We’re flying tonight.
It hasn’t really sunk in yet. The last couple of weeks have been filled with the inevitable dashing-around-getting-stuff-sorted that precedes any major trip (as well as a few other small things like a full-time job, trips to London, local climate change action meetings and joining a rock band), and so I haven’t really had time to think about it, but - yes, I’m going to Africa tonight.
Look, I can hear all you well-travelled types sniggering to yourselves, but this is a big deal for me, OK? I’ve only been out of Europe twice in my life (once to
That is, of course, assuming that I can actually get into the Forum. It seems that my registration (which I sent off back in November) has somehow gone astray, which probably means I can look forward to lots of hilarious confusion, waiting in 1000-person long queues, and desperate pleading with harassed Forum volunteers once I get to Nairobi. Luckily, we’ve arranged to arrive a day in advance, which should give me the leeway to sort things out. Assuming that our flight isn’t delayed tonight, what with all the gales and all. But of course, that would be ridiculous and couldn’t possibly happen.
Still, there’s nothing like minor disasters, stress and panic to make a blog more interesting to read, eh? I’ll keep you all updated.
Several people have now asked me whether I’ll be offsetting my flights. At the risk of launching into rant mode – and with apologies to quite a few lovely people I know who work in the offsetting trade – no, I won’t.
Large numbers of offsetting schemes – particularly those based on tree-planting – are dubious at best, reliant on wobbly science, and in the worse cases actually involve damage to soils, livelihoods, and the potential release of more greenhouse gases than the trees could ever absorb. The simple answer to this, of course, is: look for a reputable offsetting scheme rather than the first dodgy offer that comes along. This is the kind of discerning attitude that the Government is presumably trying to foster with today’s announcement of a new offsetting “Gold Standard”, to sort the good schemes from the bad.
All very nice. But I still won’t be offsetting.
Some of the offsetting schemes out there clearly do good things. Providing more efficient and less polluting technologies to people in poorer countries – if done properly, in cooperation with the communities involved – can have many knock-on benefits for health, income, and food production in areas that desperately need these things.
I’m still not going to offset.
1) Every offsetting scheme is based on the idea that by reducing emissions somewhere else, we can make up for, or “neutralise”, our own greenhouse gas emissions. This relies on being able to calculate, with certainty, how much CO2 we’re “saving” by supporting a low-carbon scheme somewhere. But to work out how much carbon will be “saved” by say, installing some low-energy technology in a village in Bangladesh, requires somehow working out how much carbon would have been produced by that community if the technology hadn’t been installed, which is far from straightforward. How can we possibly be sure that the greenhouse gas reduction over there is equal to the amount of greenhouse gas emitted over here? Also, offsetting in this way only reduces emissions sometime in the future – but we need enormous cuts in CO2 now if we’re going to have any hope of preventing climate catastrophe.
2) There aren’t enough offsetting opportunities out there to cancel out the huge volumes of greenhouse gases we produce in the rich world. Even if we provided every developing country on the planet with low carbon technologies, without massive reductions in the industrialised nations we’d still all be screwed. It isn’t the poorer nations who are emitting all the carbon dioxide. To be fair, few serious offsetting advocates are suggesting that we could somehow magic all of our carbon away in this fashion, but my fear is that this industry is acting as a huge distraction from the real action that we need. As people get the idea that they can buy off their guilt by giving a few quid to an offsetting company or charity, they are more likely to keep on driving, flying and ramping up the thermostat with a lovely warm glow in their hearts, rather than a (far more useful and appropriate) nasty sick feeling in their bellies. They are also less likely to take all-important political action if they think that some nice companies are somehow going to “sort it all out”.
3) Offsetting lets the Government off the hook as well. There needs to be a massive transfer of low-carbon technology to poorer nations and communities, to give them a chance to develop within a global carbon limit that prevents the worst ravages of climate change. We in the wealthy nations have got rich from carbon. It’s our rampant burning of fossil fuels over the last 150 years that has got us into this environmental crisis – a crisis which will hit poorer nations on a far greater scale than it’ll hit us. This makes it our responsibility to provide the tools – and the money - to help the people of the Global South find a low-carbon route out of poverty. This needs to be happen on a massive scale as part of a binding international agreement. One reason the Government likes offsetting is that it draws attention away from this idea and suggests that we can achieve the same thing through piecemeal projects funded by voluntary donations from businesses and the public. We can’t.
For a better-referenced (and, let’s face it, better-written) explanation of all this, check out: http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2006/10/19/selling-indulgences/
I don’t want to appease my guilt at flying today. I need that guilt. That guilt is part of the fuel that’s going to keep me campaigning furiously for the massive changes we need in the
Here’s how I’m going to make up for the carbon emitted by this flight:
I’m going to admit that none of the following things take any of the greenhouse gases from my flight out of the air, but are all things I should be doing anyway as a privileged citizen of the rich world. This flight has just focused my attention on them and reminded me of my responsibilities.
I’m going to communicate my experiences of the World Social Forum to as many people as possible, to make this trip as worthwhile as I can.
I’m going to give as large a donation as my bank balance allows to People and Planet, to support student activists all over the country in the campaign against climate change.
I’m going to join my voice to (no doubt) the voices of others at the WSF to try to find a way to reduce the travel impacts of this kind of global gathering.
I’m going to devote myself to a mass national grassroots campaign to challenge our Government to set binding carbon reduction targets (based on science, not politics), and take the radical action needed to meet them.
And most of all, I’m going to stop flying.
This is the last one.
You know what? I think I actually mean that.