Carbon neutralling your life

Going carbon neutral helps, but it’s not a silver bullet [1]

the solar water heater on my roof I had a solar water heater installed at the start of the year. Recently the company that manufactured it sent me a bumper sticker that says,

My solar water heating offsets the emissions from my car

I have issues with the concept of carbon neutrality so I gave the sticker to my mum (she also has a solar water heater). I might be producing fewer emissions by using the sun to heat my water, but it’s my water-heating emissions that have been reduced, not those of my car. The emissions of my car are still adding to the greenhouse effect.

The Australian Conservation Foundation has written a Consumers’ Guide to Going Carbon Neutral. They describe what carbon neutral means, but add,

If every Australian offset all their car, plane and household electricity emissions it would reduce Australia’s emissions by 16%. That would be a fantastic achievement, but it wouldn’t come close to making Australia ‘carbon neutral’ [1]

ACF suggests cutting your greenhouse footprint (carbon emissions) by 27 tonnes each year – the average amount produced by each person in Australia. The way to do this:

Step 1: Reduce your emissions
Step 2: Buy renewable energy
Step 3: Offset the rest

The ACF Guide then answers some of the questions you should ask before buying an offset product.

bushland reserve near my house One method of offsetting emissions is planting trees. This is a nice idea and has great environmental benefits unrelated to the greenhouse effect. I have a dream of buying a large piece of land and filling it with trees and other indigenous vegetation. And then somehow ensuring that it remains that way in perpetuity – barb wire?

Christian Downie discusses tree planting in Carbon offsets: Saviour or cop-out? [2]. ACF says in regard to tree planting,

there remains a risk the trees will die as a result of drought, fire, disease or even logging. Offsets that go into renewable energy or energy efficiency are more permanent and therefore a preferable option. [1]

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald discussed the lack of regulation of tree planting schemes in Australia. Several companies have not planted the trees they promised to. Legislation creating a tax deduction for the cost of carbon sink forests was debated in the Australian Senate last month.

The Greens want the legislation amended so that trees that are planted to create a sink are natives, must remain in the ground for at least 100 years and must first be subject to an assessment of the amount of water it would take to sustain them. [3]

Greens Senator Christine Milne said,

This tax amendment provides for the planting of so-called carbon sinks, but there is no definition of a carbon sink…The important thing is that there is no requirement for the trees to stay in the ground for any length of time. [3]

The incumbent Liberal government refused to back these amendments, accusing the Greens of being “anti-forestry and anti-trees” (people in glass houses…) Australia’s Minister for Forestry and Conservation, Eric Abetz, must be in touch with his ministerial area,

Providing carbon sinks is either important or it is not…If we believe greenhouse gases are a real problem then we should be encouraging this type of activity. [3]

The Australia Institute researchers George Wilkenfeld, Clive Hamilton and Hugh Saddler wrote in Clean coal and other greenhouse myths

Myth: Buying carbon offsets is the same as actually reducing emissions. In fact, buying offsets is too often just a smokescreen for large emitters who intend to operate on a ‘business as usual’ basis. A reduction in emissions requires a reduction in emissions, plain and simple. [4]

I recently read about Easy Being Green and was sceptical of the way they did business. They provided carbon offsets to consumers and since 2005 distributed nearly 4 million energy efficient light bulbs and hundreds of thousands of water saving showerheads that reduce hot water consumption [5]. But,

due to the carbon price collapse under the NSW Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme, Easy Being Green has been forced to withdraw its free of charge energy efficient light globe service and terminate the jobs of 240 installation staff and contractors. [6]

Environment reporter, Matthew Warren, wrote about the rise and fall of Easy Being Green [7]. Easy Being Green CEO Paul Gilding, who is a former Greenpeace International chief executive, is feeling very sorry for himself.

This market place of entrepreneurial, innovative and job creating companies is a microcosm of what the new low carbon economy could look like. Given Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution is skyrocketing, losing these companies now would be a national tragedy. [6]

Ah, the joys of capitalism.

Instead of giving money to someone to do things to reduce emissions, just get rid of the car, like Green as a Thistle Vanessa. It actually saves money and all those emissions that won’t be produced! Of course that’s what I should do. I drive a lot less than I used to, although this is variable – for the month of September I only drove 400km, but in the second week of October I drove 300km in a week (a train line was closed for track work and I thought the replacement buses were too much of a hassle). But I haven’t sold the car yet. And if I was going to be really kind to the earth I should just stop driving, but not sell the car because then it wouldn’t continue producing greenhouse emissions. My cats would like this because they find it a cosy place to sleep if I leave a window open.



  1. Australian Conservation Foundation (2007) Consumers’ Guide to Going Carbon Neutral. Melbourne: ACF.
  2. Downie, Christian (2007) Carbon offsets: Saviour or cop-out? Research Paper 48, Canberra: The Australia Institute.
  3. Peatling, Stephanie (2007) Doubts raised over trees for carbon plan The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 September.
  4. Wilkenfeld, Hamilton & Saddler (2007) Clean Coal and Other Greenhouse Myths Research Paper 49, Canberra: The Australia Institute.
  5. Hogarth, Murray (2007) The 3rd Degree. Melbourne: Pluto Press.
  6. Easy Being Green website.
  7. Warren, Matthew (2007) Tough love rules in NSW gas abatement plan The Australian, 17 September.

2 thoughts on “Carbon neutralling your life

  1. This is as I saw someday in a pretty good essay on BBC News:

    Focus on carbon ‘missing the point’

    The focus on reducing carbon emissions has blinded us to the real problem – unsustainable lifestyles, says Eamon O’Hara. In this week’s Green Room, he argues that bigger problems await us unless we shift our efforts.

  2. cool carbon systems!

    Something I find slightly comical is how so many people will say that it isn’t worth it to add

    solar energy to your home because it takes too long for the system to “pay itself off”. If you

    save up the money and have a system installed you suddenly have a tiny utility bill, if any

    bill at all. To me it’s a simple cash-flow equation.

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