Now Everyone’s trying to sell me Carbon.

There’s a boom in carbon. “Psst, I’ve got some cheap carbon here. Bound to increase in value 50% in the next twelve months, maybe more. You gotta move quick mind – there’s so much demand they’ll be gone by tomorrow”.

Carbon credits pay for windfarms, they pay for energy efficiency and they pay for laziness-inertia. In the latter case it is just a new business overhead that has to be met. Your established setup produces the goods and the investment required to reduce carbon use far outweighs the cost of a few credits. As it is annoying – aren’t all such overheads annoying- any contingent benefit can be milked for whatever you can get. So buying credits derived from some high profile environmental project shows you care, softens the advertising and masks the damage you continue to commit.

Plus there’s a limit to the total that’s permitted per country to be released. Well, in the European Community, anyway. Rest of the World has it but on a regional basis and, of course, only category 1, “developed” nations. Cap and cut? Well, only when demand for Carbon Release permits pushes up the value of carbon credits. Squeeze the manufactures and other carbon users by restricting CR permits so they are forced to both improve their internal mechanisms, ie use less carbon, but also buy credits at a higher price.

But will that still simply send money to the same kinds of project as now receive such finance, as noted above. Creative accountancy allows wind farms to seem so good because there’s no operational carbon release but they do have a massive initial carbon footprint, as do other similar schemes. Woodland and forest, however, have a practically zero footprint are are carbon negative for perpetuity with good management.

So it seems my previous suggestions of a quite separate carbon extraction levy who’s proceeds could be steered directly to environmental restoration and not just protecting existing woodlands is a good one. As the issues are separate, so should be the solutions.

Excess carbon use has to be curtailed and the carbon release permits or “cap and trade” in the States can achieve this. Payment of retribution money, on carbon credits, assists in establishing lesser demands for carbon in future but achieves little to protect our rapidly diminishing global atmospheric buffering mechanism, our forest inheritance. As matters stand there is little chance that it ever will.

It is difficult to find words to put this strongly enough but we neglect this issue at our long term peril. The dynamics of the global carbon systems are complicated indeed. The cycling of carbon that we all draw in school science lessons is not drawn within a Gaeist framework of maintaining the dynamic equilibrium of the Global ecology.

Well, I’m not going to insert such a cycle here but the above reference in a thorough and severely scientific exploration of the topic. There is clear description of the relative bulks of carbon in gaseous, terrestrial, oceanic and geological forms. Further you can develop a feel for the capacity for and speed of transfer between the various forms.

Carbon is crucial to life yet but a small percentage of that is readily available for life. Although there is a natural release of carbon from the oceans this seems to be naturally outweighed by deposition of carbon to land based (eg peat mires in high northern latitudes) or continental shelf located “Carbon sumps”, where it is deposited outside the current use of the active, biological carbon cycle.

Present use of fossil carbon has topped up the atmospheric carbon greatly, disguising the background scenario and further hiding the loss of some 50% of the carbon from the active terrestrial ecosystem as we have cleared so much forest. If we act now and move to restore those ecosystems they can draw down carbon from the current high levels. But if we don’t then that carbon is lost permanently from the bioactive carbon cycle.

Is that so bad? Well, yes, I fear so because already we are running the environment on an odd fuel. Without our use of fossil carbon it would already be severely depleted, carbon starved and inevitably heading towards the next glacial era. Professor Bill Ruddiman (Virginia) wrote “Plows, Plagues and Petroleum” well depicting this scenario. He feels that “We should be OK for the next few hundred years as it’ll take that long to drop the atmospheric carbon” – to the level when glaciation is inevitable.

Well, maybe he’s right but even if he is I feel we should aim to store as much of that gaseous carbon within the terrestrial ecosystem as possible. Apart from the biodiversity element, which is profoundly important in itself and the protection and renewal of soils and soil water systems, the buffering capacity of a terrestrial carbon reserve is an essential security for ecological sustainability.

We cannot miss the opportunity to now restore it to fullest capacity and, if this requires a new strategic financial mechanism to be established, then so be it. Our present presence only has reason if we protect it’s future.


About greencentre

Non grant supported hence independent scientist, green activist, writer and forest planter.
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