Archive for the ‘Pollution’ Category

Hydrogen-powered, emissions free, mach 5 Awesomeplane

Nnng!

LAPCAT1

LAPCAT 2

The LAPCAT project is a study, funded by Europa General R&D, that seeks to determine whether or not it is possible to create a plane that can cover long distances in a very short amount of time. The result? The A2 Mach 5 Civil Transport Concept.

The concept has been developed by Reaction Engines, which was formed by Alan Bond, John Scott-Scott and Richard Varvill. It is made out of two different pieces of technology. The First one is a hydrogen powered engine concept which can power an airplane up to speeds of Mach 5, that is, five times the speed of sound.

Why hydrogen? In order to achieve Mach 5, more power is needed than what would be commonly available from the common fossil fuels. The other innovation lies in the A2 Airframe. The Airframe is designed to withstand velocities that are five times the speed of sound, and carry up to 300 passengers.

I will sit and anxiously await its hitting the market. I’ll probably have to line up behind all the wankers who used to take the Concorde, I guess.

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The factories are closing and the army’s full/I don’t know what I’m going to do

That, of course, not true here. While I finish marking, two flipsides of globalisation for consideration, both from the International Herald Tribune.

In our class, we talk about the key problem of globalisation: that its benefits are spread fairly broadly, but its costs are not – referring, specificall, to lost US jobs. The IHT has an interesting story from India – a story no doubt repeated all over this country, too (with different key features, one can assume, but nevertheless) – about globalisation and the distribution of its impact within a single family.

the professional letter writer is confronting the fate of middlemen everywhere: to be cut out. In India, the fastest-growing market for mobile phones in the world, calling the village or sending a text message has all but supplanted the practice of dictating your intimacies to someone else.

And so Sawant, 61 years old and by his own guess the author of more than 10,000 of other people’s letters, was sitting idly at his stall on a recent Monday, having earned just 12 cents from an afternoon spent filling out forms, submitting money orders, wrapping parcels – the postal trivialities that have survived the evaporation of his letter-writing trade.

But this is not the familiar story of the artisan flattened by the new economy, because, it turns out, his family has gained more from that economy than it has lost.

Sawant has three children riding the Indian economic boom, including a daughter, Suchitra, who works at Infosys, one of the preeminent Indian outsourcing firms. In the very years that a telecommunications revolution was squashing her father’s business, it was plugging India into the global networks that would allow her industry to explode. Suchitra now earns $9,000 a year, three times as much as her father did at his peak.

Globalization is said to create winners and losers. In the Sawants, it created both. And that duality reflects the furious pace at which entire professions are being invented and entire professions destroyed in the rush to modernize India.

Professional letter-writers are so cool. Here’s some interesting sequelae: what happens as an emergent Middle Class comes to demand the same plasticised, amorphously consumerist quality of life that the rest of us are pretending we enjoy? I put to you that Suchitra’s 9 thou won’t help her find a man, settle down and start a family, while simultaneously supporting her parents. Her parents are probably downwardly socially-mobile, from about this point onwards. Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure this is an improvement, overall. Health care, sanitation, etc. – provided they avoid the slums, urban environmental health must improve. Things just aren’t as symmetric as we would be led to believe.

Second: if our labour all went to India, where’d our manufacturing go?

When residents of this northern Chinese city hang their clothes out to dry, the black fallout from nearby Handan Iron and Steel often sends them back to the wash.

Half a world away, neighbors of ThyssenKrupp’s former steel mill in the Ruhr Valley of Germany once had a similar problem. The white shirts men wore to church on Sundays turned gray by the time they got home.

These two steel towns have an unusual kinship, spanning 5,000 miles and a decade of economic upheaval. They have shared the same hulking blast furnace, dismantled and shipped piece by piece from Germany’s old industrial heartland to Hebei Province, China’s new Ruhr Valley.

The transfer, one of dozens since the late 1990s, contributed to a burst in China’s steel production, which now exceeds that of Germany, Japan and the United States combined. It left Germany with lost jobs and a bad case of postindustrial angst.

But steel mills spewing particulates into the air and sucking electricity from China’s coal-fired power plants account for a big chunk of the country’s surging emissions of sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide. Germany, in contrast, has cleaned its skies and is now leading the fight against global warming.

In its rush to recreate the industrial revolution that made the West rich, China has absorbed most of the major industries that once made the West dirty. Spurred by strong state support, Chinese companies have become the dominant makers of steel, coke, aluminum, cement, chemicals, leather, paper and other goods that faced high costs, including tougher environmental rules, in other parts of the world. China has become the world’s factory, but also its smokestack.

First, I think it’s hardly fair to suggest that China’s “rush to recreate the industrial revolution that made the West rich” is what caused these problems. Sure, China’s got some pretty ass-headed principles of governance, but we dangled all the cash in their faces, too. Second, was this cool insight:

China’s worsening environment has also upended the geopolitics of global warming. It produces and exports so many goods once made in the West that many wealthy countries can boast of declining carbon emissions, even while the world’s overall emissions are rising quickly, not falling.

China also lacks natural resources, including iron ore, oil and wood, for heavy industry and for its own rising consumer class. So its growth strains the environment as far away as Canada, Brazil, Australia and Indonesia, where it buys raw materials by the shipload.

Not that many people call the West on their emissions scam – the US an excellent (not unique, by any means, but the worst) case in point, with its arguments over not capping emissions. Think an “economy” equivalent of screaming, “but what about the baby?!” All the while, of course, the crap we import is pumping immeasurable shit in the atmosphere, already.

If you’re bored, go read The Storm Cloud of the Nineteenth Century.

Aquacultural economics!

From the Times-Picayune, via Grist.

… with the United States importing 80 percent of the seafood it consumes, the pressure is coming from high levels of government to find alternatives.

“We are already consuming a tremendous amount of farm-raised fish,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said at a conference on offshore aquaculture earlier this year. “We might as well do it ourselves under our terms, under our conditions, under our standards, and take the market.”

I can’t argue with the logic. I like fish. I’ve mentioned fisheries a few times, here. I don’t eat the stuff, of course, but that’s neither here nor there.

What’s the problem here, exactly? To my mind, it’s basic economics. If demand exceeds supply, then the price has to go up. I went through this with regard to French fishermen and gasoline prices. Why do we insist upon this idea that, somehow, prices have to stay “low”? Prices are determined, one way or the other, by Supply and Demand. Pressing for subsidies is a mistake; over-fishing one’s own waters, then those of every other poor country that one can find is criminal; throwing in with massive fish-farms is a mistake.

An interesting perspective:

One company that has ventured into the field is Kona Blue Water Farms in Hawaii. The company produces 20,000 pounds a week of a boutique Hawaiian fish called Kona Kampachi, found in some organic food stores and many restaurants on the West Coast. That is about half the amount of red snapper brought to shore each week in Louisiana.

Chief executive Neil Sims has received numerous federal grants for hatchery research on other species, but he said the company is likely years away from turning a profit. Given the cost of shipping from Hawaii, Sims said expanding to other parts of the country is critical for success.

“You grow your own grains. You don’t chase chickens around in the wild. You don’t chase cows, so why would you only focus on wild fish?” Sims said. “Other countries understand that logic, and these countries are welcoming that.”

Without legislation to expand his business to federal waters, he said he plans to move some operations into Mexico.

I don’t know where this guy has been, but we do rather concern ourselves with the health and environmental consequences of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. Setting up Oceanic CAFOs, when the oceans already have enough problems, is probably not wise.

Ultimately it won’t matter. Less-tasty, utilitarian animal proteins are, more likely than not, the way of the future. I’m often asked whether I’d eat petri-dish-grown animal meat. Probably. I can always eat anything biblically: boil away all the taste and blood, just leaving fuel. We cannot, however, pursue increasing wealth, increasing sophistication, increasingly cosmopolitan lifestyles and tastes (including palates) and assume nature will keep feeding us. Natural resources are, typically, fixed in supply.

Congestion pricing in New York: who’s in?

Streetsblog has almost been New York Local Politics And Congestion Pricing Blog, lately, but it’s still interesting. Today they have a discussion of the firms that have responded to New York City’s Economic Development Corporation’s call for expressions of interest concerning congestion pricing (inhale).

In response to its “Request for Expressions of Interest,” the New York City Economic Development Corporation has received proposals from 30 companies interested in implementing New York City’s congestion pricing pilot project. “This large number and quality of responses clearly indicates that the market place believes that the implementation of the City’s congestion pricing plan is feasible,” EDC writes.

Technologically and economically feasible, that is. As for political feasibility… still working on that.

The entire list of companies can be found on EDC’s web site along with proposals from 21 of them.

They aren’t half bad. As Streetsblog identifies, IBM’s contribution is pretty freaking impressive (that link is a .pdf). They’ve adapted Stockholm’s model to come up with their entire infrastructure for congestion pricing (click the picture for a bigger version):

Figure 3.1

As well as the scarily-familiar corporation risk-assessment of the entire affair:

Table 5.1a

Table 5.1b

Including billing and vehicle identification, traffic load forecasting, etc. It’s impressive. I still hold Hitler against them, though, so (that was possibly unfairly cynical. Yes, I’m still mad about it – mostly because nobody else is).

Siemens, also, put in some worthy work (also a .pdf); very thorough, very much related to billing/pricing. They contrast nicely with KPMG’s very short submission (theirs too) – which reminds me, rather starkly, of the sort of shot-in-the-dark work I’d expect from an undergrad.

Streetsblog’s complaint about the NYCECD’s withholding of “business sensitive” submissions is bang-on. I’d like to have seen what 3M’s consortium had to offer.

Australia and greenhouse gas emissions

Two people (one friend, one student) have sent me this story about Australia’s bad environmental placing. I did, to be fair to them, see it first in the Sydney Morning Herald (i.e. before these two emails, by a long way, and before the BBC had it, I believe).

The story: a study/database, Carbon Monitoring for Action (CARMA – aren’t they clever?) has been stitched together for the purpose of figuring out, globally, whose industries are up to what. Alley-oop:

Australia’s contribution to global warming may be much greater than first thought. New research shows our power stations are the world’s highest per capita producers of carbon dioxide.

shows the two biggest producers of CO2 in Australia are in NSW – the Bayswater station at Muswellbrook and Eraring near Lake Macquarie, which each produce 18.325 million tonnes of CO2 a year.

Their level of CO2 to power output is comparable to many of the power stations in China often criticised for being dirty plants.

The survey shows Australians each produce more than 10 tonnes of CO2 emissions for every person just through generating power, compared to nine tonnes for each American and two tonnes for each Chinese.

I’ll just assume they meant each Chinese person (wtf? Get an editor, people).

This is not news, really. Comparing ecological footprints, the US, Australia and Canada place 1st, 2nd and 3rd. It would stand to reason, then, that a rank of greenhouse gas emissions would replicate that. Canada manages to stay clean, though, or at least outside the top five (in emissions per capita):

  1. Australia – 10.0 tonnes
  2. US – 8.2 tonnes
  3. UK – 3.2 tonnes
  4. China – 1.8 tonnes
  5. India – 0.5 tonnes

That list from the BBC – I can’t get the CARMA site up. The list in total terms changes, of course: the US and China are the top two (unsurprisingly).

The SMH story closed on some interesting details:

Dr Wheeler said his data had been compiled from public records and by extrapolating from a commercial database used by the power industry. Where disclosures of CO2 emissions were not publicly available, the researchers used modelling based on the age and size of the power station.

“Information leads to action,” he said. “We know that this works for other forms of pollution and we believe it can work for greenhouse gas emissions, too. We expect that institutional and private investors, insurers, lenders, environmental and consumer groups and individual activists will use the data to encourage power companies to burn less coal and oil and to shift to renewable power sources.”

I would like to see which countries/power plants required that inferencing. China’s lack of any sort of pollution controls at the plant-level are well-enough known – do these numbers under-estimate their carbon-load? Method can make a lot of difference. Not that it matters a great deal. For us to even be on such a list is as great a shame as it is entirely not surprising.

Also, much as I like the idea that information leads to action, one can only hope: information has, one would think, been sufficent to prompt action before now, yet the likes of Australia, the US, China and the UK are clearly not giving up on coal. Hell, we’re building more plants at mines.

To the extent that this information has an effect, I would expect, just as cynically as is reasonable, to see more palliative efforts at pollution control (probably not including China), but no less use or demand for coal-fired energy.

Ecuador: Ronald Coase, super-sized

No, seriously. I just noticed this over at China Dialogue (I haven’t read it, in a while):

Oil has been pumped from here for almost four decades and the result, say environmentalists, is 1,700 square miles (4,400 square kilometers) of industrial contamination, with rivers poisoned, wildlife wiped out and humans falling sick.

But now, mindful of the environmental and political cost, the state has made a startling proposal: if wealthy nations pay Ecuador $350 million a year – half of the estimated revenue from extraction – it will leave the oil in the ground.

Supporters say it is an idea whose time has come, a logical step forward from carbon offsetting, in which rich polluters in developed countries compensate for environmental damage caused by their consumer habits.

I have mentioned this problem, vis. carbon off-setting: so-called cap-and-trade works precisely because both “cap” and “trade” are in play. Voluntary carbon-offsetting markets stand to make some money from the “trade” but, without the “cap”, creating a new market for a service is, by and large, as much as we may reasonably expect to achieve (this is not to suggest that such enterprises do nothing: they just won’t do enough).

Hence, the brilliance of the Ecuadorian plan. Rather than, say, making small ‘saves’ of bits of Amazonian rainforest, one of the big causes of deforestation (at least in this region) could be halted (next: McDonald’s lettuce!). The price we pay is less oil (marginally: amongst other things, Ecuador isn’t exactly home to any super-fields), and what we get is less of the damage that oil does – the question then is, does the world value the reduction in the reduction of the Amazonian rainforest enough to pay the USD350bn?

The flip-side, via CNN:

… critics wonder if the politically unstable Ecuador, which relies on oil for nearly half of its export revenues, can keep this promise to the international community or whether authorities are trying to have their cake and eat it, too.

The proposal’s detractors say Ecuador cannot ensure the park’s sanctity given political turmoil that has at times halted oil operations and has made Correa the eighth president in 10 years.

“Correa is asking the international community to dive in to see if there is water in the pool,” said Daniel Erikson, an analyst with the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank.

Bloody interesting idea. Hell, even if it is just a scam by the Ecuadorian President to nick a few cheeky billion from the rest of us, it’s still a cool way to try it.

Monbiot on coal

George Monbiot has written about coal many a time. This time slightly differently, as he stands at the edge of, and describes in brilliant form, a burgeoning new open-cast mine out in Wales.

I recommend that you use his post for the references, rather than my shoddy efforts.

It looks as if we are about to re-enter the coal age. Though the electricity companies spend millions telling us about their investments in renewable energy, at least four of them – E.On, RWE npower, ScottishPower and Scottish and Southern – are developing plans for new coal-burning generators, which produce roughly twice the carbon emissions of gas burners. According to one government document, there are “£20 billion of new coal-fired power stations planned to be built in the UK before 2020″(1).

The power companies are confident that the government will back them. Its Energy White Paper, published in May, begins by explaining the need to develop a low carbon economy. But buried on page 112 is a commitment to “secure the long-term future of coal-fired power generation”(2).

This is justified by the prospect that one day carbon emissions might be captured and buried in geological formations: a process known as carbon capture and storage, or CCS. But while the government has asked companies to build a demonstration plant by 2014, there are no firm plans for any commercial venture. The energy white paper admits that “CCS would not be commercially viable unless costs fell substantially … or unless the carbon price rose sufficiently to provide a larger financial incentive.”(3) In a parliamentary debate in May, Alastair Darling, then in charge of energy, acknowledged that the technologies required for CCS “might never become available”(4). We could be stuck with a new generation of coal-burning power stations, approved on the basis of a promise which never materialises, which commit us to massive emissions for 40 years.

There is another policy buried in the white paper which is already being implemented. This is to “maximise economic recovery … from remaining coal reserves.”(5) In 2006, British planning authorities considered twelve applications for new opencast coal mines. They rejected two of them and approved ten.(6) They have done so, the story of Ffos-y-fran shows, with the active support of the government.

And of the town?

The edge of the site is just 36 metres from the nearest homes, yet there will be no compensation for the owners, and their concerns have been dismissed by the authorities. Though local people have fought the plan, their council, the Welsh government and the Westminster government have collaborated with the developers to force it through, using questionable methods. I have found evidence which suggests to me that a member of Tony Blair’s government used false information to seek to persuade the Welsh administration to approve the pit. But perhaps the most remarkable fact is this: that outside Merthyr Tydfil hardly anyone knows it is happening.

At first the people of Merthyr Tydfil could not understand why their representatives were siding with the developers. Merthyr has a long Labour tradition of social solidarity. While many people lament the passing of the deep mines, open-casting is unpopular. Petitions circulated by the local protest group raised 10,000 signatures. But the council, which is dominated by the Labour party, the Labour assembly member and the Welsh assembly have all helped the mining company to fight the objectors.

There are 432 local authorities in the United Kingdom. Life expectancy in Merthyr comes 429th.(7) As a result of the legacy of heavy industry, smoking and bad diet, it has Wales’s highest rates of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, strokes and certain heart conditions.(8) All these diseases are exacerbated by air pollution and stress. The pit will be dug into a steep hillside overhanging the town.

To put ‘overhanging the town’ into perspective, from the Ffos-y-fran Health Impact Assessment Steering Group:

Ffos aerial pic

Ffos map pic

The houses nearest to the mine are literally across the road.

The remainder of Monbiot’s article is well worth reading.

Using coal vs. going cold and hungry

A very interesting post is available over at The Oil Drum:

In electricity generation coal, like nuclear power, is more commonly used for baseload generation, while natural gas is more for times of high demand, since it can be more easily brought on line and, later, turned off. However, as natural gas supply becomes more in question, then something will have to replace those generators.

It is a debate that is facing an increasing number of communities around the country as increasing electricity demand begins to strain existing resources.

It is up in response to ant-coal thinking, generally, but solution-less anti-coal thinking, specifically. It follows editorials/articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post, and known energy prices, such as given in this article:

Solar costs about 25 cents a kilowatt hour. That’s compared to about 9 cents a kilowatt hour for natural gas and 5 cents a kilowatt hour for modern coal-burning plants, as well as 6 cents a kilowatt hour for wind energy if tax considerations are included. The good news is that the cost of solar power is falling all the time. It once stood at $1 a kilowatt hour and advocates say that it could soon cost 12-16 cents a kilowatt hour.

I’m known to be biased in favour of the Oil Drum, but the argument presented here makes a lot of sense: energy demand is increasing; energy supply is not, and coal is the cheap source that can be brought online while we deal with declining natural gas and oil.

Consider, for example, oil (via the IEA):

OECD graph

This does not include, for example, declining oil exports, either. Nor declining gas reserves. That gap isn’t going away, and it will become more and more expensive (particularly as more gas is needed to pump out the remaining oil).

The EIA’s short-range forecasts follow a similar argument, in re declining gas reserves and increase coal utilisation.

Essentially the narratives remain. Of the sources of energy, coal is the cheapest – even once environmental impact amelioration (carbon sequestration, etc.) is factored in. Moreover, it is the one that is at the market already. The gap between supply and demand is one thing, but the gap between current technology/supply and the ability of renewables to take their place is another. We can’t wish away the time difference between the death of oil and gas, and the new life of wind, solar and so forth (should there be one).

The flip-side of this, of course, is proper management of demand. These arguments pre-suppose that energy demand is what it is – high, increasing, and increasingly spiking. Even load-shedding, the focus of the NY Times piece, is not something that can address that problem comprehensively (amongst other things, it stops working effectively as more people respond to the idea).

In terms of personal beliefs, this goes in with building more highways to deal with more cars – it’s like loosening your belt to deal with obesity. The constraints are not the problem. If anything, higher prices would prompt (painful) demand restraint, and a big part of me welcomes it, if not for the distributional implications, which are quite serious.

At the moment, policy is a little bit pregnant, which we know one cannot properly be. Public pressure is already having an effect on local government up-take of coal energy, but very little of worth is coming out of government, policy-wise, at any level, whether related to supply or demand. Having intervention in only part of the market, allowing the other to exacerbate a problem freely, is in no way sustainable: the only endgame of the current approach is rolling power failures every Summer.

The Vatican is carbon-neutral. After a fashion.

Or rather, after the fashion, as the case would be. Apropos two sets of previous discussion, now:

Vatican seeks to be carbon neutral

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).

Can you buy a greener conscience?

The commodification of ethics comes in for more scrutiny. The LA Times is on the issue, too:

The race to save the planet from global warming has spawned a budding industry of middlemen selling environmental salvation at bargain prices.

The companies take millions of dollars collected from their customers and funnel them into carbon-cutting projects, such as tree farms in Ecuador, windmills in Minnesota and no-till fields in Iowa.

In return, customers get to claim the reductions, known as voluntary carbon offsets, as their own. For less than $100 a year, even a Hummer can be pollution-free — at least on paper.

Tom Boucher, chief executive of Native Energy, said people should first reduce their energy consumption and waste, and then buy offsets — “the only way to really get to zero unless you stop driving, stop traveling.”

But the industry is clouded by an approach to carbon accounting that makes it easy to claim reductions that didn’t occur. Many projects that have received money from offset companies would have reduced emissions by the same amount anyway.

This is the point I was making back with the Wired article (none of my students seem to have found this site, so my reticence was entirely wasted).

Cap-and-trade, for example, works because the trade is pushed along by the cap. We trade a steadily declining commodity: the right to pollute. Voluntary carbon-neutral schemes do not. One’s right to pump shit out their exhaust pipes is not declining, and paying for trees that already exist are not going to help that. There is a chance, certainly, that your donation may secure a tree that otherwise would fall – but that, too, is not saving the planet. Planting trees, sure (say, via Future Forests), as long as the carbon neutralised is measured accurately and sold honestly.

As with the Wired article, which touted companies buying the right to pave over a wetland – there is a net reduction in wetlands as a result. The purchase of some environmental credibility was only that: the wetlands, and the service they provide to the planet, were not replaced.

This is the key problem with voluntary carbon conscience ameliorating: the markets are fundamentally different. Cap-and-trade works because the market for pollution is tied directly to the credits being traded. A lot of the trading schemes (and the LA Times article has plenty) do not meet this key criterion. Purchasing something that already exists (moreso if it’s an acre of trees in Asia, somewhere) is one market. Cutting down trees, burning up petrol, etc. (moreso if it is not in Asia) is another market, and neither economics nor biology will say the two can cancel each other out.

More importantly, without the ‘cap’ aspect, the price in the ‘trade’ part isn’t representing what relatively sound economic theory dictates. There is meant to be a price attached to the reduction of pollution. With not a single limit placed upon one’s household carbon emissions, and a price on offsets that do not reflect the scarcity invoked by those limits, we are probably buying little more than the Feeling of Good. You may as well go by some weed and smoke it until you feel better. You even get the benefit of irony of burning plant matter.

The LA Times article mentions the potential for Federal Trade Commission involvement in the industry (that is, here in the US). I won’t say it’s about time, because the industry (or rather, this aspect of it) has only been around for a few years, and it’s still only worth about USD55m per year – compare that with the hundreds of billions, collectively, that the polluting industries are worth. It will be nice to see some standards, some proper accounting, and some honesty in advertising. Proper engagement by carbon-offset purchasers would be nice, too.

I have a better idea, if one is truly into off-sets. When one buys something expensive, or anything that is not a luxury, they should give five bucks to the first panhandler that they see. What’s the relationship between that new dress, or that big meal, and this man living on the streets? None. That dress didn’t put him there, that five bucks will not get him out, and that five bucks will not help the person who sewed the dress for a pittance. But if one is principally after the assuagement of guilt, I think there at least exists a moral obligation to face the ugly side of the issue. Half our problem isn’t what we buy or do, but what we are permitted to ignore.