The past week was a big one for the fight against climate change.
In California, Arnold Schwarzenegger announced plans to reduce state-wide greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. Here in the UK, David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, shared the stage with Friends of the Earth and floated a raft of environmental proposals. Meanwhile, a horde of demonstrators descended on the UK’s largest coal-fired power plant, which goes by the movie-villain name Drax.
Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have been staging “green” photo-ops for the cameras for years. Some, like Tony Blair, have already put in place substantive measures to help the environment. But the Schwarzenegger and Cameron moves might prove to be more than clever PR from the more rightward parties in the US and UK. I think the Drax protest shows that climate change is an issue that can galvanise people to take action in the way that the anti-apartheid movement did two decades earlier. Politicians ignore this kind of sentiment at their peril.
The major climate change initiatives in place in the UK, and those being set up in California, require polluters to reduce their emissions. Once emitters have reduced what they can, the initiatives give them the flexibility to purchase carbon offsets from firms that can achieve the remaining reductions more cost-effectively. As long as overall emissions have gone down, everyone should be satisfied.
In both cases, however, this trading is only open to large, polluting industries. Smaller companies and individuals who want to do their part are left to their own resources.Protesting at power stations is not the only way for everyday people to help. We can all take common sense measures to reduce our uses of fossil fuels. We can insulate our homes and replace loose-fitting windows. We can drive less, share a ride, and purchase more efficient vehicles. And we can use tools similar to those of big business, and purchase offsets to move the rest of the way towards our emissions reduction targets.
Offsets: They’re not just for big business. We can all become "carbon-neutral".