Women of climate, wimpy carbon offsets & Animal, Vegetable, Junk

The newsletter for people "woke" on carbon and climate

Issue No. 68

Welcome to the latest issue of Carbon Creed - a curated newsletter for people “woke” on carbon and climate. 

March is Women’s history month.

Women's History Month highlights the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. It is celebrated annually during March in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, corresponding with International Women's Day on March 8, and during October in Canada, corresponding with the celebration of Persons Day on October 18.

The commemoration began in 1978 as "Women's History Week" in Sonoma County, California, and was championed by Gerda Lerner and the National Women's History Alliance to be recognized as a national week (1980) and then month (1987) in the United States, spreading internationally after that.

Here at Carbon Creed, we celebrate the achievements and contributions of women every month. Nearly every issue features an article, book review or quote highlighting the role and leadership of women on carbon and climate. Below is a sampling of our efforts to recognize the voices of women throughout the year:

Losing the notorious RBG (Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg)
The new face of climate justice (V.P. Kamala Harris)
Denmark lays down the law (P.M. Mette Frederiksen)
Women greening big tech (Lisa Jackson, Apple)
Incubating cleantech startups (Emily Reichert, Greentown Labs)
Climate, faith and science (Dr. Katharine Hayhoe)
All we can save (Ayana Elizabeth Johnson & Katharine K. Wilkinson)
Under a white sky (Elizabeth Kolbert)

Each week, we hope to share something new or thoughtful on carbon and climate. Do let us know if you feel inspired or compelled by any of our content.

If you have an opinion on any topic covered in this newsletter, please feel free to send me an email at mcleodwl@carboncreed.com. 

Thank you for your patronage and the value of your time.

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QUOTES

Climate quotes that will inspire you

1 “Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”
~ Carl Sagan

In his famous “Pale Blue Dot” monologue, scientist and former “Cosmos” host Carl Sagan evocatively reminds us of our aloneness in the universe. Our planet is barely a speck of dust, surrounded by the coldness and emptiness of space. If we mess this up, who’s going to save us?

2 “[Climate change] is not about morality; it is about fact, it’s about science, it’s about devastation…” ~ Christine Todd Whitman

(source: CNN)

The former NJ Governor and EPA Administrator has earned praise from both Republicans and Democrats for her commitment to the environment and climate. Her candor in addressing the climate threat when it was neither popular nor common in her party, should seal her legacy on the right side of climate history.

3 “The natural environment performs for us, free of charge, basic services without which our species could not survive… but we are degrading, and in some cases destroying, the ability of the environment to continue providing these life-sustaining services for us.”
~ Kofi Annan

The former secretary-general of the UN described the planet reaching the tipping point beyond which climate change may become irreversible. If this happens, we risk denying present and future generations the right to a healthy and sustainable planet – the whole of humanity stands to lose.


CORPORATE CITIZENS

(source: Ethical Consumer)

Carbon offsets: the Wimpy way?

If you can’t pay the interest on your debts, an IOU isn’t going to be enough to save you from bankruptcy.

That’s the problem with the succession of net zero commitments emerging from companies and governments. The carbon emissions generated by our current industrial and agricultural systems are going to lead to a disaster far worse than insolvency without vigorous efforts to reduce them. If promises to offset them with carbon-absorbing activities are to be worth anything, they’re going to need to be more than aspirational words on paper.

Take Royal Dutch Shell Plc. It was the first oil major to make a commitment to cutting the emissions from its customers — known as “Scope 3 emissions” —  making it one of the most progressive oil companies on climate. 

That was 2017. Last month, Shell set out its latest plan to get to net zero. The big reveal left climate experts mostly unimpressed, in part because the company plans to increase its total fossil fuel output in the near term by boosting gas production, and the majority of its capital expenditure will continue to go towards oil and gas. To get to net zero while doing that, it plans to capture 120 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year via “nature-based” offsets by 2030.

Days after Shell’s announcement, Italian oil company Eni SpA updated its own net-zero strategy. A Greenpeace UK study of its earlier 2019 pledge to use forest conservation to offset its emissions said such a promise would have to account for as much as 6% of the world’s capacity to absorb carbon in forest land. Eni’s update increased its 2030 forestry offset target by a third, to 40 million tons of CO2 per year.

Plenty of other companies and governments have jumped on the bandwagon. A tracking project from American University lists dozens of large companies that, as of December 21, cited carbon dioxide-removal (CDR) in their pledges for climate neutrality. They include Apple Inc., Walmart Inc., British Airways Plc, and many of their peers. It’s not just companies. The European Union’s promise to cut emissions 55% by 2030 has been criticized for relying in part on land-based “carbon sinks” to soak up some of the pollution.

As more companies follow suit, the total volume of offsets they rely on will quickly exceed the ability of the planet to provide them. Without more concrete near-term actions, “net zero” risks becoming a fairytale providing cover for the heavy emitting industries, particularly those in the fossil fuel sector who have aggressively blocked climate action. 

Most emissions-reduction scenarios indicate that we need to see significant cuts in our annual rate of greenhouse gas emissions to about half their current level from now till 2030. Even if human emissions fall quickly to zero by mid-century, however, most scenarios indicate that some CDR will be necessary to keep a relatively safe lid on warming.

“There are very, very few pathways where nature-based solutions or carbon capture and utilization sequestration do not play a role,” Shell Chief Executive Ben van Beurden

There are well-documented risks and limitations around every method of removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Some, such as carbon capture & storage combined with bio energy, are expensive and complex industrial processes. Others, such as planting trees to capture CO2, involve trade-offs when land could be needed for other purposes, like growing food.

Fears that CDR would become a loophole in net-zero plans have lurked for years. Experts worried that unrealistic assumptions about negative emissions were being baked into advice policymakers were receiving from scientists.

There’s work underway to impose more rigor on the flurry of aspirational pledges. The Science-Based Targets initiative, the closest thing to an arbiter of emissions reductions plans for companies, is aiming to release guidance on net zero ahead of the COP26 climate conference in November. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol, which has been developing standards for measuring and managing emissions since 1998, plans to publish final guidance on negative emissions by next October.

One popular proposal suggests having each net-zero pledge break out how much will come from actually reducing emissions, versus the portion of emissions the company or government assumes it will offset.

That would be welcome, but also doesn’t necessarily give enough useful information on ambition, as Stephen Smith, executive director of the Oxford Net Zero initiative. What would be more helpful, he writes, is information on three things: how CDR will be achieved, how emissions will be kept permanently out of the atmosphere, and near-term targets.

That last point may be most important. The most urgent task is emissions reductions over the next decade, especially from burning fossil fuels. Smith’s analysis also shows that, in the research scenarios, the emissions reductions achieved in 2030 are a better indicator of a lower warming level than the date of hitting net zero, or the presence of negative emissions. CDR is not a solution we can simply dial-up if we feel like it. All methods have hard limits, uncertainties, and known shortcomings, from scientific questions about trees’ ability to remove CO2 as the world heats up, to human rights questions about use of land, to the sheer energy-intensity and experimental nature of removing CO2 from the air.

Many of the recent net-zero commitments, however, behave as though these constraints don’t exist. What is discretionary is how fast we eliminate fossil fuel use and transition to clean energy. We have great deal of visibility about how to do that, and agency to make it happen.

[This post was adapted from the original by Kate Mackenzie , who writes the Stranded Assets column for Bloomberg Green.]

Creed Comments: First, kudos to Kate Mackenzie for a great post. It captures the many problems associated with the carbon offset business model, and reminds me of the famous line:

“I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today - Wimpy

This etymology is from the cartoon "Popeye", where the character Wimpy would frequently utter this phrase. He was a glutton, and would consume burgers at a ferocious rate but could rarely pay for his habit.  Sound familiar?

The phrase implies the underlying feeling that the person will unlikely actually pay for the hamburger (or whatever) on Tuesday (or ever, for that matter).

The analogy fits for companies that want the glory and accolades of making net zero pledges now (the hamburger) in exchange for the “promise” to off-set emissions in the future (Tuesday). Many of these companies are voracious carbon emitters (gluttons), who rarely pay for their habits. So, are carbon offsets a complete sham? Probably not.

Stephen Smith outlines the most credible solution for carbon offsets - greater transparency on 1) how CDR will be achieved, 2) how emissions will be kept permanently out of the atmosphere, and 3) near-term targets.

We support this common sense approach to CDR and carbon offsets, and hope that carbon emitters will too.


BOOK

(source: Mark Bittman)

Animal, Vegetable, Junk


Written by Mark Bittman

Mark Bittman has always been drawn to the “big picture.” So it’s perhaps not surprising that the idea of linking food and its history to that of humans has been kicking around in his head for decades.

That just happens to be the central theme of his new book, Animal, Vegetable, Junk: the relationship between food and people, a relationship that began with the first “person,” and one that, despite its central nature to our being, has been undervalued.

In Animal, Vegetable, Junk, the author tries to provide an understanding of three (3) key topics:

1) That human history can be usefully viewed through the lens of food. This has been done, but not recently and hardly at all in a popular, non-academic style. Nothing is more important than food, nothing you can think of (including war, the economy, even money) has had more influence, and nothing of its stature has been so ignored by historians and the press.

2) How the history of food has shaped where we’re at today, in the world generally (U.S. inequality, for example, could hardly be as extreme had not farmland been first stolen from one group of people and then given away by the Federal government exclusively to another), but particularly in the realm of food, which has had historic and deadly effects on public health, the environment, climate change, resource use, and the economy.

3) Finally, that we need to create a kind of road map that will lead us to a just food system, one that will nourish us all, make good food universally affordable, sustain and protect the land, and provide more dignified and well-paying jobs in food and farming.

With these themes as guideposts, Bittman integrates what he’s learned to be true about food into a single narrative, one that’s manageable to most readers of general non-fiction and which is in a way, complete without being overwhelming.

Creed Comments: Agriculture is one of the most carbon intensive industries on the planet. So I’m glad to see a book that weaves together the narratives about food and climate change.


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