Tuesday, 29 August 2006

Well, it's a start...

From our friends at ENN:

"The European Union warned carmakers Tuesday that it will introduce legislation to enforce cuts in carbon dioxide emissions, if the industry does not work harder to meet voluntary pollution-cutting targets."

The voluntary target they mention is a 25% carbon emissions cut between 1995 and 2008. So for every kilometer traveled, the average car should produce 25% less greenhouse gas emissions.

This is good news. I love my Honda Civic hybrid, but consumers should have a wider array of clean cars to choose from.

Of course, total kilometres traveled in that period has increased by almost 20% in the UK. If this trend continues, the gains from driving cleaner cars will be completely wiped out by the time the deadline passes.

I know I keep banging this drum, but a cleaner car is only part of the solution to driving-related climate pollution. The other parts are to reduce the amount you drive, and to use carbon offsets for whatever you can't reduce.

What steps are you taking?

(Carbon Clear homepage)

Sunday, 27 August 2006

Aid, Trade and Global Warming

There’s a lot of debate about how best to help people in poor and disaster-prone communities around the world. Finding the right balance between trade and aid seems particularly hard. Do donations of money, food, and equipment meet urgent basic needs, or do they just encourage dependency and relieve local leaders of responsibility to care for their own people? One aid agency representative recently compared aid donations to “crack” cocaine. Given aid's mixed track record, the World Bank and others have spent a lot of time and effort trying to figure out when it helps, and when it harms.

Maybe trade is the way forward? The WTO and others argue that integrating local producers into the global economy is the best way to channel money into local communities around the world and encourage more efficient production. Mexican maize farmers forced off their land to make way for this efficient process might beg to differ. Groups like Fairtrade and EqualExchange try to make sure that local producers benefit from this exchange. Meanwhile, UK consumers, worried about “food miles” are beginning to wonder whether they want to buy flowers and produce flown in from Kenya and other developing countries.

So what does all this have to do with global warming?

A few weeks ago, a development aid campaigner attended a screening of “An Inconvenient Truth” in London. Afterwards, she asked Al Gore what we should do to address the impacts of climate change on people in poorer countries – since they would be most vulnerable to floods, drought, and the like. Soon an email began making the rounds boasting about catching Gore off guard.

That aid campaigner raises a legitimate question, but it’s based on two assumptions. First, that drastic climate change is inevitable; and second, that there’s nothing we can do between now and then to reduce people’s vulnerability.

I hope both of those assumptions are wrong. I believe that working together, we can all take action – right here and right now to limit climate change. While aid is important when people need immediate help, I also believe that the right kinds of trade can raise incomes and improve livelihoods in poor communities. With less poverty, communities can be better prepared for disasters, whether from climate change, political strife or other causes.

When you and I purchase carbon offsets for our driving or airplane flights, we are not making an aid donation. We are buying carbon credits that are generated through the hard work of people and organisations around the world. We are not simply paying to relieve our guilt. These credits represent real, measurable action to reduce climate change. And when the credits come from projects that improve local livelihoods, they serve a double benefit by reducing poverty and vulnerability.

Buying carbon offsets is not a cure-all. But, properly designed, they can be part of the solution to two problems.

(Carbon Clear home page)

Thursday, 24 August 2006

Bellies or Fuel Tanks?

Continuing our impromptu series on tricky tradeoffs, let’s compare the following quotations:

First this:

Ford has already put more than 1.5 million bioethanol capable vehicles on the road across the world and will produce 250,000 more this year.

Then this:

… biofuels presented one of three major challenges for farming, alongside climate change and a rising world population.

Food output would have to rise by 40 percent in the next 25 years to keep pace with a rise in the world population to nine billion people. That in turn will strain demand for irrigation with one in three people living in regions with water shortages.

Where do we put all that corn and soyabeans, in our bellies or fuel tanks? Another one to watch.

In my opinion, biofuels are merely a stop-gap solution, until we can transition to renewables-based hydrogen or electricity to run our cars.

(Link to Carbon Clear homepage)

Wednesday, 23 August 2006

Kyoto vs. Montreal

Talk about your unintended consequences. Remember the ozone layer? The good news is that the man-made ozone hole over Antartica is shrinking - it should be fully healed in another 60 years. The signers of the Montreal Protocol, which led to the phase out of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in spray cans, air conditioners, and fire extinguishers, deserves a ton of credit for this.

The bad news is that most manufacturers switched to ozone-friendly hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) to replace CFCs as a refrigerant. Our friends at Wikipedia tell us that in terms of global warming, HCFCs are 1,700 times as potent as good old carbon dioxide. Even methane pales in comparison. The Kyoto Protocol calls for a drastic reduction in HCFC emissions. Refrigirator and air conditioner manufacturers in countries bound by the Montreal Protocol say they don't have a good alternative.

This is a battle that bears watching. The silver lining for Kyoto is that a polluting refrigerant manufacturer can balance out those emissions by investing in pollution reducing projects elsewhere.

Walking the Talk

Two weeks ago, Craig Smith wrote an editorial for the Financial Times about BP's recent woes. In it he argued that it is not enough for companies to say that they are socially responsible. They have to prove it in their everyday actions.

This is definitely true when it comes to tackling climate change. Businesses were directly responsible for about 28% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions last year. We're not going to make much progress reducing emissions unless more businesses decide to take action.

What about the rest of us? After all, those business emissions are, indirectly, our emissions. Most of those businesses are simply making stuff that people buy and use. And a whopping 47% of emissions come from the transport and residential sectors. That's you and me, choosing how to get to work and heat our homes.

So are we both "talking the talk" and "walking the walk"? A recent survey tells me we're not there yet. While 56% of people want companies to source environmentally friendly products, only 28% admit to doing so themselves. 41% demand that employers use "green electricity", but only 8% of respondents claim to have made the switch. (In fact, the market share for green electricity is quite a bit lower than even this number.)

What's going on? I think many people simply think the cost is too high. Switching electricity suppliers or shopping around for eco-friendly products takes time and effort, and everyone is busy. Giving up that hard-earned holiday flight to Spain may be too painful. Big companies can hire someone to improve their environmental footprint, but the average consumer has to do it himself or herself. As a result, many people either ignore the problem, or go around with a guilty cloud over their heads.

Carbon Clear's motto is "Modern Living Needn't Cost the Earth". We're not about guilt, we're about making it easy for people to take the first steps to reduce their global warming impact. Let's work together to take the first steps. We'll be setting up a page that helps you patronise businesses that have already gone Carbon Clear. And please let us hear from you with ideas and suggestions. Remember, reduce what you can, and clear the rest with Carbon Clear.

(Link to Carbon Clear homepage)

Sunday, 20 August 2006

The 60% Solution

Here in the UK, the average person generates about 10 tonnes of CO2 and other greenhouse gases each year. Here’s how the emissions might add up in a typical household:

(thanks, COIN)

According to the UK Department for Environment, Forestry, and Rural Affairs (Defra), we have to cut our national emissions by 60% in order keep temperature rises below two degrees Celsius and avoid the worst impacts of global warming. In the US, they’d have to cut emissions even more. And that’s just to prevent the worst damage, not solve the problem entirely.

How can you cut six tonnes of CO2 from your lifestyle? There are quite a few steps we can take that are relatively painless, and some reductions will actually save money. You’ve seen them before, so I won’t bore you with a laundry list in this post.

In short, drive a lot less. Fly a lot less. Reduce or eliminate gas use in your house and switch to a green electricity supplier. Buy locally produced food. If you’re run a business, switch to green electricity. Let your staff work from home on occasion. Provide incentives for staff to use public transport instead of driving. Videoconference instead of flying overseas to attend meetings.

All of these will help. But 60% less everything, is a big shift. If you live in a historically listed house or a rented flat, some renovations may be impossible, or public transport may simply not provide a good service where you live. So cutting emissions by 60% could require moving house and selling your car. If you run a company, the first 20% could save money, but that full 60% reduction might raise costs just enough to put you out of business. I think smarter land use planning, investments in public transport, better housing efficiency standards, and government incentives can make it easier for people to reduce their carbon footprint. At Carbon Clear we work with businesses to look at their operations and identify cost-effective options for in-house reductions.

But asking people to make all the reductions through personal sacrifice alone makes things too difficult. The last thing the environmental community needs is for people to feel that they can’t make a difference, and give up.

Our key message is to reduce what you can, but don’t get discouraged if you can’t manage a 60% reduction. Remember, a carbon reduction anywhere helps the atmosphere everywhere. What you can’t reduce directly, you can invest through Carbon Clear to support carbon reducing projects that benefit poor communities.

(Link to Carbon Clear Homepage)

Thursday, 17 August 2006

Reaching the Tipping Point

When I started looking seriously at climate science and policy back in pre-Kyoto 1990, it was considered a fringe issue by most people. When Al Gore talked about it in his book Earth in the Balance, he was (erroneously) heckled as "Mr. Ozone".

Times have changed. Looking back, I think we may conclude that 2006 was the year climate change reached the mainstream.

After only four weeks in popular distribution, Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth is the third biggest documentary on record. And it hasn't even been released in the UK yet.

Keep up the good work, Al. And keep offsetting those promotional flights.

(Link to Carbon Clear Homepage)

Intro - Climate Change and Carbon Offsets

I thought I’d start out by describing what carbon offsets are meant to do.

In 1896, Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish chemist, suggested that CO2 acts like the glass of a greenhouse, trapping some of the sun’s heat close to the earth’s surface. Other gases like water vapour and methane also have this effect. The more of these “greenhouse gases” in the atmosphere, the more heat gets trapped. Since Arrhenhius’s time, human activity has dramatically increased the concentration of greenhouse gases, and 2005 was the warmest year since records began. So far.

This is a problem mainly because people and nature don't adapt very easily to climate change impacts. For example, shrinking glaciers can mean that water supply and flood patterns don't match the needs of our farms and cities. If a river crosses borders, these floods and shortages often lead to conflict.

What can we do about it? Well, we can slow global warming by putting less CO2 and other gases into the atmosphere. We can also try to increase the amount that gets absorbed by the forests and oceans. More about those options in the coming days and weeks.

I want to make one main point today.

Greenhouse gases spread pretty evenly throughout the lower atmosphere. So burning coal anywhere will help increase CO2 levels everywhere. And capturing methane from a landfill anywhere will slow net emissions growth everywhere. From a global point of view, it doesn’t matter much where we clean up our global warming pollution. Just so long as we do it, quickly. We need to keep global CO2 levels from rising too fast.

That’s what offsets are all about. At Carbon Clear, we work with people to reduce climate change pollution. Since the reductions can happen anywhere, you can reduce some of your emissions at home, and some by investing in CO2 clearing projects that provide jobs and improve living conditions in poor communities.

Again, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to reduce your own pollution directly. We’ll be coming back to this topic and would like your suggestions on how you can reduce what you can.

(Link to Carbon Clear Homepage)

Wednesday, 16 August 2006


Welcome to the official Carbon Clear blog! Carbon Clear was formed to help people reduce their global warming impact. We want this to be a place where you can share news and opinions about efforts to tackle climate change. Stop by often for posts on what everyday people and companies are doing about global warming, and discuss what you can do. Of course, we’ll also give you the latest updates on what’s going on with the Carbon Clear team and constantly request your feedback.

There’s a lot of good work going on around the world, so we’re relying on you to help us learn about it and spread the word. Send your posts and links to "blog at carbon-clear dot com".