How do you price the tonne of carbon that, once burned, tips the balance and triggers catastrophic, irreversible global warming?

[I wrote this a couple of years ago for The Ecologist. They didn’t use it but, hey, I still like it. It was a valid question and emphasises the position of inevitable no return we seem to be sailing through with total disregard as “our” attention is sharply focused on the quick buck……]

For one tiny moment this can be taken as a serious question. Well, it’s written dead pan and uses all the right words. The English makes an apparently rational question. And you wrestle, you struggle, get thrown to the floor even , before you smile wanly, “Oh, it’s a joke”. Like, did the last one to leave the Chernobyl nuclear power station turn out the lights?

Can you picture the scene in the TaiPei Community District Power Station, boiler number 7b, when they come to stoke up for the mid-evening power rush. “Hey, here comes that tonne, comrades. You know, the one which is going to tip the atmospheric balance and give us catastrophic global warming. Do any of you know what we paid for it?” “No comrade, but I do know that that water wasn’t coming in through the door five minutes ago.”

Of course there’s no such point. If there were, how could we ever determine it? We may deal in generalities easily and in gross quantities. We know what goes into the equation but not what comes out.

So there are three trillion tonnes of Carbon di Oxide in our atmosphere to which we add about 0.5% (15 billion tonnes) each year. This is net, as twice this is actually released. Some is fixed to vegetation, some more is dissolved in water, maybe some becomes shellfish and more ends in the soil. It’s released as forest clearance, slash and burn, by agriculture, by fossil fuel use and even by our collective breathing – there’s a few million gone to seven billion of us in a very short time!

Carbon, once burned, sits in our atmosphere as an invisible record of our use of the energy it once stored. Ask a school kid about it and the answer will include the carbon cycle and climate change. How the breakdown in the former leads to the latter. They’ll give you the solution, too – let the cycle be restored, so’s it works again properly. But how? In detail they are unclear but many will tell you to “plant trees”.

But “No” we say. “That’s too simplistic.” What we must do is “use the market to propel people into situations where they voluntarily refrain from carbon burning through the application of the Principles of the Open Market”. To me this does seem a little questionable. The market has driven us all to the brink of disaster, where all our basic manufacturing and trading systems are in chaos and countless lives in ruins, yet this is still where we place our faith. It’s like asking a rapist for first aid or the burglar to put money on the meter before he leaves. No, it’s not going to happen.

So, maybe for inspiration, I turned to read. “The Forest Carbon Conundrum” a headline cried. “Allowing forest carbon to be traded freely alongside other carbon would send the carbon price tumbling”, it said, “by 57%”. Not 58% or even 55%, you note, and “some 82% of deforestation could be avoided”. But then it was less clear because, if you provided less “forest carbon credits”, you would “end up reducing the amount of continued deforestation by just 16% – an unacceptably small target”. This certainly spells out the nature of the problem most clearly. In a word “Sophistry”.

In real terms money is a measure of force. So the strong accumulate money; those with a position of strength or who maintain a monopoly on a vital resource have strength and so control the allocation of finance. When it comes to it, if the moneyed wish to burn carbon, then, like Nero in ancient Rome, they will ignore all the problems around them and continue in their actions. Yes and he allowed Rome to burn so the analogy is good!

There seems to be no reduction in the rate of increase of atmospheric “greenhouse gases” . Detailed reports from groups such as “Climate Action” [Climate Safety – in case of emergency… 2009] show the alarming evidence of this reality. They issue the standard pleas to reduce carbon use and detailed pictures of the newly revealed summer ocean at the North Pole. If we price carbon burning high in some parts of the World, carbon is burned elsewhere. Economics makes fools of us all.

What’s needed is to frame systems that carry us beyond the constraints of classical economics and into a wholly new mind set of sustainability and regeneration. This has to be proactive, setting real goals and defining the methodologies to get there. We’ve known this for thirty years and more and many of us are deeply frustrated, not by the lack of progress but by the appalling regression we have been witnessing.

Yes, planting trees does work. Moving to restore the lost half of the Global forest would cleanse the atmosphere beautifully – the sums add up! Small groupings such as “The Global Restoration Network”, “The Earth Restoration Service” and, of course, “The Society for Ecological Restoration International” provide expression of this, as deeply concerned, highly informed and motivated people have gathered to express modes in which we can avoid having to price carbon but simply work to build new social landscapes, where mankind and Earth can indeed interact in a sustainable manner.

There’s little point in putting a price on that tonne. If we ever got there, the price would have been too high.

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About greencentre

Non grant supported hence independent scientist, green activist, writer and forest planter.
This entry was posted in Carbon market, Climate chemistry, Climate politics, Green politics,, Greenhouse gases and climate change, Land use, New forests and woodland, REDD+. Bookmark the permalink.

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