August 29, 2006

The $300 Dollar Greens

A $300 dollar man was a draftee on the Union side of the US Civil War who opted to (and could afford to) pay a $300 fee in order to avoid military service. That's almost $6000 in today's dollars. Now imagine it's 1863 and you encounter a $300 man at a bar and get to talking and they start bragging about how much they are doing to fight against slavery. What would you think of such a person? Yeah, that's pretty much how I feel about this whole idea of "carbon neutral".

Sure the "$300 dollar greens" hearts might be in the right place, and there certainly are worse places their money can go, but just because it's cheap to buy off your conscious does not mean you can buy a real solution on the cheap, does it?

There are a whole lot of people out there in the world who just can not afford to go "carbon neutral". Would you rather help a person or plant a tree? That's a simple question with an infinitely complex answer, because helping the environment ultimately should help everyone on this planet is some small way. The health of the environment and the people who live in it are intricately tied together in ways more complex than we can easily untangle. Yet there is no doubt in my mind that an unhealthy chunk of the environmental movement is comprised of rich people buying a little peace of mind (aka ignorance) while protecting environments that most people in the world could never afford the carbon needed to visit, let alone afford to offset it somehow.

The bigger, more abstract and distant the problems, the easier it is to forget the real issues of inequality and poverty that stubbornly persist in the forgotten human environments of our own countries and cities. Yet as Majora Carter so intensely reminds us, these too are environmental problems. Hard problems, ones that won't go away by planting $300 worth of trees. Money is important, it can't be dismissed, but it can't be use to dismiss a problem either. These are problems that don't get solved by buying ugly lightbulbs, cramped cars and carbon offsets, they are problems that can only be solved by hard work, insight and maybe a little luck. So what are you doing with yourself and that $300?

Posted by Abe at August 29, 2006 01:33 PM


A better historical parallel to programs that purport to make one carbon neutral is medieval indulgences.
Spending '$300' on an environmental program doesn't let you escape a clearly dangerous situation.

Carbon offsetting is not an issue for the desperately poor, like the 2.7 billion people who live on less than $2 a day. Those people aren't responsible for the greenhouse effect. The annual carbon emissions of the average Ethiopian, Sierra Leonean or Congolese emits less than 1% of the average American. The per capita emissions in Somalia are 0.0000 [1997 all data:].

Global Warming is a problem that damage the global environment, from the cushy parklands with ignorant, offsetting yuppie romping in SUVs to the favelas of the third world.

The west seems to be awfully short on solutions to the desperate poverty, water shortages, and desertification that face much of the third world. One thing we First-Worlders [] can do is reverse the emissions that put the entire world in danger. Ugly lightbulbs are the easy, first step. You should be calling for further action, not blandly intoning about unspecified 'hard problems.' Global warming is a hard problem, although it's one that we have the know-how to solve []. The difficulty lies in getting out leaders on the ball. What are YOU doing?

What am I doing? That is indeed the appropriate question. I'll have much more extensive answers in the next couple weeks, but the simple one is I'm making clothing for bike commuters. The more complex answer is I'm trying to develop new forms of economic organizations, ones that hopefully act a bit better than the ones that dominate today. As I said, more soon.

This Eric Pianka stuff is fascinating, and yeah it serves my own particular stance perhaps a bit too well. What's most striking though in reading some of the wikipedia stuff is how the major players come from such different sides, with both the "intelligent design" people and taking aim at Pianka. Extremists attract I suppose.

I do do the offsetting thing. Why not? It doesn't cost me much, and requires no time. Of course, it's not the only thing I do.

When I have time, I volunteer at FreeGeek (, an organization that tries to solve both environmental and social problems.

And, more passive, I try to keep hope alive with my blog

Oh, and sometimes I get out and participate in a good old fashioned protest. Though the last time I went to one was during the H.R. 4437 debacle.

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