If we do not permit the earth to produce beauty and joy, it will in the end not produce food, either. Joseph Wood Krutch

Monday, August 27, 2007

What's wrong with reducing?

There was a day when I was motivated for another kind of green. Cash! Over many years I tried different "get rich quick" schemes and attended real estate seminars looking for the "easy life". You know, the one where I would just sit back on my pile of cash, with little care for what happened around me, as long as I was comfortable and had a good remote for my HDTV. This, I thought, is what would make me happy. It didn't work out too well, I'm still not "rich" and actually I am quite glad.

The "get rich quick" schemes I tried seemed devised to make sure someone else got rich quick, not me. That is, unless I was willing to enslave my friends and family to be my sales minions in my own little army of vitamin salesmen. They would then enslave their friends and families to be minions in their own little army, and so on. Once I got these dollar signs out of my eyes I realized I wouldn't feel right enslaving my friends and family for my own personal gain.

I also tried the real estate thing, attended seminars, and even signed up for two different mentoring programs. I got dumped by both of the mentors because I refused to be slick and dishonest when dealing with homeowners in my quest for a cheap deal I could flip fast for a lot of dough. Selling vitamins through my friends and family was one thing but selling my integrity to buy a cheap flip was something I simply wouldn't do. It didn't take long and those dollar signs faded quite fast for me. The people I spoke with called it "the New Gold Rush." Here is the statistics on the last gold rush, in the Klondike. One-hundred-thousand began the trip to the gold fields. Only thirty-thousand actually made it. Of those thirty-thousand, only about four-thousand actually found any gold. Of those four-thousand, only a small handful found any substantial wealth. (Source:National Park Service, Klondike Gold Rush Museum) Keep those statistics in mind if someone invites you to the next gold rush.

I believe it was these experiences that caused me to re-examine my goals in life, so they were not a complete waste. My search now is for a different kind of life and a different kind of green. I started this blog as a way to hold myself accountable for my actions. I have been schooled my whole life in consumerism and it is a difficult transition to live more simply and desire less stuff. It also requires a lot of reading, research and contemplation. Old habits die hard.

I believe our desire for personal comfort is really just a basic part of human nature and always has been. The problem we have now, in our day and age, is that technology allows us to consume so cheaply, easily and quickly we each have the potential, right at our own fingertips, to inflict great damage to the earth without much effort. Just the flip of a light switch, the push of an accelerator pedal, the spray of a can, the pull of a plastic bag from a roll, the quick purchase of an electronic gizmo is all it takes. Moments of our life that can cause damage that will take thousands of years to repair. When we do that over and over it is deadly to all life, including our own.

Some have devised a way in which we can offset our guilt by just paying money. I have been approached by several of these organizations over the last couple years asking me to "offset my carbon footprint". The plan is that by paying someone to find a technological solution and commit a positive act this would in turn "offset" any negative act I choose to perform and get me off the hook for my overconsumption. This never quite sat well with me when it was presented and while it sounded good on the surface, I kept coming back to the same question; What's wrong with just reducing instead? I'm sure the money generated from the "carbon credit markets" goes to quite a few good projects but if we all reduced what we used instead, would many of these projects even be necessary? Here is an example of one of these projects.

A few days ago I read an article about a plan to dump one-hundred tons of iron filings into the Pacific Ocean off the Galapagos Islands in an attempt to increase the plankton count, which would absorb more carbon, thus slowing global warming. The company responsible, Planktos, is seeking funding through a "carbon offset fund". Here is a quote from their website that states it well.

Our Market

Carbon credit markets are opening up around the world, including in the USA. These markets have been created by new government policies and regulations in response to growing climatic and environmental concerns.

The largest carbon markets are driven by the Kyoto Protocol, which is designed to annually reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by 600 million - 1 billion tons. As part of the Kyoto Protocol, European nations began trading carbon dioxide emission credits in January 2005. And since emissions of CO2 are so extensive, the trading market is of substantial size and value, and growing quickly.

Because of the fast growth in the market, an increasing number of participants have sprung up to provide liquidity, trade exchanges, and financing. Beyond the public exchange floors, large market players conduct many private direct trades adding substantial volume to the trade. There are now also a significant number of investment funds established for the sole purpose of investing in CO2 credits.

When you read "since emissions of CO2 are so extensive, the trading market is of substantial size and value, and growing quickly.", you begin to realize there is a lot of cash being generated by "offset". I am not condemning offset entirely. I think offset funds are probably a good thing overall but not when they are used to absolve the personal responsibility to reduce. Reduction never seems to play into the goals of the funds.

In this example, the iron they intend to dump, at a cost of millions of dollars, will absorb the annual emissions of about five coal burning power plants. There are roughly four-hundred coal power plants in the United States alone, many more in the rest of the world. What do we do about the other three-hundred-ninety-five plants in the U.S.? How much simpler would it be to just reduce the amount of electricity we use?

Here is the link to the article on dumping iron in the ocean from the Wall Street Journal, no less. It's not very long and well worth reading.

Energy Roundup - WSJ.com : Upset About an Offset


Rejin said...

I agree with you that offsetting is problematic, because it attempts to fix the problems created by one human intervention with another kind of human intervention.
In the case of the iron dumping, where does that iron comes from? I'm sure they haven't accounted for the pollution and any habitat destruction caused by mining the iron in the first place. And what other possible consequences might there be of dumping one-hundred tons of iron filings where there were none before? I read about one Scandinavian country that tried to kick its petroleum habit by burning palm kernel oil from Malaisia (?) instead. Years later, when they bothered to check, they found that rain forests had been cleared to grow the palms.
The outcomes of human actions are never easy to predict. Doing or using less is always better than equal consumption of something else.
Offsetting is an easy out for people (and industries) that can't even imagine life without their current level of consumption and waste.

Scott at Least Footprint said...


Exactly. Here is a link to a New York Times article about the palm oil dilemma

Rejin said...

Thanks Scott. I can never remember where I read things.

Stretch Mark Mama said...

I agree, it is Very Difficult to shift out of the Consumer mindset. It took me a while to warm up to recycling, and that's a whole lot easier than Not Buying. Right now I'm mostly in shock at the amount of waste that we (collectively) create.

Least Footprint said...


I am with you on the waste. After reading about landfills and such I really started taking a look at my own waste stream. Shock is the perfect word. We now recycle more than 90% of what we take in but the recycle bins still fill up faster than I would like. Plastic is the enemy.