Saturday, May 2, 2009

Carbon Confusion… Carbon Corruption

Oh, where to start? Let’s start with one fact: the planet is warmer than it was 200 years ago. That’s about where black and white ends and innumerable shades of gray begin.

The next question, the big, gray one is: Why? Two very mainstream and respectable content providers, National Geographic and The Associated Press, recently asserted:

”Scientists have reported recently that the world is heating up even faster than predicted only a few years ago, and that the consequences could be severe if we don't keep reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are trapping heat in our atmosphere.” National Geographic, April 2009
“Carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – is the chief cause of global warming.” The Associated Press as published in the Reading Eagle, May 1, 2009

But what about that big, yellow thing in the sky? Doesn’t that contribute to climate change? What about the scientific thinking that climate change is a normal planetary trend occurring every 1500 years? And what about the evidence that the warming trend we’re in right now began about 1850 and that Earth is starting to cool again? Why don’t I ever see that in the mainstream media? If we can all agree that there was an ice age, why did it end? Wouldn’t the end of the ice age have been caused by planetary warming? If it happened a million years ago, why can’t it happen again?

Those are just a few of my questions, so I’m not buying the out-and-out assertion that fossil fuels and human impact are the sole causes of global warming. Don’t get me wrong: I think we’ve done a ridiculously poor job of caring for our environment. As a society, conservationists we are not. And what we have done is downright shameful. I’m simply not convinced that what we’ve done is the sole cause of climate change.

The National Geographic quote above came from an article which included a carbon footprint calculator:
100 cubic feet of natural gas = 12 lbs. of CO2 emissions
1 kWh of electric = 1.5 lbs. of CO2 emissions
Each gallon of gas = 19.6 lbs. of CO2 emissions
Because, apparently, I have nothing else to do, I calculated my carbon footprint based on those three categories and determined that I output 10.78 metric tons of carbon annually. Sounds like a lot, but the average is 19. Granted, I’m a household of one and occasionally two… less than the average as well. And admittedly, I did not factor airplane travel into my calculation. I’m good for a couple flights a year.

Now, I could feel even better about my carbon footprint if I purchased carbon offsets. Buying carbon offsets? That’s right, I send my money to some organization who promises to invest it in reforestation, renewable energy R&D, etc. and that relieves me of my guilt about emitting too much CO2. I checked and for $11.33, I can be guilt-free about my flights earlier this year.

I’m all for reforestation and renewal energy, but have we all lost our minds? The first time I heard about buying carbon offsets, I immediately thought about the parallel between that and the corruption in the early church surrounding the selling of indulgences. Indulgences replaced the severe penances of the early church and were granted for specific good works and prayers. So someone figured out, human nature being what it was (and still is), that you could make a buck by selling an indulgence rather than requiring good works and prayers. Cash to the easy route of forgiveness. Seeing the similarity to selling carbon offsets yet?

Now might be a completely worthwhile and above-board organization. I don’t know. But I do know that “there’s a sucker born every minute”… and snake oil salesmen abound. As for me, I’ll keeping turning off the lights, turning down the heat and doing everything possible to reduce my consumption on every level. As for my monetary contributions, they’ll continue to go to the Dolphin Research Center and the Nature Conservancy – two organizations I know are doing good things for the planet. And I have to get my sweatshirt. It feels chilly to me.

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