Posted by: coloradokiwi | November 11, 2007

Fuzzy feelings and fuzzy math

Although the fight against global warming deniers is not yet completely won, it appears as if the tide has turned to the point that even large companies who have a vested interest in insisting that “there’s nothing to see here!” are on board with the fact that we face a looming crisis. Of course the bad news is that no matter what we do, things will get worse. It’s now just a matter of degree, and it comes down to how serious we are about cutting CO2 emissions.

Okay, so I’ll move on from the boring stuff you already know. Let’s move on to what strikes me as being good news overall (tip to Energy Smart):

Both Costa Rica and New Zealand have declared over the past several months their intentions to become carbon neutral…These two nations represent only a small share of the world’s emissions. But as New Zealand’s Clark said last month, “We are neither an economic giant nor a global superpower…. If we want to influence other countries and the responses they take in coming years and decades, then we must take action ourselves. Taking action is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.”

Now, I say that this is good news overall because I know that in New Zealand’s case, at least, their claims of carbon neutrality appear only to be applying to domestic production and use. What’s wrong with that, you ask? Only that it’s disingenous to claim carbon neutrality if you’re still exporting massive quantities of coal (Costa Rica has no such resources). Granted, New Zealand coal is very high quality, with low sulphur emissions. That said, it is pretty much a guarantee that it will be burned much more wastefully in India and China than it would if the Kiwis just kept it for their own use, even assuming New Zealand didn’t build any more upgraded coal plants or switched to quite clean coal gassification.

***Aside: I don’t mean to knock NZ here, what they’re doing is great and difficult, but it’s still a lot easier when you have among the world’s best and most easily utilized sources of hydoelectric and geothermal energy to use on a nation of merely 4.1 million.***

Here some may argue that this is all anyone can ever do in the global economy: ensure that at least whatever energy they use and produce domestically is clean. And to be fair it’s probably not a good idea to suddenly gut a huge chunk of your GDP in a booming energy market without finding a way to first replace it. But really if the point is to “go green” shouldn’t this be as comprehensive as possible, particularly when the primary concern is about atmospheric emissions? What New Zealand is doing is akin to pissing in the deep end of the swimming pool, then walking back over to the shallow end and claiming that their end of the pool is pee-free.

Anyway, good on Costa Rica and New Zealand for working hard to meet these goals, and they seem quite serious about implementing them — they are setting shining examples for us all. But let’s not allow the feel-goodness of combatting domestic CO2 emissions overshadow the fact that achieving carbon neutrality is much harder, more complicated and a more holistic process than we might initially think.

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