Monday, June 4, 2007

Wimpy Calculus for Reducing CO2 emissions

“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

The Conservation Fund has a Go Zero program, I just stumbled across. They describe themselves as a fund that “pioneers a balanced, non-advocacy, non-membership approach to conservation, one that blends environmental and economic goals and objectives.”

The gist: I’ll gladly pay you in 50 years for CO2 emitted today.”

You use their calculator to figure out how many tons of CO2 you generate in a year, and then divide that number by 1.33 to figure out how many trees you should buy to offset that amount. They way they figure it, plant a tree today and over the course of its 70 year life it will absorb 1.33 tons of CO2. I can just see the graph of CO2 uptake: very close to zero for many years, with the significant payoffs once the tree starts to be an interesting size, say about 25 years from now. I wonder what fraction of trees planted actually make it to their 25th birthday.

I like trees. Planting trees is good. Sending the Conversation Fund $4 a tree to plant a bunch to rid yourself of your CO2 guilt has just one negative side effect. It gives the impression that you are actually doing something about your CO2 emissions.

The sad part is, the consume-now pay-later system is what we have been doing for the last 100 years and is what got us into this mess. When we do nothing, it takes about 100 years for the CO2 to be reabsorbed and if we plant that tree, it'll be reabsorbed in about 70. Right now we are reaping the effects of fossil fuel burned in the 1960s. Just imagine what it is going to be like when we start feeling the warming effects that result from today’s consumption levels.

We need to change our behavior, we can't buy our way out. Sharing just one car trip a week (or eliminating one a week), can reduce our consumption of fossil fuel by 5% starting now. Just like Wimpy's endless burger-bargaining, planting a tree for tomorrow won't produce the results we want in the timeframe required.


Kali said...

Hi Robin:

My name is Kali Karagias and I have been an avid fan/customer of Zipcar for a couple of years now. I try to spread the word as much as I can.

I heard you present GoLoco last Tuesday and its a great app that I will use. I have some idea I would like to share with you. May you send me your email please?

Cameron said...

Hi Robin & Goloco Team!

My name is Cameron. I think Goloco is a genius idea.

Jamie said...

Have you seen It's a clever and witty way of explaining why offsetting is not a sustainable way of dealing with climate change.