Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
Emissions & Climate Change
Carbon Dioxide, known chemically as CO2, is a greenhouse gas forming part
of the atmosphere to help keep our planet warm by trapping the sun's heat. A
cold planet will not be suitable for the kind of life we have now. But too much
of this in our atmosphere can have the opposite effect, and as such rising temperatures
are feared to bring changes in weather systems around the global, and hence climate
change is one of the greatest challenges ever to face humankind.
Natural CO2 is mainly released by the decay of plants, volcanic eruptions
and animal waste products. Once released in the air, the gas is removed from
the atmosphere by plant photosynthesis and by the oceans' water. Gaia balances
the production and conversion of this critical gas to regulate life on earth
according to a cosmic clock.
Sadly, human's industrial revolution appears to have had some disastrous effects
and devastating consequences on this delicate balance. For instance, only two
return flights from London to Moscow produce a tonne of CO2. Optimistically speaking,
the concentration of CO2 in OUR atmosphere is predicted to reach twice the level
of CO2 before the industrial revolution by 2100; other, more daring, scenarios
say this could take place by 2050.
What is Carbon Footprint?
A carbon footprint is the number of units of CO2 produced by one person;
generally averaging 10 tonnes per year in Western Europe. In terms of countries,
the UK produces about 500 million tonnes of CO2 a year.
What is Kyoto Agreement?
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
It is an international agreement setting binding targets for 37 industrialised
countries to reduce their emission of greenhouse gases by a mere 5%
against the 1990 levels over a five-year period from 2008 to 2012. The protocol
commits the participating developed countries to reduce their emissions as a
result of more than 150 years of industrial activity.
The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on the 11th of December 1997
and entered into force on the 16th of February 2005. So far 183 countries have
signed and ratified the Kyoto agreement, including the North African states: Libya,
Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.
What is CO2 Offsetting?
It is not easy to provide a clear-cut answer to this question, but the following
will attempt to explain the real issue.
Carbon Offsetting Versus Carbon
All claims regarding
"neutrality" and "zero-carbon"
are misleading to a certain extent. According to our current technology one
cannot eliminate or neutralise the gases produced in the atmosphere, but can
greatly reduce the amount will-be-produced; as well as build as many projects
as one can afford. Cutting-down on many none-essential things, like lowering
your thermostat by one degree or two, driving sensibly, and flying and driving
less are just a few great measures we can all permanently take to reduce the
amount of CO2 produced. However, building green projects to offset the CO2 while
continuing to produce more CO2 elsewhere is not what the planet urgently needs.
- Carbon Offsetting services are offered by organisations,
most of which are profit-based businesses or commercial companies, while others
are charity-based. They use some of the money they take from customers to fund
environmental projects and as such critics were quick to declare that carbon
offsetting is nothing more than paying for the right to carry on emitting more
carbon. Although funding green-projects to help communities around the globe
is certainly good for the planet, the proper solution, they argue, must come
from reducing the carbon emissions and therefore the CO2 released in the air.
To give you an idea of what and how much is needed, a 60% cut in CO2 emissions
by 2050 is required in the UK alone. For example, some major airliners pay millions
of pounds towards offsetting their carbon production, but continue to operate
the same number of flights, if not more. Carbon offsetting initiatives are widely
seen to exert no visible pressure on the major suppliers to reduce the
carbon pollution they constantly produce. Many experts are increasingly bringing
this issue to the open.
- Carbon Philanthropy, on the other hand, aims to provide
a non-profit alternative to carbon offsetting via a number of initiatives that
tackle the travel-related causes of climate change, and/or help the affected
local communities worldwide to cope with the effects of climate change. Resulting
increased droughts, starvation, flooding and diseases will put greater pressure
on the agencies specialising on disaster relief to seek urgent funding from charitable
sources because government aid is often to late. Philanthropy programs support
these charities to fund their relief programs as quickly as possible. Hence the
etymology of philanthropy comes from the Greek philanthropia,
from phil- (loving) + anthropos (man): to love fellow human
beings, and the best way to expresses this love is to be there when disaster
strikes, rather than pretend deaf and turn blind eye and speak targets and so
on. Although the supporters of carbon philanthropy emphasis the non-profit nature
of their work as opposed to the profit-based carbon offsetting, critics say there
is no evidence that carbon philanthropy has any measurable impact on CO2 reduction either.
In fact, it should not, because it does not say it has. What it does say is help
those affected by the disasters thought-to-have-been caused by the excess CO2
produced; and therefore more people are increasingly finding it more responsible
to house a homeless family whose home was swept away by a tsunami, rather than
pay companies to plant more plants or generate electricity from wind. While there
are others who say that the whole thing is completely out of control. We say
look in the positive side and start reducing at home.
Before you part with anything,
read Friends of the Earth new report.
The report, "Finds that in practice offsetting is not leading to
global emissions reductions or benefits to developing countries. Instead, it
is simply leading to more ingenious ways to avoid cutting emissions."
A Dangerous Distraction
According to the Guardian
"One of the biggest UK offsetters, Climate Care, which is used by
the Guardian, distributed 10,000 energy-efficient lightbulbs in a South African
township; offered the carbon reductions as offsets; and then discovered that
an energy company was distributing the same kind of lightbulbs free to masses
of customers, including their township, so the reduction would have happened
anyway . . . Dan Welch, a Manchester journalist who investigated offsetters for
Ethical Consumer magazine, summarised it neatly: "Offsets are an imaginary commodity
created by deducting what you hope happens from what you guess would have happened." Read
full article here.
Responsibletravel.com has made the important decision to remove carbon offsetting
from responsibletravel.com in October 2008. They say, in their website, that
their position is the same as that of Friends of the Earth, Oxford University
Business School and The Committee on Climate Change: offsetting distracts from
the real issues of reducing our carbon emissions as much as possible.
Of course, there are several organisations, charity-based and companies, that
are funding a wide variety of projects around the globe. And most people do recognise
their efforts and wholeheartedly agree that all these projects are really good
for the planet. 60% reduction is required in the UK alone, and therefore to scientists
the primary concern is to reduce CO2 production. Everything
else is secondary to the issue and that is why more and more organisations are
increasingly distancing themselves from offsetting.
We believe we should do both: first start reducing everywhere we can, then
continue to build as many good projects as we can. Building means to build something,
to create something that was not there before. Reducing is removing something
that was created before, something that is already there. People should always
build good projects to benefit particularly the unfortunate communities suffering
around the globe; but scientists stress the need to reduce the production of
What Can You Really Do?
If you really care, then you need to consider reducing your
daily emissions at home and at work before anywhere else, and do this all the
time and not just when you are going abroad!
Carbon Offsetting Projects
If you do decide to take part in commercial carbon offsetting, then there
are various projects relating to carbon offsetting, most of which are associated
with the following categories:
- Protection of rainforests & tree planting: buying and conserving rainforest
areas to reduce deforestation, and planting trees to help reduce carbon dioxide
by producing more oxygen.
- Solar power: producing electricity from sun light: it is free, plentiful
and clean. Domestic systems can save you hundreds of pounds off your yearly electricity
and gas bills.
- Solar thermal power: involves catching sunbeams, magnifying them, and then
using them to heat stored air or water.
- Hydro power: producing electricity using the energy inherent in water, such
as waves. Forcing water past the blades of a turbine will force it to spin and
thereby drive electromagnetic generators that churn out electricity.
- Rain Power: Trapping rain water in dams and then releasing it
through turbines produces electricity; although hydroelectric
dams are often controversial owing to their impact on wildlife such as
fish and other river plants and animals, and owing to their impact on human life
as communities often were forced to abandon their homes when areas upstream of
the dam are deliberately flooded.
- Wind power: producing electricity from wind energy is clean.
- Biomass power: energy extracted from dead or living biological matter and
- Employment: all the above projects imply employing local people to benefit
the local communities.
Calculating CO2 Emissions & Offsetting
There are several carbon calculators available today. Some programs are designed
to calculate a specific result for each destination, depending on various factors
such as distance traveled, number of passengers, type of aircraft used, and so
on. While there are other programs based on
"Carbon Zoning", where the planet is divided
into several zones and where travellers can donate a specific amount approximated
on the mount of CO2 released by an average flight to any of these zones.
There are those who strongly advise that the best approach is to offset
your carbon yourself, because the best strategy they say is to reduce the
consumption of energy and the release of harmful gases. Simply use one of the
available calculators to calculate your CO2 used, and then take measures at home
and at work to reduce your consumption of energy to cover the amount produced.
There is no reason why not continue reducing for life.
- Calculate your personal annual CO2 emissions (resurgence.org/resources/carbon-calculator.html).