Triple Quest, MLive and the fallacy of carbon offsets
Yesterday, MLive ran a story about a local company that wants to expand the market for their water filters through the sale of carbon offsets.
Triple Quest, a joint venture between Cascade Engineering and Windquest Group, believes it is doing the world some good by making water filters to provide to poor communities in Third World countries.
The problem, according to Triple Quest President Christine Keller, is that most people in those poor communities cannot afford the water filters, which cost $34 each. Keller says that many of the non-profits doing work in those communities cannot afford the cost either.
The solution, according to Keller, might be Carbon Offsets. Here is how MLive describes the way in which carbon offsets will work for Triple Quest”
Triple Quest is going through the process of certifying and validating its water filters through organizations that sell “carbon offset” to companies that want to become “carbon neutral.”
Once the Triple Quest filters are validated by third party monitors, companies can qualify for the carbon credits by investing in projects that buy the water filters, transport and install them in the target communities.
Therefore, Triple Quest is putting its faith in the market system to provide the needed water filters to poor communities around the world. This way of thinking is flawed in many ways.
First, the whole premise of carbon offsets or carbon trading is nothing more than a slick form of Green Capitalism. The most effective way to stop polluting is to stop polluting, which is to say that if we are serious about reversing the rate of global warming we will stop producing the level of current carbon emissions. This is not the case with carbon offsetting.
Carbon offsetting works by getting other polluters to invest in projects and then offset the damage they are doing by giving a portion of their investments to eco-friendly projects. Heather Rogers, author of Green Gone Wrong: How Our Economy Is Undermining the Environmental Revolution, has this to say about carbon offsets:
But carbon offsets are a dubious enterprise. To begin with, they don’t cut greenhouse gases immediately but only over the life of a project, and that can take years–some tree-planting efforts need a century to do the work. And a project is effective only if it’s successfully followed through; trees can die or get cut down, unforeseen ecological destruction might be triggered or the projects may simply go unbuilt. As for keeping track of all this, although many retail offsetters choose to get third-party certification to assure quality, they are not obliged to do so, because the voluntary market is largely unregulated. These projects aren’t required by law to meet any standards or have follow-up assessments to ascertain their efficacy. (Offsets under the Kyoto Protocol are regulated, but inspectors charged with this oversight don’t always maintain the highest standards.)
The MLive story lists two carbon trading companies, Native Energy and Carbon Neutral as two companies that do carbon trading certification. Nowhere in the article is it clear that either company will be working with Triple Quest. More importantly, the article does not question or investigate the validity of such companies.
The fallacy of carbon offsets it further exposed by noted US scientist James Hansen who said, “We scientists deserve some blame for government efforts to use [carbon] ‘offsets’ to avoid fossil fuel limits. Fossil fuel CO2 stays in surface reservoirs for millennia. We are nearing the limit for how much carbon can be put there. We should not have acquiesced to the ‘CO2 equivalence’ concept that was adopted in the Kyoto Protocol. There is no equivalence to fossil fuel CO2.“
The second problem with what Triple Quest is proposing here is that they are not asking why people in Third World countries don’t have clean drinking water. Instead of hatching a market scheme to sell more products, why not work with local communities to find the root of the problem and fix that instead? This way you would avoid unnecessary manufacturing and transportation of the products, both of which produce more carbon and pollution.
Lastly, the other problem with this project is that it doesn’t answer the question of why people in those poor countries cannot afford to purchase the $34 water filters if that is what they wanted to do. The answer might be found in another MLive story also posted yesterday.
The story is about Rockford-based Wolverine Worldwide teaming up with Triple Quest to provide water filters for people in the Dominican Republic. The story is based in part on news releases from both Triple Quest and Wolverine Worldwide, which present them as doing good work for the poor in the Dominican Republic.
The article also states that Wolverine Worldwide has two manufacturing plants in the Dominican Republic, which begs the question, “do they pay the workers there enough to buy themselves or their neighbors water filters?”
This is not a question asked by the MLive reporter. The reporter also does not ask the question if these two manufacturing plants came into being after Wolverine Worldwide shut down some of the 450 manufacturing jobs the company eliminated from one of its plants in Rockford in 2009?