I used the analogy of a hammer to drive home a nail.
A carbon offset is a tool we need to deal with the climate change issue, just like a hammer is a tool. If we use the tool poorly and get a greenwash outcome of companies buying credits to make themselves look good. Then it’s hardly fair to blame the tool.
The post went to Medium rather than here on Alloporus because there’s a debate going on there. Some people are adamant that carbon offsets are a terrible thing and we must get rid of them and they’re not going to solve the problem.
And to be fair, they have a point, but I wanted to make sure that they understood the point they were making.
If you hit your finger with a hammer while trying to knock in a nail, is it the hammer’s fault?
Back in 2010, Australia was about to legislate a carbon price. Not the ‘great big tax’ that haunted the Gillard government but its predecessor, the Climate Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), an attempt at emission control when the political climate still had a whiff of progress about it.
The CPRS, a cap-and-trade emissions trading scheme for anthropogenic greenhouse gases proposed by the Rudd government as part of its climate change policy, was voted down by the Greens. Under Bob Brown’s leadership, they decided it was too little, the targets were too weak. The perfect getting in the way of the good.
Instead of a start, there was no price on carbon and an open the door to the naysayers who ambled their way through for a good laugh and some appalling behaviour.
What followed was a decade of inaction, political assassinations of prime ministers, and the mess we are in now with the current PM not wanting to go to COP because he is held ransom by a bunch of clowns who think a $250 billion public purse to prop up coal mining is an idea. I could go on.
In the end, he went and tried to make climate change about submarines.
Progress is a process.
I know progress can be slow when there are values at stake. It takes time to test the water, convince the recalcitrants and avoid failure from unforeseen consequences.
And in politics, most important, do not scare the horses.
The reality that the Greens missed so badly back in 2010 is that some good is possible along the slow path to the perfect.
For example, when 136 countries sign up to a minimum corporate tax of 15% we should all applaud and pat the negotiators on the back. And yes, even if one of them is the forever on the nose Mr Cormann.
The agreement means that countries would legislate a global minimum corporate tax rate of at least 15 per cent for companies with annual revenues over 750 billion euros ($1.2 trillion), the big end of town. Then, if these big players have earnings that go untaxed or lightly taxed in one of the world’s tax havens, their home country would impose a top-up tax that would bring the rate to 15 per cent.
No more squirrelling away revenues from IP and other intangibles in the Cayman Islands without paying up.
This is a tiny step toward a more even distribution of wealth creation through governments legislating some trickle down to slow the charge to wealth inequality that grips the world. Recall that would be the trickle of wealth that the neoliberals claim is an inevitable consequence of successful economic growth.
Sure 20%, even 40%, would be better and more realistic. But 15% is a start.
Some developing countries and advocacy groups say the 15% is too low and leaves far too much tax revenue on the table. And although the global minimum would capture some $205 billion in new revenue for governments, most of it would go to rich countries where many of the big multinationals are headquartered.
This is a similar argument the Greens spouted when they couldn’t let the big emitters get away with it under the CPRS. They wanted justice right away.
Too far too soon.
The point here is that progress needs time and increments. It can do leaps, but the circumstances must be just right for rapid advances to stick. Waiting around for those opportunities is a luxury that humanity lost when it found fossil fuels.
Stick at the process
The option to wait for the leap that can only happen when the stars align and the wind is blowing away the smell is no longer risky, it is suicidal.
We have to stick at the process of incremental change. It is painful to support such a puny percentage as 15% but it’s way better than waiting for donut economics to appear and change the whole game.
What the Greens did in 2010 was irresponsible, even for them. What the leaders have done since is on a par.
But a carbon price back in 2010 would have seen a small but effective change in the emission trajectory and a far greater chance of reaching any targets that the world would have us set now.
Personal computers, mobile phones, the internet, global travel, gastronomic delights, and Netflix have arrived in the lifetime of the Baby Boomers. So many things have changed over the last 60 years that my infant self would never have imagined my future.
I have experienced so much that I need to pinch myself to be sure it all happened.
The Alpha generation
What of the babies born today, the Alpha generation? What will they experience in their lifetimes?
If the Boomers went from landlines to Facetime, maybe the Alphas can expect holograms, space travel for the masses, and bionic body parts. They could also have to pinch their virtual selves.
Only they will have more to do than the Boomers.
We know that their generation must solve many problems made from the successes of the previous generations. They will be faced with issues of food security, water security, wealth discrepancies, refugees, and any number of technology transitions, especially with energy.
Oh yes, and Covid or its derivatives.
They will also be impacted by changes to the climate.
Here are some of the numbers based on a warming scenario should we meet the Paris agreement targets and see a global average of 2.7℃ of extra heat
The Alpha generation can expect over 600,000 heatwave related deaths every decade.
A golden age
The Boomers parents and grandparents did it tough too — nobody goes through a global war unscathed.
So I am lucky to be born a Boomer and forever grateful.
However, my generation has done a lousy job of preparing for the future. We have not curtailed population or consumption but promoted both. Nature has buckled under our excesses, and the natural resources we leave for the Alphas are either depleted or dangerous to use.
The Baby Boomers had it good because we were born at just the right time, the golden age of technology and wealth. We tapped the sun’s ancient energy for a cheap fix and a costly legacy.
It will take a lot to make a platinum age from what we will leave behind.
Feel free to browse the Alloporus back catalogue for more ideas and random thoughts.
Honest cooperation is contagious enough when a threat is real and you look similar enough to the folk needing or giving help.
This behaviour is exploited by activists the world over. The threat of this, the fight against that, dangerous climate change, the death of the oceans.
Wait. That last one isn’t dangerous to me, surely.
The idea being that if enough danger is realised by each individual then emotions are triggered and we all get together to fight the good fight.
Unfortunately with the environment, it fails every time.
The fight is only in the extreme and for many of the most serious environmental issues, such as running out of rock phosphorus — ah-ha not expecting that one, hey — there is no personal extreme.
This systemic rather than acute pain applies to climate change, biodiversity loss, ocean pollution, soil degradation and a host of other issues.
It is very hard to fight something that you cannot see.
So the activists latch onto the koala, the tiger or the manatee.
At least you can get a visual on these critters and imagine the loss of cuteness.
This need for personal danger or at least a visual that is relatable, is starting to happen in the climate change debate.
This is partly through the ‘climate emergency’ idea that is declared by an increasing number of jurisdictions and organisations. It is also, more tellingly, through the very real feeling among the youngsters that the current system is mortgaging their future. That their parents are letting the powers that be, political or otherwise, raid their legacy for profit under the notion that economic growth is a necessity.
It also helps that forests are burning into suburbs and whole cities are choked with toxic air from the smoke.
The logical and the morals of this premise are now in the frame as much as the nebulous and unrelatable 3 degrees of warming.
It means we can get real activism. The sort of thing that will bring people together and bring forth leaders with progressive thinking and a sense of urgency. Not through the current generation of stupid white men who have a disproportionate impact on the world, but the kids who will grow up to take their place.
For the first time in a long while, there is hope that leaders will not be predominantly white or men or stupid.
If you enjoyed this and other Alloporus posts please consider reposting to you social networks… It’s lonely out in space.
Where I live there is a drought that is deep and wide. It is the biggest drought on record in Australia, the place renown as a parched land.
In our neighbourhood, the rainfall for the past two calendar years was less than half the longterm average. This means the soil is bone dry, the trees are gasping for some moisture, and the leaves and twigs they have shed in profusion are like tinder.
No surprise then that we have been ringed by bushfire since the beginning of December. When we are not on alert for the flames we are trying not to breathe in the smoke.
At the time of writing some 5 million hectares of NSW has burned including a huge swath of forest, some 512,000 hectares, to our north and an active fire still heading our way from the south.
Across the country, the area burned in this one fire season is 10.7 million hectares, an area bigger than Portugal.
The fires this year have made headlines around the world, devasted local communities and changed forever the lives of the people in them. Over 20 people have died and some 1,823 homes have been destroyed and already some 8,985 insurance claims lodged.
And it is still going.
It could be the end of January or later before significant rain — the kind that puts fires out — is likely to fall across many parts of the country.
There is some good news. The community has rallied. People have helped each other and the, mostly volunteer, firefighters have gone above and beyond and beyond again to tirelessly protect lives and property.
These fine people are remarkable as are those who lead them. The fire chiefs and local coordinators have put the politicians to shame with their calm and steady leadership.
All of the emergency services personnel are legends.
Compared to these people the politicians, especially the prime minister, need to take a very hard look at themselves and then do the honourable thing and resign. But we’ll leave that conversation to twitter.
Here is a practical point.
There is an ecological reality from the extent of these fires.
A large proportion of many forested areas have burnt all at once. This is not what we understand happens. We think that forests burn in a mosaic leaving patches, even small ones, unburnt in most fires. These unburnt areas are refuges for animals and sources of seed and dispersal for plants. They also hold reservoirs of source populations for the other 99% of biodiversity that we don’t normally think about — microbes, fungi and invertebrates.
When the whole forest burns, all 500,000+ hectares of it near us, there are far fewer, if any, refugia. The source populations of many organisms are gone. The likelihood for local extinctions of many species is very high. Not the iconic koala of course, despite what you will read, but a host of far more useful organisms.
Then we see that these big forests are all burning at the same time. Here is the extent for southern NSW on the 7 January 2020, green areas are the larger patches of native vegetation and most of them are shaded as a fire scar.
The forest patches left unburnt are mostly small or isolated or intermingled with human habitation. The large, wild areas needed by many sensitive species burned, often intensively.
This is an ecological step change.
The pattern of disturbance (fire) is now more widespread, intense and all at the same time.
This will have any number of effects on the ecology of Australia’s southeastern forests. The regeneration will happen as it always does. But the plants were stressed by extended drought before the fires, the burns were mostly intense and so we cannot expect the vegetation to recover to its former state even though many of the trees and shrubs will miraculously resprout with epicormic growth and the seed bank will flourish in the ash beds, if and when it rains.
If the recovery effort for the ecology that will be tasked once the people are back on their feet must accept that what was before is no more. The future forests will be different. For a start, they will need to be resilient to this kind of disturbance on a much more regular basis.
Of course, this sort of fire season will have happened before. Not in the memory of the western settlers perhaps but no doubt the ancestors of the first peoples witnessed something like it. But only rarely. The climate record suggests this type of event is possible. What will be interesting is if it happens again and again. That the ecology has not seen before.
So not so much of a Happy New Year here.
We have experienced a step-change though. One that does not happen very often when the scale of a disturbance to the natural world is so wide and so deep that it changes the ecology.
There is an opportunity in such a change.
We can get rid of old and unhelpful conservation paradigms like our desperate focus on the rare things and look to resilience for the goods and service we need from nature whilst helping it protect itself from its own powers of destruction.
That’s it for now but we’ll come back to our need for dominion again soon.
Hope you have a Happy New Year and all your resolutions hold.
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Sometimes the craziness is too much, it blows your synapses away. You are left in a bucket of incredulity.
Cop this quote from the former Australian PM Tony Abbott reported by SBS online from a summit in Hungary trying to explain the real threat to the existence of his kind…
“It seems to me that it is not so much our failure to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but our failure to produce children that is the extinction reality against which we really need to work against”
Tony Abbott, Former Australian Prime Minister
Let’s just pause a moment.
This blatant click-baiting is trying to trick us that even though Australia failed to reduce emissions, that’s not the biggest problem. That accolade goes to our inability to produce enough white people.
Seriously, enough white people. You are kidding, right?
At first, I thought that I should write the obvious rebuttal that we are already reproducing 8,000 people per hour. An hourly net increase into the grand diaspora of the world, and it should matter little what tribes they come from. There are more than enough people to go around and satisfy every neoliberals wet dream.
Only when we last looked, the distribution of people and resources is uneven across the world. This means that some places will be crowded and run out of resources. And when the population growth rate is high, crowded places will become difficult to live in and people will want to leave to find a better opportunity. Emigration is inevitable and these people have to go somewhere.
Do you want to live in these crowded places? No, neither does Tony.
But then I thought again.
This kind of craziness is too common compared to the proportion of people who might actually believe the nonsense.
Here is a fascinating graphic from Statista chart of the day
What it says is that less than 1 in 20 people actually deny the existence of climate change in most developed countries. A party representing this minority would never win an election and yet the rhetoric from the deniers remains powerful in the social mix.
This is what Abbot and his cronies bank on.
They know their opinions are not shared by most but that is not what matters. Influence is the game and, no matter there are kids on strike and a 16 year old girl calling out the UN, these noisy minorities are good at it.
It turns out I can’t push the incredulity aside. It is gut-wrenching because these people are incorrigible.
What I have to learn is that numbers are not enough.
If you live in Australia long enough there are a few things that you will experience first hand.
You will witness the removal of a sitting prime minister by his or her best mates.
There will be storms and floods that will drown livestock, wet low lying carpet and put an array of dents in the bonnet of your Holden Commodore.
Hang around some more and you will come close to a bushfire because many of the native plants are highly flammable, especially when they dry out, the wind gets up and it’s 40 degrees Celcius in the shade, and they burn with terrible ferocity.
And there will be drought.
At some point, probably several, there will be weeks and months when it is so dry even the bones are thirsty. Likely this will coincide with temperatures that basking lizards find challenging. This is the truth and it always has been the truth.
Australia is not called the land of drought and flooding rain for nothing.
What to do about drought?
Well, it will happen. No amount of rain dancing, prayers and speeches from aged ministers can change this fact. There will be drought and it will be hard, harsh and intense for everyone who lives off the land.
So here is what we should do
Let things go
The first thing is, do not to treat drought as a natural disaster or blame it on climate change, even if the frequency and intensity of drought might be changing for the worse.
Drought is an inevitable, unstoppable reality of life on a large dry continent, accept it.
If anything is as inevitable as death and taxes, then it makes a lot of sense to do the boy scout thing and be prepared.
This means drought proofing water supplies, food production systems and the wider economy.
The many specifics would bloat this post but we are talking about investment in water infrastructure, grazing practices that retain groundcover, rural insurance subsidised by city folk through realistic food prices, choosing the local supply chains that are sustainable… the list is long.
Then, and this may be that hardest of the three, let things go.
Let some things go
It may not be possible for Joe to rear livestock on a property that has poor soils, no reliable water and was infested with rabbits for 50 years since the 1920’s. That landholding might just have to rest.
It may not be that the cod in the Murray can survive a drought if we choose to put the water onto the crops. Should we choose the cod, then we have to let go at least some of the irrigation.
In drought, there are zero-sum games everywhere that require specific choices.
Accept, prepare, let go
Accept, prepare, let go is very different to do nothing, act surprised and prop up poor preparation with drought relief payments.
$50 billion is the current projected cost to replace the Australian submarine fleet.
$60 billion is roughly 5% of Australia’s GDP
$96 billion is what 9.3 million Australian households spend on the modern equivalent of bread and water, somewhere near 15% of their weekly budget. This is a pretty standard proportional spend in mature economies. Somewhere between 7 and 15% of household budgets go to food. The French at the higher end, the British the lower.
Big numbers then.
$226 billion is an order of magnitude larger. It represents the size of the labelled green bond market in 2016.
$895 billion is the size of the climate-aligned blond universe. This amount includes investments that are designed to support climate adaptation or have an impact on emissions but are not quite up for a green label.
$1,000 billion is the projected size of the climate aligned bond market in 2020, just three years hence, investments that are needed to help all countries meet their Paris climate commitments for emission reduction.
$90,000 billion is the current size of the global bond market.
The interesting question is where to put all this money.
It makes sense to put a hefty chunk of it into actions that improve environmental performance or, alternatively, new submarines.
“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see”
Scott Pruitt, Head US Environmental Protection Agency
This is an awesome quote on so many levels.
Like all good quotes, there are truths. Measuring with precision is indeed challenging and the impact of human activity on climate is, without doubt, a source of disagreement.
There is also a subtle admission; “the global warming that we see”. Lucky he put that in before some of the biggest storms on record. It’s also an admission somewhat at odds with the rest of the quote. Presumably, you are supposed to look past that inconsistency.
So here is a question to think about.
At what point should a public servant talk up his personal view or that of his immediate political masters over the official policy setting?
If public servants simply disregarded the current policy it makes a mockery of the democratic process. Those elected to create policy rely on the system to implement whatever they decide in good faith. And those who elect their representatives expect the system to work too.
This means public servants tasked with designing and delivering workable policy should get on with it even as the politics dances around them. They should stand firm and deliver the flavour of the day.
So to be fair to Mr Pruitt his frame is a new policy and not that of the previous administration.
And then there is the reality.
Here are some Alloporus thoughts on climate change
It used to be said that only death and taxes were certain. All else was a maybe. It seems Australians can now add ‘confused climate policy’ to the list of certainties. Since this post first appeared in August 2011 very little has changed. You could even argue that some of the uncertainty has leaked to other jurisdictions and tweets from the POTUS.
And the message is still missing.
The missing link
Some years ago I wrote an essay entitled ‘What if it’s not emissions’. I was not in denial or even sceptical about climate change, more concerned that we had become fixated with emission reduction as the solution to climate change. So convinced had we become that it was a given that if emissions came down, we would have fixed that awkward problem and all will be well with the world.
My real issue was that we risked putting all our eggs into the emission reduction basket.
After more years of political inaction than seems decent, the Australian government has just released a clean energy future policy on climate change. And, guess what? We still have the same fixation. The proposal is all about emission reduction, initially through a tax on pollution followed by a cap and trade system to make emitting greenhouse gas so expensive that no rational business could afford such behaviour.
It might be about emissions, but the policy formulation sees only a modest reduction target – 5% below 2000 emission levels by 2020. This means in 2020 Australia is pledging to emit 509 million tCO2e in greenhouse gases or 56 million less than it did in 2009.
Only by 2020, even with the proposed intricate emissions reduction policy fully functional, emissions of 679 million tCO2e are predicted.
Actual emissions will increase because the Australian population will grow in numbers at roughly 890 people per day, the economy will grow and so will affluence. Economic growth will require energy to follow the historical trend of a doubling in consumption every 30 years. And although the policy does talk about energy efficiency and alternative sources, the required capacity increase will inevitably be met by traditional means.
Emissions growth will leave a shortfall in the target of 170 million tCO2e or 30% of current emissions. So it would seem that the emissions reduction basket has few eggs.
This again begs the question ‘What if it’s not emissions?’
Let us accept what the science tells us and agree that it is emissions that are a significant driver of the current climate warming. What the policy shows is that, rather like American debt ceiling, we cannot quite admit the severity of the problem. And, more importantly, we lack the courage to tackle the problem head on. It is just too hard and too scary.
And this would actually be ok if we hadn’t missed the critical issue in all this.
We have stopped talking about how 7 billion people are going to sustain growth in affluence on a warming planet. We have forgotten about adaptation. Forgotten that we will need to use water wisely, deliver sustainable production on farms, and manage our landscapes when the temperatures change, rains forget to fall, seasonality shifts, severe weather events become more frequent and the sea levels rise.
Less than $1 billion of the $25 billion revenue generated from the carbon tax will go incentive land management through carbon offset projects. They will mostly be Kyoto compliant activities such as permanent tree plantings and flaring methane – just as the international agreement to proceed with a second commitment period of the Kyoto protocol teeters.
There will be money for biodiversity initiatives. Good stuff, but just more of what we have already been doing.
What happened to incentives to revegetate the landscape and put carbon back into the soil? The critical activities that will help us manage that scarce water, produce reliable quantities of food and help save what is left of nature. Missing, presumed dead.
Seems like we should ask again, ‘What if it’s not emissions?’
Hidden in deep in the 2017 budget papers from the Australian government is an apparent cut to funding for the National Climate Change Adaptation Centre. This centre is one of the few places in Australia with a focus on adaptation, the thing we have to do if emission reduction fails. Something like Plan B that, given the precariousness of Plan A, should be getting a boost not a cut.
Only this is where we are at just three years out from 2020. Devoid of policy, pushing rubbery emission targets out to the distant future, and cutting funding for Plan B.
For the sake of the grandkids, let’s pray that it is not emissions.