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Carbon Credits: The Con of the Century?

As we prepare for our major event, the Algarve SUP Festival – Summer 2015, the issue of Carbon Credits has been raised, and we’ve been asked if we had made provision to voluntary purchase carbon credits?

Our answer was no, not at all, and we have no intention of doing so neither.

But having been asked this question, it took me back to the beginning days of when the carbon market concept was being discussed in many places. I remember thinking at the time:- “Is this “Carbon Market concept” another brain-scattered idea (read scam/con) of the so called trading commodities markets”? And to date, I have not changed my thoughts at all.

I honestly, cannot morally justify the purchase of carbon credits for the festival.

 And here’s why!

The fact is that the whole concept of a “Carbon Market” avoids dealing with the real problem and the real issues - such as facing the fact that we are all causing some level of damage to our planet. Although we have to agree some do more harm than others. The fact is that we can’t deny that it is not happening. We can’t ignore this.

Scientists who chart the problem of global warming tell us that the solution lies in making deep cuts in rising greenhouse-gas emissions and being responsible, now, “paying” for damaging the planet instead, is not solving the problem and is not the solution.

It's like accepting that you are knowingly doing wrong by poisoning our ecosystems, and our environment but you offset that action by paying a nominal fee instead of facing the reality of what you are doing. We need to motivate people (and especially the people in charge of organisations) to change their behaviour and be really responsible for the damage that they are in fact doing and causing.

In my opinion, individuals and “the management individuals in corporations” that buy carbon credits makes me think of the religious people going to the confessional, disclosing their “sins”, and having accepted that they are “guilty of sinning” saying a few Hail Mary’s to be absolved of their sins. (With no disrespect to any religion)

George Monbiot said it clearly when he stated in one of his presentations on TED: "Carbon credits means that you buy yourself a clean conscience by paying someone else to undo some of the harm that you are causing."

We need to take into account that the real benefits of carbon offsetting are in fact very hard to quantify - for example, let’s say that you are buying credits to offset the result of your actions by paying to plant trees, the questions that we have to answer are - exactly how much carbon dioxide will these trees remove from the atmosphere during their lifetime? Enough to justify your long-haul flights or the emissions from flaring stacks in refineries?

Nobody really knows. It is not quantifiable.

In addition, if the “carbon credit” projects that you are funding would have happened anyway, without your help, that means that in fact you have not provided any additional benefit to the planet – but you have done the damage, without question, but your "offset" hasn't made up for it and in my book (I haven’t changed my opinion) … carbon trading is a load of bollocks, its vapourware, it’s a sugar coated lie.

Other problems with offsets include the fact that they're often voluntary (at least, for individuals) so they don't change collective behaviour in the way that carbon taxes (taxes on polluting behaviour) often can.




There are so many carbon offsetting projects that have come in for much criticism. Tree-planting (reforestation) projects, for example, are notoriously controversial. Trees take decades to grow, so it will be a long time in the future before they make any impact on the problems we are causing today—by which time it may be too late. And what impact will they make?

While planting trees is generally a very good thing, the benefits are impossible to quantify (as carbon offsetting literally requires) and are not necessarily permanent. There's no guarantee that trees grown as offsets won't be felled later, accidentally destroyed in a forest fire (releasing the carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere), or killed through poor management.

In terms of biodiversity, monoculture plantation trees are no substitute for old-growth, ancient forests, so it would wrong to assume you could offset activities like burning down a tropical forest for cattle ranching by planting vast numbers of new saplings. Plantations like this may displace local people or harm the environment in other ways, for example, by causing rivers to dry up.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter how many trees we plant: we could never plant enough to arrest the damage we're doing by using fossil fuels—so that must change too.

And the bottom line is that it’s in my book dishonest to claim to have a ZERO Carbon impact just by buying carbon credits. No, what we will do, is quantify as closely as we can what the real cost to our environment our event will be.

Maybe by following this route we will act as an example to others, and help to stop the farce of using carbon credits as mitigation for the real damage done. Rather use the money needed to buy “credits" to do some real good, in real time in the local community, which is measurable, quantifiable and has positive long-term impact.

What is your opinion, are we right or not?

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  • ASMAA - Algarve Surf and Marine Activities Association
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