging Lifestyles: Let's go green as we go gray by Joe_Volz posted on May 18,2007

'Carbon-offset' markets are riddled with fraud by The San Diego Union-Tribune posted on Nov 16,2007

Turning up the heat by The St. Louis Post-Dispatch posted on Jul 27,2007

Did you enjoy this article? Rating: 5.00Rating: 5.00Rating: 5.00Rating: 5.00Rating: 5.00 (total 27 votes)

  • People should certainly be doing all they can to reduce their "carbon footprint" (drive minimally, and when you do, drive a car with good MPG and low emissions; upgrade your house/business for efficiency, etc.). But in developed countries, our lifestyles are inherently some of the most polluting on the planet, and most of us, for example, have to heat our homes somehow, and may have to burn coal or natural gas to do it. So what else can you do? Pay a "tax" for your pollution, in the case of the University of Utah's agreement with Pax Natura, by preserving forests in a less-developed country (forests are "carbon sinks," i.e., they absorb carbon from the atmosphere) so you break even -- you negate your pollution by paying to preserve trees and make sure carbon is absorbed. You could accomplish this carbon negation a number of ways. But helping prevent deforestation in the world's tropical rainforests, sometimes called "the lungs of the world" (and home to countless species, and who knows what yet-undiscovered medicines) is an extremely effective and valuable way of becoming "carbon neutral." Burning of rainforests themselves (for subsistence, ranching, etc.) is itself a large contributor to the world's overproduction of CO2, so preserving them is valuable two or threefold. Right now, this type of "carbon credit" effort is mostly voluntary. But there are proposals to make this type of system more built-in, both for individual consumers and, more importantly, as a way for more-polluting industries to make up for that fact to meet overall global goals for reducing carbon emissions (e.g., a factory that was able to retrofit to exceed EPA standards for emissions might be able to sell credits to a factory unable to do so). This is a very likely scenario for the future, as our need to limit greenhouse gases becomes more apparent and urgent.
  • (Posted on March 30, 2007, 8:01 am M.)

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