The Vatican is carbon-neutral. After a fashion.
This summer the cardinals at the Vatican accepted an unusual donation from a Hungarian start-up called Klimafa: The company said it would plant trees to restore an ancient forest on a denuded island by the Tisza River to offset the Vatican’s carbon emissions.
The young trees, on a 15-hectare, or 37-acre, tract of land that will be renamed the Vatican Climate Forest, will in theory absorb as much carbon dioxide as the Vatican makes through its various activities in 2007: driving cars, heating offices, lighting St. Peter’s Basilica at night.
In so doing, the Vatican announced, it would become the world’s first carbon-neutral state.
Neat. Except we’ve been through this: it doesn’t work like that (and now I have the pleasant memory of a screaming Jamie Foreman in Layer Cake. What a cool film). Fortunately the involvement of someone/thing with the profile enjoyed by the Vatican gives the debate rather more air, I should think.
The article mentions a lot of the criticism surrounding the uncertainty of exactly how much carbon is neutralised by a new planting, etc. I think this misses the point. This writer (not me, the IHT’s writer) caught the key part of the problem:
Finally, man increases his polluting activities faster than he can offset them.
Forgiving, for the moment, the writer’s strangely-constructed gender bias. These voluntary markets aren’t like formal cap-and-trade, because the emissions aren’t capped. There is no limit, nor a limit that is steadily reduced to force trade while emission decline. If we’re free to continue pumping shit into the atmosphere, those little trees aren’t really going to have contributed appreciably to solving the problem. Particularly for the Vatican, I mean what if they need a new Pope next year? They leave that weird fire going for days. Who knows what’s in that smoke? Oh, wait. I do. Chemicals.
The remainder of the article, which is quite worth your time, details some aspects of cap-and-trade, and some less-than-stellar examples of voluntary carbon-neutralising start-ups. I’ll leave you with this double-standard (from the Vatican?):
After the Vatican agreement was announced, Monsignor Melchor Sánchez de Toca Alameda, an official at the Vatican’s Council for Culture, told the Catholic News Service that buying credits was like doing penance. “One can emit less CO2 by not using heating and not driving a car, or one can do penance by intervening to offset emissions, in this case by planting trees,” he said.
But some critics derided the Vatican for planting trees rather than trying to rein in energy use in Rome. The Vatican did not have to pay anything for the Klimafa program, although the donation is only for 2007, and does not cover air travel.
Just last week, the Vatican began sponsoring low-cost flights for pilgrims from Rome to holy sites like Lourdes. Plane travel is hugely polluting.
I also really like that last sentence. Plane travel is hugely polluting (if any of my students are reading this: I will give you a C if write like that).