I'd like to start by taking a moment to remember and respect the dozens of people who lost their lives and the hundreds who lost their homes from the tornadoes which swept through the United States this week. It's tempting and glib to say here's another example which reinforces the truth of the climate emergency. It probably does, but let us not forget that it has devastated lives and livelihoods. Similar disasters have hit more remote and less developed nations this year with hardly any headlines. This week’s events demonstrate that as things get worse, no one and nowhere will be safe.
In This Episode
In this episode I'm going to talk about spending $1 trillion, about behaviour change and about carbon neutral and net zero.
The Inclosure Acts
But first, the Inclosure (sic) Acts, and something that looks very much like a modern and dangerous version of them. For hundreds of years people in England farmed strips of land and grazed their sheep, geese, pigs and cattle on the commons. From the 16th century new laws, the Inclosure Acts, allowed the lord of the manor to dispossess his tenants, sometimes with compensation, often without, and consolidate their lands. Thousands of people left the countryside for the cities, leaving the countryside in the ownership of fewer and fewer, richer and richer landowners. Some say all that should be reversed and that all property is theft, but that’s a debate for another day.
Natural Asset Companies
Ian Jarvis draws my attention to NACs, Natural Asset Companies, an attempt by the financial markets to securitise nature. According to unlimitedhangout.com the Natural Asset Company is a new asset class on the New York Stock Exchange. Fortune Magazine quotes NYSE COO Michael Blaugrund:
“There haven’t historically been mechanisms to encourage the capital formation necessary to preserve and restore the natural assets that ultimately underpin the ability for there to be life on Earth.”
Wow! How has life on earth survived all this time without capital underpinning? Never mind, the NYSE and the Rockefeller Foundation have set up the Intrinsic Exchange Group to assure a sustainable future.
Rights to Ecosystem Services
The introduction of the NAC will allow for the formation of specialised corporations “that hold the rights to the ecosystem services produced on a given chunk of land, services like carbon sequestration or clean water.” These NACs will then maintain, manage and grow the natural assets they commodify, with the end of goal of maximising the aspects of that natural asset that are deemed by the company to be profitable. It’s all about sustainability.
Or is it? COO Blaugrund says,“Our hope is that owning a natural asset company is going to be a way that an increasingly broad range of investors have the ability to invest in something that’s intrinsically valuable, but, up to this point, was really excluded from the financial markets.”
Both the NYSE and IEG have marketed this new investment vehicle as being aimed at generating funds that will go back to conservation or sustainability efforts. However, on the IEG’s website, it notes that the goal is really endless profit from natural processes and ecosystems that were previously deemed to be part of “the commons”, i.e. the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth.
This could be funny if it weren't so serious.
The conceit of these investors who believe that their financial mechanisms are necessary to the preservation of life on Earth is astonishing. But they clearly believe in profit before all else. It's the ultimate privatisation, where they take over control and ownership of clean air, water, a stable climate, the means of producing food, medicine and so on and sell it back to the rest of us.
It’s more than a shame that these people with the creativity to envisage such arcane concepts are not using their talents to find solutions to the climate emergency. Or to the COVID pandemic. Or world peace.
Links to this story below.
Scaling Behaviour Change
The Cambridge Sustainability Commission has issued a report on Scaling Behaviour Change called Changing Our Ways. What does that mean, and why is it important?
They say, “It is increasingly clear that alongside shifts in policy, service provision and technological innovation, far-reaching changes in lifestyles are also required if we are to avoid dangerous levels of global heating.”
…There must be a just transition. To be effective and socially accepted, shifts in behaviour need to address social and economic justice and, at the very least, not further entrench existing inequalities.
Research has shown that over the period 1990–2015, nearly half of the growth in absolute global emissions was due to the richest 10%, with the wealthiest 5% alone contributing over a third (37%). They say,
“Though there is a tendency to talk in terms of ‘nudges’ and ‘tools’ for behaviour change, the challenge is more profound and deeply political. There needs to be a shift of power away from those actors and interests that control the unsustainable economy we have, the institutions that govern it - in which citizens are often poorly represented - and the societies and cultures built around the wasteful use of resources, which leave us on course for climate chaos. Transformational change will only be possible if incumbent power is rolled back, new political spaces are created, and representation is enhanced for those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, who have the greatest stake in effectively tackling the issue.”
If you listened to the recent Wednesday Interview with Graeme Maxton and Bernice Maxton-Lee you’ll recognise some of these proposals.
The Cambridge authors say, “It is clear that social mobilisation is crucial to pressuring governments and businesses to show leadership and accountability for major decisions that lock-in carbon-intensive behaviours. Examples include the divestment movement and community energy programmes, as well as pressure for pedestrianisation and car-free cities, and against airport expansion…
“The goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change cannot be achieved without radical changes to lifestyles and shifts in behaviour, especially among the wealthiest members of society, and on the part not just of individuals, but all actors in society.”
Activism Under Threat
Determined members of the public are raising awareness of the crisis that faces us. Members of XR and Insulate Britain are prepared to go to prison for their acts of protest. Interestingly, some judges are accepting the arguments of these activists and finding them not guilty. The only reaction from the UK government, admittedly engrossed in the continuing pandemic, is to tighten up legislation and make protests and demonstrations all but illegal. Bills currently going through Parliament will make it a criminal offence to glue yourself to the road. It will also give the police far greater powers to determine whether or not a demonstration is a criminal act. It is worrying that vociferous parliamentarians oppose mask wearing and vaccination passports as an unacceptable attack on the freedom of the individual, while at the same time voting through this legislation to seriously limit the right to protest and to suppress free speech.
How to Spend $1 trillion…
…is the title of a book which I picked up by chance from the library the other day.
Written by Rowan Hooper it looks at how far $1 trillion would go towards solving world problems, including levelling up, curing all diseases, saving life on Earth and creating off-planet settlements.
Go Carbon Zero
I went straight to Chapter 3, Go Carbon Zero. Hooper reports that the economic impact of unfettered warming caused by carbon emissions in the Arctic alone has been put at $67 trillion by the end of this century. He says that a 2018 IPCC report found that to keep us at 1.5°C would cost approximately $2.5 trillion per year until 2050 in investment in the energy sector and $775 billion per year in energy demand measures. The economic benefits of staying at this level of warming would be four or five times the size of the investment.
He talks about batteries, he talks about wind power, he talks about hydrogen and he talks about the extension of national and international power grids. He also quotes the work of Mark Jacobson the director of the atmosphere/energy program at Stanford University. His 2017 roadmap for a global transition to carbon neutral energy by 2050 uses multiple sources of renewable energy and claims that it would supply all forms of energy, including transportation, heating, cooling and energy used by industry. I will look at this report in more detail and comment on it in a future episode. In the meantime maybe you’d like to ask someone to give you the book for Christmas. It will be something to read in between catching up on this year's episodes of the Sustainable Futures Report.
Get it for Christmas
How to spend $1 trillion is published by Profile Books; that's profilebooks.com. You can get it from all good tax-paying bookshops and I believe you can also get it from Amazon.
Carbon Neutral or Net Zero?
Well, they are the same thing aren't they? There is a lot of confusion out there, but no, they’re not. If you listened to this week’s Wednesday Interview you will have heard Christian Møller-Holst explaining the difference.
An organisation, activity or process can be said to be carbon neutral when it has invested in verified carbon offsets equivalent to the emissions which it has created. These offsets may be extractive (removing CO2 from the atmosphere) or preventive (avoiding additional emissions in the future by, for example, replacing fossil fuel power with renewables.) If preventive offsets are exclusively used emissions may be stabilised but will not be reduced.
Net Zero by 2050 is the objective of the Paris Agreement signed at the UN COP21 conference in 2015 and reconfirmed at COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021. Net zero will be achieved by eliminating as far as possible all activities or processes which create greenhouse gas emissions. Examples are replacing gas boilers with electric heat pumps and powering the global transport fleet, cars, lorries, trains and planes, by electricity or hydrogen. Net zero will only be achieved in this way if the electricity used comes from renewable sources and the hydrogen is generated by a process which does not release greenhouse gas emissions.
Any remaining unavoidable emissions must be offset, but by using extractive offsets alone, such as certified forestry. Preventive offsets do not count towards Net Zero as they do not reduce current emissions.
If you plan to reduce your emissions or your organisation’s emissions you need to be clear on the different types of offsets. Before we look at that, though, be aware that there are verified and unverified offsets, and while unverified offsets are cheaper, they are generally worthless.
Offsetting Schemes can be verified by reputable organisations including the United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Verra, The Gold Standard and Climate Action Reserve. Links below. These verification organisations visit the projects regularly, confirm that they exist, monitor the carbon sequestered and maintain a central registry which ensures that carbon credits, each bearing a unique reference number, cannot be sold more than once.
Extractive or Preventive
As mentioned above, offsets are either extractive and actually remove carbon from the atmosphere, or preventive and stop carbon from being emitted in the future. You can become carbon neutral by offsetting your emissions with preventive offsets. This compensates for your emissions and generally helps developing nations, but it does not remove any emissions from the atmosphere.
Achieving Net Zero
Achieving Net Zero is the process of eliminating all emissions from your organisation, which means re-engineering the whole process to cut out every source of emissions. It’s called net zero because there will almost always be some remaining emissions and offsets are used to deal with them. Only extractive offsets can be used for this: offset certificates will relate to reductions that have already been achieved, such as measured timber growth verified by one of the certifying bodies. Such offsets cost at least 10 times as much as preventive offsets.
Achieving Net Zero 2050, the government’s stated aim, is going to be a challenge and you ain’t seen nothing yet. And XR warns that 2050 will be far too late in any case.
And on that note…
…I leave you for another week. Actually, less than a week because of course there will be the Wednesday Interview. As I mentioned before, this time I meet the Director of Works and Precinct at York Minster and he explains the plans for a sustainable future.
If you don't manage to catch the episode on Christmas Eve let me take this opportunity to wish you all the very best for Christmas and New Year or for the holidays if that's what you prefer to call it. As the pandemic appears to be taking a turn for the worse I hope that you and your families all stay safe.
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report
Until next time
Wall Street takes over Nature
How to spend $1 trillion.
Carbon Neutral/Net Zero
Verified Carbon Standard
Climate Action Reserve
The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)
Climate Neutral Now - UN
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