Can We Trade Our Way To Salvation?

Carrying on with my new Wednesday tradition, I’m transforming your energy questions into answers. Let no one tell you that I’m short on tricks.

This week, I’m tackling a query from Vic Roberts. Here we go…

This topic is a freaking mine field.  For every company that sells carbon credits or offsets, there’s a person who thinks they’re bogus.  There’s also a person who thinks they’re the best way to save the planet.  Since I’m the type of girl who’d prefer the hard fight first, I’d like to explain why some think carbon trading is the greatest invention since invisible underwear.

Put It On Our Tab…

First, the concept of carbon credits is relatively new and was created to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in the industrial market sector.  As I noted last week, industrial users consume more power than any other sector.  The international carbon trade was established to stimulate environmentally preferable activities (such as renewable power generation or forest farming) with funds paid in exchange for a virtual reduction in on-site emissions.

On the surface, it’s easy to get frustrated watching these major industrial users buy their way out of the pollution they cause instead of focusing on improvements at the source.  It seems as though they’re slapping Band-Aids on bullet holes, but that’s not always the case…

What you may not see is that some are also working to increase efficiency and reduce on-site emissions, too.  They just can’t move fast enough.

Transformations take time and money—two things most businesses don’t have enough of to begin with.  By assigning caps or quotas, countries and markets are  able to assign a monetary value for each metric ton of carbon dioxide, which in turn financially motivates more individuals to become operators who sell credits.

Countries that have ratified the Kyoto Treaty follow different guidelines than those who have not (like the United States), though they’re all based on the same general idea.  Around the world, there are five exchanges trading carbon allowances: the Chicago Climate Exchange, European Climate Exchange, Nord Pool, PowerNext and the European Energy Exchange.  Other markets are in development or in early stages of trading, and carbon is being touted by some as the commodity of the future. I disagree.

Can You Say “Pollution Palliation” Three Times Fast?

I certainly see the value in the promotion of renewables via financial incentives (there’s no carrot like money to move a market) and I really like to read about developing countries generating more revenue, but I fear that there are too many industries that will see this as the easy way out.  Consider this…

I tell you that you can lose all the weight you want if you take some magical pills that I’m selling, and the more you take the more you’ll lose, regardless of what you eat.  If, however, you do not take my pills but still want to lose weight, you’re going to need to reduce your caloric intake, increase your physical activity and find the time to make it all happen.

If you had the money to buy the pills, would you choose the hard way? I wouldn’t. I’d eat 45 White Castle burgers in a row and plop my ass in front of the TV for the rest of the week. Losing weight is hard. Swallowing is easy. (heh) And easy is…well…easy.

Change and challenge are BFFs.  Many people are not against change unless it involves them directly.  This is clearly the case with the so-called “Carbon Cowboys” who would prefer to buy carbon credits rather than change the way they do business, and with industrial users, that’s exactly what you’re asking them to do.

The Shape Of Things To Come…

While I certainly don’t have any issues with market mechanisms that increase the number of environmentally preferable operations, I do take issue with policies that allow energy hogs and polluters to ignore their on-site energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.  Furthermore, spending their money on carbon credits limits the amount of capital they will have on hand for efficiency upgrades.

To get back to Vic’s question, we (meaning “we” as individuals) manage the undermining effects of this new trading scheme by doing what we’re supposed to be doing in the first place: reducing our energy use, consuming less stuff and minimizing the impact our activities have on the planet.

Once you’ve done all that, if you’re rolling in dough and guilt, you can exchange your money for a carbon credit.  Just make sure you research the company taking your money, because ultimately it’s the brokers who are getting the most out of these trading schemes and not all of them care about the planet as much as they do the profit.  If you’d like to learn more about legit carbon trading, I think the Environmental Defense Fund has some great information to get you started.

I had hoped to tie in a few more questions, but this really needed its own post and I’m out of time.

A few quick notes before I go:

  • Next Wednesday (or within a few days thereof — it’s summertime), I’m going to answer a question from Johnny B. Truant on whether we really need to unplug everything to be energy efficient. Hit me up if you have thoughts you’d like me to include or address.
  • If you have any questions you’d like me to answer in a future post, tweet @Renewabelle or get in touch with me one of a few other ways over here.
  • If you have any follow up questions or notes you’d like to add, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.  I hope this information proves useful and that it finds you well.


What’s Taking So Long?

It’s recently come to my attention that many of you have questions related to energy that go unanswered.  I’d like to change that.  Starting today and continuing until I can’t do it any more, I’m going to answer your most perplexing energy questions every Wednesday.  To kick it off, I have some questions that came in Tuesday via Twitter…

First, I received an excellent question from Anson Burtch:

This question gets hotter the closer you are to Capitol Hill.  Of course, the answer is going to be different depending upon who you ask.  My particular specialty involves the development and management of market transformation programs, and my opinions should be regarded as such.

That said, we’ve all known for a long time that our resources are limited and that there are better ways to obtain the energy we crave.  I use the word “crave” intentionally, as we don’t really need as much as we use.  Opportunities for efficiency are everywhere, yet many still choose the old way of doing things.

I’d like to point out here that we’ve been mining coal here since the mid 1700s and drilling oil since the mid 1800s.  Most of the American energy infrastructure was built to depend primarily on these two resources.

The latest research shows that roughly a third of our energy is used by the industrial sector for things like manufacturing, agriculture, mining, and construction.  The transportation sector uses the second largest amount of energy.  The remainder is consumed by homes and businesses.

Most of our total energy use is spent making stuff, feeding ourselves and creating more energy.  Our nation is but a collection of energy user archetypes, each with his or her own reasons for not doing what it takes to make a clean energy future our reality today.

Consider how hard it is to walk down a grocery aisle without seeing at least one item that touts its own eco-friendliness.  There are a lot of things to evaluate when making purchases, and for many, the key items of note are the ingredients.   Since we’re talking about energy here, I’m going to ask that we instead think about how these items actually came to be.

For the amount of energy used to develop a crappy plastic egg-poaching gadget (which, by the way, includes a recycling symbol associated with a type of plastic no one recycles but people think it’s okay because it has a symbol), you could light a living room for the evening. Think about that… Now think about what you’ve purchased in the last week.

While you’re pondering, I’d like to tie in another question to this conversation that I received from the delightfully irreverent Jay Dolan:

The US government is offering more incentives than ever before to get people to use less energy and support the adoption of renewables.  They can’t seem to throw enough money at it, but they’re certainly trying.  Money is the only way the Feds can come up with to motivate the market to move – though regulations are passed all the time to push out inefficient and ineffective technologies.

See, this is bigger than the government covering an entire southwestern state with solar panels.  They can’t force this on us any faster than we let them.

We must not forget that solar panel manufacturing requires energy, too. The same goes for all those elements that make up the clean energy systems that Anson addressed.  We must also remember that, while technology continues to improve efficiency in said production lines, large-scale renewable energy systems are very costly investments.  When compared to conventional means of obtaining energy, the returns are lengthy and too few are willing to give away investment funds for good will.  That’s why the government is buying down the cost with as many incentives as it can afford…

If you tell me you want to make some kind of energy improvement in your home or business, 95% of the time I can find an incentive of some sort to buy down the cost.  We can make this more affordable.  The thing is, you actually have to make the improvement.

For many people, the only believable future is one that doesn’t include coal or crude oil.  With this thought, Martin Whitmore (the awesomely talented artist responsible for my header) is going to make me take this one step farther…

Scientists and engineers tell us it is possible to power our nation completely with renewable resources.  If we want renewable resources to power our nation, we need to remember that money makes the decisions these days.  True, the government and utilities are offering more incentives to lower the initial costs, but no investors are stepping up to take this on right now.

The reason, as Marty astutely noted, is because we consume too much energy to make it a worthwhile investment.  We need to cut back.

Really, this is the critical key…

We are responsible for our own energy use, whether this comes from actually flipping a power switch to consuming copious quantities of items that take energy to produce.  We are the only ones who can make this change happen faster, and we do this by making energy-smart decisions in every aspect of our lives…

I know.  It’s frustrating that this urgent issue isn’t moving quickly enough.  Believe me… every week I learn of a business owner or a municipality who knows what they can do to reduce their electric and gas use but won’t make the changes because they don’t have the money.  Really, though, I think they need a paradigm shift more than anything…

We are the reason this is taking so long.  How we actually fix it is going to be another post, since I’m definitely out of time. A few quick notes before I go:

  • Next Wednesday, I’m going to tackle questions from Marty on cold fusion and Vic Roberts on the implications of carbon credit programs. Hit me up if you have thoughts you’d like me to include or address.
  • If you have any questions you’d like me to answer in a future post, tweet @Renewabelle or get in touch with me one of a few other ways over here.
  • If you have any follow up questions or notes you’d like to add, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Thanks for taking the time to read this.  I hope this information proves useful and that it finds you well.