Kyoto – A Perspective (Part 4)

Posted on Sun 03/30/2008 by



By TonyfromOz

The environmental debate stemming from Kyoto is emotive and different people see it in different ways.
It’s about science, politics, marketing, but mostly though, it’s all about money, probably the biggest factor in the overall picture. Because talking about money seems grubby, distractions are needed to make it all seem palatable. One of those distractions is psychology, and in this part on emissions trading I’ll try to show you why.

We have an overseas airline here in Australia providing internal flights. It introduced the novel idea that for an optional small extra on top of your airline ticket, they would guarantee that your flight would be carbon neutral. If you pay that extra, then someone plants a tree to renew the carbon emitted as your part of that flight.
The psychology is that if you pay that extra, then you have the satisfaction of feeling a little better, in that you are not really harming the environment.

The engines still run throughout the flight burning fossil fuel, whether every seat is full or you are one of only a few passengers, and not everybody will pay the extra, because more often than not, the budget is tight, or the money could be better used than on something so ephemeral.
Where the psychology comes in is here. For the whole flight to be carbon neutral, every seat needed to be full, every passenger needs to pay the extra levy, there needed to be no head wind to consume extra fuel, the weather needed to be optimal so there was no holding at the other end. If every one of these factors was not in place, then the environment was harmed by that flight. Which part of that flight did the extra levy on your single ticket pay for. Did it include the manufacture of that plane extrapolated out over the life of the plane, and just what part of carbon neutral was actually included in the makeup of everything that went toward that flight, the overall carbon footprint for that flight.

It’s more complex that planting a tree to replace your part of the fuel used for that flight.
The point here is that there was an emission for the flight but because you as one person paid that extra, then it is okay. See the point. The emission still happened.
So then, let’s look at Carbon.
Much is made of the term ‘carbon footprint’.
It’s more than just what belches out of the top of those smoke stacks at the big power station.

In my personal explanation, I mentioned that I was going to compare Pennsylvania with Malawi, a Country in Africa because of the relative size and population similarities.
Consider a family in Pennsylvania and a family in Malawi.
Father, Mother, two children.

In Malawi, the father works on food production, and Mother stays at home. They live on the poverty line. The eldest child might go to school. The youngest is looked after by mother at home. The home is not connected to electric power. They have no transport, and the absolute minimum to sustain life.

In Pennsylvania, that family lives in a three-bedroom house. It has electricity and a conservative amount of appliances, heating for the cold Winters, and maybe air conditioning for the Summer. Dad has a Dodge Nitro as the main family car, just the standard V6 version, a car of middling size for the family’s main people mover when they all go places as a family. He works in manufacturing and drives to work every day.

Mum works in IT, and has an older four cylinder Camry. She takes the eldest to school, the youngest to child care and then to work in an office block. The car is an economic choice, not out of respect for the environment, but the economic fact that gas is nearly $3.00 per gallon, and the Camry does all she wants it to do at the cheapest price for original outlay, and day to day running costs
She shops once a week for groceries. Weekends, the eldest has little league and occasionally they visit their parents who live close by, just your average family.
Their carbon footprint is probably a hundred times that of the family in Malawi. Not because they have a steel mill in their back yard, but just because of the way life is lived in those two countries.
Carbon usage is in everything you look at.

Consider the coffee mum and dad in Pennsylvania have before work. The coffee was planted, and then cropped, transported to market, and then transported to the dock, shipped to the US, transported to the manufacturer and processed into powder. It was bottled, the glass also going through a similar process to have it made. The jar of coffee was packaged and then transported to the supermarket. Mum lifts it off the shelf in a well lit store that people have driven to for work purposes. The checkout person packs it into a fossil fuel produced plastic bag with all the other groceries, also with the same amount of energy going towards their production. It goes into the trunk in the Camry, then home, and into the cupboard. Removed from the cupboard, a spoon of coffee goes into the cup, boil the jug, water in the cup, milk from the fridge, the milk also having undergone processing, sugar also processed, and when the coffee is finished, the cup is placed into the dishwasher. Every step uses carbon in some tiny way, all adding up, so look around you at everything you do.

Carbon. Not just out of those chimney stacks, and car exhausts.
You’re using carbon not to destroy the environment, but as part of everyday life in Pennsylvania.
Refer back to the person paying the extra for the plane ticket so that someone somewhere plants a tree on their behalf. That person feels good in that they have not harmed the environment. However the environment was still harmed. See the point. That person still took the flight that burned the fossil fuel adding carbon into the environment.
The same applies for the Pennsylvania family. They don’t even realise that what they do as part of living their life harms the environment. They’re not going to change the way they live.

The same also applies on the larger scale.

[Bold Emphasis mine. —ed]


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