Friday, November 11, 2005

Dave Reay review

My review of Climate Change Begins at Home is here.

Dave Reay writes to say to correct my comment that there is nothing in the book on carbon offset. It is indexed under "Trees: planting to offset emissions..." And here's the relevant passage:

"It's unrealistic to think that all our air travel emissions can simply be offset by planting trees. The primary worth of such schemes is to get people thinking about their climate impact, rather than to solve it. Some schemes - such as 'Climate Care' for example - now allow you to offset your emissions not with trees but with funding renewable energy schemes in the developing world. The climate benefits of doing this may be more transparent, but there's no easy way round this. To minimise your contribution to global warming fly less, or not at all".

This is OK, but it should be emphasized that :

  • the case for tree planting is, at best, weak. There may be many good reasons to plant trees in some circumstances, but carbon sequestration is unlikely to be one of them.
  • funding energy efficiency may very often be a better priority than renewables (Climate Care's compact flourescents for South Africa townships being a case in point)

I would therefore suggest that a future edition of the book discuss offset in more detail.

As for flying less: yes, objectively this makes sense. It does, however, bring one to a big question not addressed in my review. That is, the willingness - or otherwise - of most relatively wealthy people (the richest one billion) to consume less.

Hair shirts don't go down well, as Jonathon Porritt almost put it. And a writer at The Economist was on to something when he or she observed observing that you need to appeal to people's self-interest because that tends to trump tight-fistedness (see
Virtue for Sale).

It's a tough challenge to influence attitudes, market products and promote behaviours that are less environmentally destructive. It may require a careful mix of greed and fear (...and wanting to do the right thing, of course!). And even the most ambitious initiatives concieved hitherto may be hopelessly inadequate with regard to the objective challenges.

So, for example more thing on flying: booming air travel in Asia will easily wipe out even the most spectacular gains in passenger kilometre efficiency in the richest countries thought to be vaguely credible (see the post Air apparent from July).

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