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  • Revolution is necessary not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew.
  • – Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels

Radical Road – Photo by Ulli Diemer

Adding up to Zero

As someone who has subscribed to a daily newspaper for all of my adult life, I long ago learned that the real news is to be found in the business section. This is even more true now. The main ‘news’ section (down to a few skimpy pages as newspapers spiral downwards toward bankruptcy) is basically all-COVID, all-the-time, with a few random bits of Trump melodrama thrown in for variety.

It’s from the business section that I just learned that Canada’s biggest meat company is now proclaiming itself both “carbon neutral” and “carbon zero.” I found that difficult to believe, but the newspaper assures me that the company is adding “a jazzy new label to its packaging:” “a seal that declares its products carbon zero,” so it must be true. A corporation wouldn’t put a slogan on its packaging that isn’t true: I take that as an article of faith.

But, sceptic that I am, I still wondered: all those cows and pigs that feed their assembly lines, are they no longer producing the methane gas which we have been told makes a rather significant contribution to greenhouses gases in the atmosphere? And the trucks that haul their products across the country, they’re no longer burning gasoline? And those huge meat processing plants, you know, the ones with all the COVID-19 outbreaks, they’re no longer using fossil fuels?

The article in the newspaper didn’t enlighten me on the answers to those questions, but it did inform me that this initiative is “in line with a sustainability effort that seems both durable and heartfelt.” I do love objective news reporting, that’s why I read the newspaper with such heartfelt and durable devotion.

I turned to the Internet, where I learned that while the company has made some praiseworthy efforts to reduce its energy usage, a key part of their strategy is “offsetting.” Offsetting is done by investing in projects such “forest protection,” tree planting, and biomass programs.

Offsetting does have its critics, it must be said. Words like “scam,” “greenwashing” and “bullshit” (words I myself would shrink from using) show up rather regularly in the criticisms.

“Forest protection” involves paying someone, somewhere, to not cut down some trees that they say they were planning to cut down. Whether they were really intending to cut them down, we don’t know. Whether they end up cutting them down a few years later, after they've pocketed the money, we don’t know either.

And tree planting. Tree planting does sound so benign. Really really really green. Unfortunately, many of the trees that get planted are the wrong kinds of trees, in the wrong places. Often they are monoculture plantations, planted in straight rows, depleting the soil, with no ecological diversity, no wildlife. Nothing remotely like any forest that nature ever created. And typically after a few years, they get cut down, to use as “biomass,” which really is a scam. In Portugal, where they have specialized in massive eucalyptus plantations, the giant forest fires they have every summer wipe out millions of trees (and not a few people), sending their carbon up into the atmosphere before they can even turn them into “biomass.”

It probably sounds like I’m opposed to offsetting. Not at all. On the contrary, I’d like to see it used more widely.

For example, one issue that concerns me, because I do a lot of walking, is the number of pedestrians that get killed by cars every year. Toronto, the city I live in, instituted its “Vision Zero” plan a few years back, with the goal of reducing pedestrian fatalities and injuries. That hasn’t worked out so well, not so far. I think this is where offsetting could really make a difference. Suppose we pay some other municipalities, like maybe Tobermory or White River or New Liskeard, to not kill any pedestrians? If we paid 20 towns to not kill five pedestrians each, we could kill 100 pedestrians in Toronto every year, and still achieve our “Vision Zero” goal.

We could also apply offsetting to other parts of the meat industry, it seems to me. The cruelty of practices like jamming chickens, pigs, and cattle into enclosures so tightly packed that they can’t even move, bothers a lot of people. A good way to solve this would be for meat companies to announce that they will be paying to preserve some forest tracts up north somewhere, where moose can roam freely without being shut up in pens, and birds can fly to wherever their hearts desire. Thanks to the magic of offsetting, they could then declare the whole meat industry cruelty-zero. Win - Win.

Oh, by the way, if anyone reading this needs to buy some carbon offsets, feel free to send me money to not cut down the tree in my backyard. Cash, preferably.

Ulli Diemer
December 6, 2020

Keywords: Carbon Emission CreditsCarbon OffsetsEmissions Trading/Carbon TradingMeat Industry

Related Reading:
The Forest Mafia: How Scammers Steal Millions Through Carbon Markets. When the product is invisible, the cons are endless.