Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Carbon offsets offer a fantasy of capitalism without crises

Governments, companies and sometimes entire sectors are increasingly proposing to use carbon offsets in response to the deepening climate crisis. In theory, offsetting allows organisations to compensate for their own emissions by paying towards low-carbon projects elsewhere, but the practice has been mired in scientific problems and scandals, and it has been widely critiqued in the social sciences.

With the UK government now seeking to turn London into a global hub for the carbon offset trade, it’s worth asking why it is still so prominent. My research on what I have called the fantasy of carbon offsetting helps explain the situation.

Carbon offset credits are created when a standards organisation declares that a project has reduced or avoided greenhouse gas emissions (a solar farm that “replaces” a coal power plant, say) or instead has removed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stored it somewhere (by planting lots of trees, for instance).

The standards body issues carbon credits, the project owner sells them, and they can be traded in the financialised carbon economy until the point when a buyer “retires” them. The buyer that retires the credit is said to have caused the reduction, avoidance or removal of a defined quantity of greenhouse gases – in this sense, their emissions have been “offset” by the reductions of someone else.

It sounds far-fetched, and it is. Grave uncertainties in the accounting process are exploited by project developers, overlooked by standards agencies, and forgotten by auditors. These actors all have conflicts of interest – developers want to sell more credits, while standards agencies and auditors want to gain market share. The resulting credits they certify are offered as a cheap means to appear green.

Many companies are pledging to use offsets to remove carbon in their “net-zero” climate strategies. A high-profile report launched at the World Economic Forum seeks to rapidly expand the market, and offsetting will be on the agenda at the next big UN climate summit, COP26 in Glasgow. Governments including Japan and Switzerland have set up bilateral offset schemes. The international aviation sector plans to offset some of its emissions. Almost every day we are told of absurd new offsetting plans, like shipments of “carbon neutral” crude oil, or Canadian cows who will eat chemicals to reduce methane belches to offset emissions from tar sands in Alberta.

To help explain the new hype around carbon offsetting and its return to a central position in climate policy, I argue in a new paper in the journal Environmental Politics that one of the reasons carbon offsetting continues is because of fantasy. According to a psychoanalytic approach to the critique of ideology – which has been advanced prominently by the philosopher Slavoj Žižek – fantasy is a means by which ideology takes its failures into account, in advance.

Fantasy helps explain why knowledge about intractable problems may not stop carbon offsetting: its failures are already accounted for within the ideological formation. To research this further, I linked psychoanalytic theory to transcripts of interviews that I conducted with 65 practitioners involved with carbon offset markets. My analysis suggests that many of those involved recognise, at different levels, the gap between the spectacular portrayals of carbon offsetting and its deficiencies in practice. Awareness of this gap is managed through cynical forms of reasoning and knowledge disavowal.

Problems are known – but suppressed

Cynical reasoning involves knowledge that one is perpetuating an illusion or a problem, but doing it anyway. It sometimes involves laughter which mocks the predicament of the self. For example, one person selling offsets told me they only partly believe in carbon offsetting, and then laughed. Knowledge disavowal involves knowing about the existence of problems, but suppressing that knowledge. Those involved in carbon offsetting need not laugh at themselves all the time – disavowal also works for them.

Cynical reasoning and disavowal are not very disruptive to the social fantasy, which circulates through markets populated by experts who proclaim that offsets are genuine and legitimate. Figures of authority in the offset market – people with claims to expertise who talk about “high-quality” offsetting – reinforce fantasy. Doubts about offsetting are calmed, because even if one person does not (fully) believe, someone else will do it for them, in a process that repeats.


The dangerous rise of climate censorship

"Stop Funding Heat" has pressured a newspaper to delete a series of eco-sceptical articles.

Six retweets. That is all the censorship campaign, Stop Funding Heat, needed to have a series of articles taken down by a major British news website and erased from the web. The activists also extracted a groveling apology from the paper’s editor, who promised not only to join the campaign, but also implied his journalists would stop reporting negatively on their cause and would no longer hold them to account.

Stop Funding Heat is a spinoff of campaign group Stop Funding Hate, which pressures advertisers to withdraw funding from newspapers and media outlets which publish articles it disagrees with. Stop Funding Heat is a mysterious outfit which appeared online in 2019. According to its Facebook page, it aims to ‘defund’ and de-platform its ideological opponents in order to make criticisms of green politics ‘unprofitable’. It has no official website and only a Gmail contact address. Yet it has managed to solicit a swift response from a major newspaper.

‘As soon as I became aware of these stories I removed them as they fail to reflect our direction of travel in pursuing a greener, environmentally friendly agenda’, Gary Jones, editor-in-chief of the Daily Express and Express Online, told the DeSmog climate blog after he was contacted by Stop Funding Heat. ‘The Express is committed to promoting green issues and reporting on developments in the ongoing battle to combat climate change, and bring real, sustainable change to the way we all lead our lives. I am absolutely determined to report positively on efforts not only to make Britain greener, but to look at the global picture which impacts on us all’, he added.

That is, the Express will be ‘pursuing’ Stop Funding Heat’s ‘agenda’. Never have I seen such an astonishing statement from a newspaper editor in a democratic society. And never have I known a campaign to win such an easy victory over our supposedly free press.

It is, of course, hard to know what was in the censored articles. One, which has been archived, is about Naomi Seibt, a critic of Greta Thunberg. It says that Seibt ‘argues people should “think before panicking”’, although she ‘agrees carbon dioxide… does affect climate change’. Hardly climate ‘denial’.

The campaigners didn’t even need to leave their bedrooms to get results. A few tweets were directed at a prominent Express advertiser, saying ‘Is this really a message that @Octopus_Energy wants to endorse?’. Six retweets and 17 likes later, Octopus Energy replied, causing the Express to back down immediately.

Just six months ago, people from across the political spectrum rallied around the Spectator after the Co-Op – prompted by Stop Funding Hate – attempted to influence the magazine’s editorial line on trans issues by joining an advertising boycott. Spectator chairman Andrew Neil promised to ban Co-Op from placing ads in future. More than 1,000 people subscribed to the magazine in a single day in a show of force and solidarity. Co-Op promptly apologised and a victory for the free press was declared. That victory, however, now appears to be just a minor battle in a longer war that is rapidly being lost.

Wherever one stands on the issue of climate change, it should concern us all that it is now, in effect, only possible to cover and report on this issue in one light. All those who support the Net Zero agenda should welcome scrutiny if they are confident in their policies and ideology. Either that criticism is debunked and ridiculed, and their case is strengthened, or it can expose some weakness in their policies and ideas, which can then be corrected. But if all your critics are silenced, we can and should conclude that you have things to hide.

The difference between the Spectator and Express Online cases is that the latter is reliant on advertisers, rather than subscribers, and is financially struggling generally. This is the case for almost all of our newspapers and news websites. As a result, they are much more responsive to the views of advertisers, even though these are notoriously out of step with the views and economic interests of working people.

Nearly every paper in the country is now either backing the government’s campaigns on climate and Net Zero, or is calling for it to go harder and faster. The Express has its ‘Green Britain Needs You’ campaign, which claims green policies will generate £21 billion for the economy. And the Sun has its ‘Green Team’ campaign, which promises to save readers’ money and the planet.

Reaching Net Zero may or may not be a worthy cause. But is it really true that suddenly abandoning fossil fuels, on which all modern civilisation has been built, can be achieved with no adverse economic effects? Who is scrutinising these claims if once sceptical papers like the Express are now committed to ‘campaigning’ on the issue and rather than reporting on it?

Big Tech is compounding the problem, too. Open online debate around the proper policy response to climate change is becoming all but impossible. Videos on YouTube come with a health warning and a link to the Big Tech-approved stance. There has also been widespread ‘shadow banning’ of articles on Facebook, even those based on peer-reviewed science, which counter the accepted climate narrative. No doubt newspapers, already fearful of advertisers, will self-censor in turn to avoid losing the 36 per cent of people who now get their news on Facebook.

Things will only begin to change when we see new online platforms and publications, representing a real diversity of views, and when readers begin to pay for the journalism they support. We cannot continue relying on Facebook moderators and advertisers, or Octopus Energy and other corporations with a commercial and ideological agenda, to decide what news gets funding and exposure.

During the coronavirus crisis, we have grown used to the media, often at the behest of the government, framing everything in the most alarmist terms possible – while shaming those who dissent from government policy. I fear this is also the case with climate. The public are not trusted to read or hear criticism of green policies or positive news on climate because elites think that they know better and believe the cause is more important than the truth.

If this settlement becomes the norm – upheld by big corporations, a cowardly media and monopolous Big Tech firms – we will have shut down debate on one of the most important issues of our time.


Come clean about the cost of Net Zero

Going carbon-neutral would mean a drastic reduction in living standards, but no politician can admit it.

The UK parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published a report last week that found ‘there is no coordinated plan with clear milestones towards achieving’ the 2050 ‘Net Zero’ emissions-reduction target. This lack of a plan, the committee claimed, made it ‘difficult for parliament and the general public to understand or scrutinise’ progress towards the goal.

Select Committees such as the PAC are populated by MPs from all parties, and are one of the main mechanisms parliament has to hold government departments, ministers and the government to account. But while the PAC rightly points out that the government has no idea about how to achieve the Net Zero target, neither do MPs, who bear just as much responsibility for this.

Of course there is no plan for how to reach Net Zero. Just as with the Climate Change Act (CCA) 2008, which demanded emissions reduction of 80 per cent, the Net Zero target was set long before anyone had ever thought about how to actually achieve it. The political consensus that gave us the Net Zero goal is confounded by three factors: the lack of a global Net Zero agreement, the lack of available technology and the lack of popular support.

Around the time MPs signed off on the CCA in 2008, public disengagement with politics was at record levels. This provided an open door to the green lobby and other campaigning organisations. These special interests claimed that climate policy – including generous subsidies for green technology – would deliver green innovation and economic revitalisation. They also claimed that ‘saving the planet’ would become a popular concern and would mobilise public opinion. These promises turned out to be empty.

The problem is crystallised in the PAC report’s summary:

‘As much as 62 per cent of the future reduction in emissions will rely on individual choices and behaviours, from day-to-day lifestyle choices to one-off purchases such as replacing boilers that use fossil fuels or buying an electric vehicle. Government has not yet properly engaged with the public on the substantial behaviour changes that achieving Net Zero will require.’

But if 62 per cent of emissions reduction is to ‘rely on individual choices and behaviours’, then Net Zero policies will necessarily require the removal of the public’s ‘choices’ and the state regulation of their ‘behaviours’. And because there is no like-for-like, emissions-free replacement for your domestic heating, for your car, or for the many other everyday activities that require energy, the inevitable outcome of Net Zero is a reduction in most people’s living standards and quality of life.

For example, green advocates claim that new technology can end our reliance on the gas grid. And the government has announced that the installation of gas boilers will be banned in the 2030s to encourage the use of heat pumps. But there are severe downsides to this. Heat pumps typically cost many times what domestic gas boilers cost – at least 3.5 times for the unit itself, not including installation costs. They require much larger radiators than most homes already have, and noisy heat-exchange units (identical to air-conditioning) also need to be installed on the outside of every home. And because heat pumps are less able to produce heat on demand, homes in which they are installed require significant insulation.

Moreover, heat pumps are categorically not equivalent products to boilers. ‘Gas boilers heat your home at the flick of a switch, whereas a heat pump takes 24 hours and heats the home to 17 to 19 degrees’, Chris Stark, the chief executive of the Climate Change Committee, recently admitted. Not being able to heat your house to room temperature, ‘will require an attitudinal shift’, Stark added.

But even if people’s ‘attitudes’ could be engineered to fit the designs of civil servants, it is not ‘attitudes’ that will be needed to provide the tens of thousands it costs to turn an ordinary home into a Net Zero compliant property. A study looking at Nottingham City Council, which retrofitted 10 very ordinary homes, found that a small house required nearly £90,000 to make it ‘low carbon’.

No explanation has been offered by the green camp to show that these costs can be reduced, except for assumptions about economies of scale. But this may be an unsafe assumption as green policies will push up prices of construction, too. ‘Retrofitting’ may well end up costing households close to the equivalent of a century of today’s domestic energy bills, for the promise of modest (if any) savings in future energy bills.

The removal of ‘choices’ and the regulation of ‘behaviours’ demanded by Net Zero represents a radical departure from democratic politics. But whenever the anti-democratic nature of the green agenda is pointed out, green wonks respond that voters continue to back parties that have stated their commitment to Net Zero policies. This is partly true. Nearly all national and regional parties in the UK have formed a consensus on climate policy and make great play of it and their green ambitions in their manifestos.

But as I have pointed out previously on spiked , if you can’t vote against a thing, you cannot be said to have voted for that thing, either. No party has offered a clear alternative. Moreover, no party manifesto has explained to voters what a commitment to Net Zero actually requires from them. None has ever spelled out that this means the removal of their choices, the regulation of their behaviour and the dismantling of democracy. Manifestos instead emphasise imaginary upsides of climate policy: jobs, green growth, ‘building back better’, and so on. But notice: politicians have only ever made their emissions-reductions targets ‘legally binding’, never their promises of green jobs and green growth.

The Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats have all been in government. They have all sat on countless committee meetings on the climate. But they have all failed to explain to the public what the green agenda they are driving forward actually means for everyday life. Back in 2019, MPs decided that they didn’t need longer than 90 minutes to discuss the implications of Net Zero.

The prime minister’s 10-point plan for a ‘green industrial revolution’, which was published in November, is a typical piece of slapdash climate policymaking. It is big on hyperbole, setting bizarre, unrealistic goals, while short on detail of how to reach them. It contains no meaningful evidence of the government ‘building back’ at all, let alone ‘better’.

The Committee on Climate Change has tried to use this policy vacuum as an opportunity to advance its own plan in its Sixth Carbon Budget report, which incorporates some of the ‘recommendations’ produced by the Climate Assembly. But as I reported previously on spiked, the bureaucrats and academics involved with the Assembly, including the CCC, have taken extraordinary liberties with the Assembly’s report, claiming support for policies that the Assembly had rejected.

Yet more chaos was unleashed into this mix when, last month, a leaked memo revealed some of the price rises the government was considering to achieve the Net Zero target. The backlash was such that by the same evening, Downing Street appeared to have nixed the idea. Boris Johnson’s rejection of these price rises was reiterated this month in an interview with the Sun. Again the PM only spoke of upsides to his Net Zero agenda, including an ‘economic bounce back’ and an imminent ‘technological revolution’.

But which is it? Taxes and the draconian regulation of our choices – as every green academic and organisation outside of government seems hell bent on – or the unicorns and rainbows that have been promised by every government and political party since John Major? Nobody seems to know what Net Zero means, nor how it can be achieved, nor how much it will cost.

The PAC is right. There is no plan. There is no agreement on how to achieve Net Zero. Perhaps there is no plan because – for the time being at least – nobody who is accountable to the public dares to explain to the public what a plan might look like. It is left to lofty academics, special interests and environmentalist zealots to demand policies that the public is certain to reject.

It is worth reiterating the facts here. The UK climate agenda, despite being three decades old and having faced zero political opposition, lacks anything resembling popular support or democratic legitimacy. It is dependent on technology that does not yet exist or is not yet proven to be economically viable. It has not once been subjected to an independent cost-benefit analysis. It has been jealously guarded from its critics by its advocates, who will merely smear any criticism as ‘science denial’. None of its advocates will admit to the public what it means for them, stressing only the upsides of green utopia. None of the institutions charged with delivering it seem to have settled on a plan, despite a long-standing cross-party political consensus, and the alignment of national and local governments, all government departments and bodies, academia, civil society and NGOs, and the media.

So why don’t they just ask the public? Put it to a vote? Probably because the one thing that all these useless chancers know for sure is that the answer is going to be: Net Zero? No thanks.


The Social Costs of Carbon Cancelation

Paul Driessen

Fearing that incessant warnings about manmade climate cataclysms would not be enough to end U.S. fossil fuel use, the Obama-Biden administration instructed a special Interagency Working Group to concoct a “social cost of carbon” concept. The SCC would “scientifically” calibrate the dollar value of damages that a ton of carbon dioxide emitted today in America would inflict on the USA and world in the future.

The price tag was set at $22/ton in 2010, raised to $36/ton in 2013, and just as arbitrarily increased to $40, before finishing the Obama era at $51/ton. President Trump disbanded the IWG and had the SCC slashed to less than $10/ton. Within hours of taking office, President Biden resurrected the working group, reinstituted $51/ton as a starting point, and directed federal agencies to devise a definitive SCC by 2022.

This “updated” version will reflect “recent developments in the science and economics” of climate change, including the costs of other greenhouse gases, the White House said. It will also factor in US commitments under the Paris climate treaty, and especially “considerations of environmental justice and intergenerational equity.” Climate “scientists,” economists, “ethics experts” and “diverse stakeholders” will all participate in the process, which many expect will devise a final SCC of $100 or even $200/ton.

The IWG methodology for developing SCC estimates is so infinitely flexible, so devoid of any rigorous standards, that it could produce almost any estimates that Biden and his climate czars feel is needed. Adding “justice” and “equity” to the mix makes it doubly malleable, doubly prone to abuse by an administration and Democrat Party that are obsessed with “manmade climate change” (even Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Defense appointees must be committed to ending the “climate crisis”) and are determined to make America “carbon neutral” by 2050.

Social cost of carbon is intended to advance that agenda and a 981-page “CLEAN Future” bill requiring that electricity generators provide 80 percent carbon-free energy by 2030 and 100 percent “clean” power by 2035.

Right now, over 80 percent of all US and global energy come from fossil fuels – and China, India and other countries are building thousands of new coal-fired power plants, on top of the thousands they already have. So even total cancelation of fossil fuel use and CO2/greenhouse gas emissions by the United States would be imperceptible and irrelevant amid the world’s enormous and increasing levels of both.

Social cost of carbon is a key tactic in a war on reliable, affordable American energy; on jobs, human welfare and human rights; and on US and global lands, wildlife and environmental quality. It will be used to justify raising carbon taxes and prices to at least $160 per ton of CO2 and imposing Covid-on-steroids lockdowns every two years, supposedly to keep average global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees C from pre-industrial/post Little Ice Age levels, which alarmists claim would be catastrophic.

The SCC enables agencies and their allies to attach any price they wish to every conceivable cost of using fossil fuels: hotter and colder, wetter and drier climate and weather; more frequent and intense hurricanes; reduced agricultural output; forest health and wildfires; floods, droughts and water resources; “forced migration” of people and wildlife; worsening health and disease; flooded coastal cities; even “reduced student learning and worker productivity,” due to warmer planetary temperatures.

The SCC also lets practitioners completely ignore the obvious and enormous benefits of using fossil fuels, and emitting carbon dioxide – such as enhanced productivity via affordable air conditioning in summer and heating in winter; improved forest, grassland and crop growth (and greening deserts) due to more CO2 in the air; greater home and human survival rates amid extreme weather events; and having the jobs, mobility, living standards, healthcare and longevity of modern industrialized life.

In fact, hydrocarbon and carbon dioxide benefits outweigh costs by 50:1, 400:1 or even 500:1! Will Team Biden and others in the anti-hydrocarbon movement acknowledge any of this?

Unless compelled to do so by our courts, the odds are probably 500:1 against it. They won’t even admit that the sun and other natural forces still play dominant roles in climate and weather, as they have throughout history. In their minds, every SCC cost is directly and solely due to fossil fuels. (For a reality check, read Indur Goklany, Patrick Moore, Gregory Wrightstone, Marc Morano and Jennifer Marohasy.)

In fact, eliminating carbon-based energy and carbon dioxide emissions will impose far greater human and ecological costs. It is fossil fuel replacements that will inflict incalculable damage to people and planet.

Replacing coal, oil, natural gas and internal combustion vehicles would require millions of wind turbines, billions of solar panels, billions of battery modules, millions of acres of biofuel plantations, a complete overhaul of electrical grids and infrastructures, on millions of acres. That will require billions of tons of steel, aluminum, copper, lithium, cobalt, rare earth elements, concrete, plastics and other materials – which will require digging up and processing hundreds of billions of tons of ores and minerals.

Under Team Biden, Democrats and Big Green, little of this will take place in the US, under our rigorous laws and regulations. It will be done overseas, in China, Mongolia, Africa, Bolivia – often with slave and child labor, and with few or no workplace safety, air and water pollution, toxic substances, endangered species or other rules. Don’t their health, human rights and environmental quality mean anything?

The technologies may be clean and emission-free in the USA – but won’t be in any of these countries.

Even manufacturing the turbines, panels, batteries and other technologies will be done overseas – again with few or no pollution, health, safety or fair wage rules – because expensive, unreliable, weather-dependent, blackout-prone electricity will send America’s manufacturing and other basic industries into oblivion, along with millions of good jobs. Minority and blue-collar families will be hammered hardest.

The proliferation of “clean, climate-friendly” wind and solar energy will pummel wildlife and habitats. Wind turbines already slaughter a million birds and bats annually in the USA – far in excess of what Big Wind admits to – and that’s from a “measly” 60,000 turbines. The same thing is happening in Europe.

With the best wind sites being along migratory bird flyways, raptor hunting grounds, bat habitats, and Great Lake and sea coasts, the slaughter will get worse with every passing year. I just put new bluebird, hummingbird and wood duck nest houses around my home and neighborhood. It is terribly depressing that such efforts in suburban areas will be overwhelmed by a tsunami of death in our wildlife kingdoms. As forests, grasslands and deserts get torn up for turbines and blanketed by solar panels and biofuel crops, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and wild plants will also disappear.

Team Biden, Democrats, Big Green and Big Media will loudly deny these realities. They will insist that any wildlife losses are “inadvertent.” As though the wildlife are less dead because it was inadvertent; as though negligible inadvertent deaths from fossil fuel extraction and pipelines were bad, but these are OK.

Wind turbines, solar panels and batteries have short life spans – and are difficult or impossible to recycle. Where will we bury millions of 300-foot-long fiberglass-composite turbine blades? billions of solar panels? Will we just keep sending solar panels overseas, where parents and children burn them in open fires to recover the metals – breathing toxic fumes all day long?

This is just the tip of the iceberg of adverse impacts from SCC/Green New Deal policies. Any honest, accurate, complete social cost of carbon analysis would require that every one of them be fully accounted for, before we make any decisions on fossil fuels. Will oddsmakers even take bets on that happening?

Will courts step up to the plate? Will Republicans become better informed and more passionate about our energy lifeblood, better organized, less focused on simpler but less critical issues – and more willing to mount strong, loud, principled opposition to this irresponsible insanity? Or will Democrats just ram this through, because they can, because they control the House, Senate, White House and Deep State Executive Branch – perhaps with bare 1-10 majorities, but arrogant totalitarian control nonetheless?




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