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Conning the Climate

Inside the carbon-trading shell game

By Mark Schapiro
February, 2010

More on how the U.S. ban against greener, sustainable and highly profitable Internet gambling has made Antigua the Fair Trade poster child.

More on alternative energy ideas and projects that appear promising to investors.

Carbon trading is now the fastest-growing commodities market on earth. Since 2005, when major greenhouse-gas polluters among the Kyoto signatories were issued caps on their emissions and permitted to buy credits to meet those caps there have been more than $300 billion worth of carbon transactions. Major financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs, Barclays, and Citibank now host carbon-trading desks in London; traders who once speculated on oil and gas are betting on the most insidious side effects of our fossil fuel-based economy. Over the next decade, if President Obama and other advocates can institute a cap-and-trade system in the United States, the demand for carbon credits could explode into a $2 to $3 trillion market, according to the market-analysis firm Point Carbon.

Under the cap-and-trade system, industries regulated by it - the largest being power generation, chemicals, steel, and cement - are given limits on their total emissions, and companies can purchase emission reductions from others in lieu of reducing emissions themselves. Already, European companies buy and trade their credits frequently under parameters established by the European Union, which assigns a baseline emissions level to major industries as well as future limits they have to meet. ...

But Kyoto also allows companies to purchase "offsets," credits from emission-reducing projects in developing countries. Such projects, which currently account for as much as a third of total tradable credits, are overseen not by the Eu but by the United Nations. ... Whole new careers are blossoming: "carbon developers," many of them employed by large multinational firms, travel the world in search of carbon- reduction projects to sell, while carbon accountants ... are paid to affirm that those reductions are real. ...

Lambert Schneider, a German environmental engineer who serves on a U.N. panel on methodologies, reviewed nearly a hundred offset projects for the peer-review journal, Climate Policy. He found that just 60 percent of projects actually provided evidence that the CM funding made a difference, and that 40 percent of companies would likely have reduced emissions anyway. ...

It turns out that overestimating reductions is the trapdoor in the offset system. Study after study has demonstrated that CDMs have not delivered the promised amount of emission reductions. ... the margin of error in measuring emissions from the cement and fertilizer industries can be as high as 10 percent. For the oil, gas, and coal industries, the margin of error is 60 percent; and for some agricultural processes, the margin of error can actually reach 100 percent. ...

In this highly specialized new industry, ... there is a serious potential for conflicts of interest. It is not uncommon for validators and verifiers to cross over to the far more lucrative business of developing carbon projects themselves - and then requesting audits from their former colleagues. ... (-- pgs. 31-39)

The New York Times Magazine

Sporting Efficiency

The Green Issue

By Robert Weintraub
April 20/08

You might be surprised to know that the National Football League has had an environmental director for 15 years: Jack Groh. He has been with the league since Brett Favre's second season in Green Bay, so he has credibility when he says the league's efforts are "not done as a PR stunt." Rather, the attitude is that, as Groh says, "the league would be better off in its botttom line" using green principles. Groh oversees Super Bowl projects - like a reforestation program in Arizona - but he hasn't persuaded the NFL to establish green practices for its teams. Major League Baseball, however, has just done so, a fact that irks Groh: "After 15 years, that should have been us." MLOB collarborated with the Natural Resources Defense Council to draw up a comprehensive program for its franchises. Reducing the environmental impact of its travel and reducing the use of unrecycled paper are primary elements; how they will be enforced is unclear. In the National Hockey League, the Players' Association has teamed up with the David Suzuki Foundation, which created a carbon-offset program for skaters. In the land of the Kyoto Protocol, Japanese professional baseball has enacted rules to speed up the games, shortening the time between innings, half innings and each pitch. The goal is to lop 12 minutes from each game, saving harmful emissions produced as a result of powering the stadiums. If only Groh could persuade the NFL to eliminate a TV timeout or two. (-- p. 66)

The New York Times Magazine

The New Joblessness

It's different from other recessions. It's worse than you think.

By Roger Lowenstein
July 28/09

More scary employment projections for the upcoming workforce, such as it is.

... Not only are firms laying off redundant workers, but they seem to be cutting into the bone. ...

... But layoffs are only part of the story. The problem isn't just that so many workers have received pink slips but also that companies are failing to hire. And this, unfortunately, has been a trend for most of the past decade (unnoticed, perhaps, because the mortgage bubble was papering over latent weaknesses). At the end of the Clinton era, which also marked the end of a decade-long boom, companies that were opening or expanding operations added nearly 8 workers for every 100 already on the payroll. During the recession of 2001, the figure dropped to 7 per 100: optimistic firms were a bit less optimistic. The surprising fact is that when the recession ended, the percentage stayed at 7. "We never got our groove back," asserts Mark Zandi of Moody's In the current recession, the rate has fallen to 6 per 100. ...

In terms of its impact on society, a dearth of hiring is far more troubling than an excess of layoffs. Job losses have to end sooner or later. Even if they persist (as, say, in the auto industry), the government can intervene. But the government cannot force firms to hire. Ultimately, each new job depends on the boss's belief - or hope - that sufficient work will materialize. It's a bit of black magic also described as confidence. Over the years, it is why America has not only attracted immigrants (whose arrivals are now slowing) but also generated more opportunities and favorite word of politicians - hope for those born here.

The administration's tilt toward so-called sustainable new jobs, in green energy and such, shows that it understands what is at stake, both for the country and for its political fortunes. Whether its plans will bear fruit is, of course, another matter. Along with double-digit unemployment, the country is facing a second potential scare headline: falling wages. Even during recessions, businesses don't like to lower pay, because it reduces morale. But layoffs are also a downer. And in this recession, employers ranging from the State of California to publishers (including this newspaper) have cut back on pay. In effect, job losses have been so severe that businesses have been forced to spread the pain. In June, overall wage growth was zero. Zandi thinks the United States could see negative wage growth. (-- pgs. 11-12)


You said it, Frankie, boy!

The New Yorker

Big Foot

In measuring carbon emissions, it's easy to confuse morality and science.

By Michael Specter
Feb. 25/08

More on a few of the skeptics challenging the climate change 'science.'


... scientists at the Stockholm Environment Institute reported that the carbon footprint of Christmas - including food, travel, lighting, and gifts - was 650 kg per person. That is as much, they estimated, as the weight of "one thousand Christmas puddings" for every resident of England. ...

Many factors influence the carbon footprint of a product: water use, cultivation and harvesting methods, quantity and type of fertilizer, even the type of fuel used to make the package. Sea-freight emissions are less than a 60th of those associated with airplanes, and you don't have to build highways to berth a ship. Last year, a study of the carbon cost of the global wine trade found that is actually more "green" for New Yorkers to drink wine from Bordeaux, which is shipped by sea, than wine from California, sent by truck. That is largely because shipping wine is mostly shipping glass. The study found that "the efficiencies of shipping drive a 'green line' all the way to Columbus, Ohio, the point where a wine from Bordeaux and Napa has the same carbon intensity."

The environmental burden imposed by importing apples from New Zealand to Northern Europe or New York can be lower than if the apples were raised fifty miles away. "In New Zealand, they have more sunshine than in the UlK, which helps productivity," (Adrian) Williams (agriculture researcher at the Natural Resources Department of Cranfield University, in England) explained. That means the yield of New Zealand apples far exceeds the yield of those grown in northern climates, so the energy required for farmers to grow the crop is correspondingly lower. It also helps that the electricity in New Zealand is mostly generated by renewable sources, none of which emit large amounts of CO2. Researchers at Loncoln University in Christchurch, found that lamb raised in New Zealand and shipped 11,000 miles by boat to England produced 688 kg of carbon-dioxide emissions per ton, about a fourth of the amount produced by British lamb. In part, that is because pastures in New Zealand need far less fertilizer than most grazing land in Britain (or in many parts of the U.S.). Similarly, importing beans from Uganda or Kenya - where the farms are small, tractor use is limited, and the fertilizer is almost always manure - tends to be more efficient than growing beans in Europe, with its reliance on energy-dependent irrigation systems. ...

... According to the latest figures, deforestation pushes nearly six billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. That amounts to 30 million acreas - an area half the size of the UK - chopped down every year. Put another way, according to one recent calculation, during the next 24 hours the effect of losing forests in Brazil and Indonesia will be the same if 8 million people boarded airplanes at Heathrow Airport and flew en masse to New York.

... From both a political and economic perspective, it would be easier and cheaper to reduce the rate of deforestation than to cut back significantly on air travel. It would also have a far greater impact on climate change and on social welfare in the developing world. Possessing rights to carbon would grant new power to farmers who, for the first time, would be paid to preserve their forests rather than destroy them. Unfortunately, such plans are seen by many people as morally unattractive. "The whole issue is tied up with the misconceived notion of 'carbon colonialism," Niles told me. "Some activists do not want the Third World to have to alter their behavior, because the problem was largely caused by us in the West." (-- pgs. 44-52)

Reason for Hope

A Spiritual Journey

By Jane Goodall with Phillip Berman

My reasons for hope are fourfold: (1) the human brain; (2) the resilience of nature; (3) the energy and enthusiasm that is found or can be kindled among young people worldwide; and (4) the indomitable human spirit. ...

The hope lies in the fact that, finally, we have begun to understand and face up to these problems. ... More people are concerned than ever before. Even in China, the government, which has for so long denied that it has any environmental problems, has been jolted into concern by the terrible floods of 1998. Today environmental concerns are freely discussed in the Chinese media. ... After all, humans have accomplished "impossible" tasks before. Would anyone have believed you a hundred years ago if you had predicted there would soon be a man on the moon? a fax machine? a jumbo jet? ...

And there is more good news. Many companies have begun "greening" their operations. ... No African government will sit on "black gold," so it is important that the exploring, drilling, and pumping be done by the most responsible and ethical companies. And unless you and I support those companies, by purchasing their products, they will never survive in the competitive marketplace. ...

My second reason for hope lies in the amazing resilience of nature if we give her a chance - and, if necessary, a helping hand. There are many success stories. The lower reaches of the River Thames in London were once so poisoned that almost all life was dead; today, after a massive cleanup operation, fish are swimming, and many birds have returned to breed. ... For a hundred years the toxic emissions from a nickel mine (in Sudbury, Ont.) had polluted the environment for miles around. ... citizens finally realizing that their health as well as their environment were at risk, had decided to do something about it. The mine had reduced its emissions by 98 percent in about fifteen years. As a symbol of hope, they gave me a feather from one of the peregrine falcons that once again nested there - after being locally extinct for more than forty years. ... There are, in fact, success stories everywhere. ... (From Chapter 15, Hope, pgs. 232-251)