Carbon. The new measure of all things

Carbon. The new measure of all things

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By Silvia Ribeiro

Environmental problems are serious, with strong and unequal social impacts, and climate change is one of the main ones. But they are not caused by all "humanity." More than the era of the Anthropocene, as some call it, we live in the era of plutocracy, where everything is defined so that the very few rich and powerful in the world can maintain and increase their profits, at the cost of everything and everyone else. This absurd social, economic, environmental, and political injustice requires many weapons to sustain itself and one of them is conceptual warfare. Invent concepts that hide the causes and characteristics of reality, that divert attention from the need for real and profound changes and better yet, that serve to do new business after crises.

In this context, the essay The Carbon Metric: CO2 as a Measure of All Things? , by Camila Moreno, Daniel Speich and Lili Fuhr, recently edited by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, is an important contribution (

It shows how in the face of the convergence of serious local, regional and global environmental crises, together with economic and financial crises, a strong spotlight is cast on climate change - what Nicholas Stern called "the biggest market failure the world has witnessed ”, While the CO2 (carbon dioxide) units are positioned as a measure to define the severity of the problem and its possible solutions. Thus, other issues remain in the darkness of the contrast of that ray of light and it all comes down to counting CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. The authors leave no doubt that climate change is real and serious, but they question “Is it more important and more urgent than the loss of biodiversity, the degradation of arable land, the depletion of fresh water? Is it possible to consider each of these phenomena as something independent and separate from the others?

"The way we describe and frame a problem largely determines the type of solutions and responses we can consider," they argue. Precisely due to the seriousness of the environmental crisis, we have to avoid this ongoing "ecological epistemicide" that reduces optics, eliminates knowledge and destroys alternatives.

It is well known what the causes of climate change are, and the main industrial sectors that cause it: around 80 percent is due to the exploitation and generation of energy, the agro-industrial food system and urban growth (construction, transport), based on in the use and burning of oil, gas and coal. All of this emits CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHG), methane, nitrous oxide and others.

It is also known that what is necessary are real reductions, in their source and in demand, of all these gases and to change their causes. And it is known that there are real, diverse, decentralized and viable alternatives; Perhaps the strongest example is that 70 percent of humanity feeds on peasant and agro-ecological agriculture, artisanal fishermen and urban gardens, which do not emit greenhouse gases.

But the dominant proposals -of institutions and governments- are not these, but others mainly based on carbon markets and high technologies that would allow to continue emitting GHG as always, by being “compensated” by absorbing the carbon emitted and storing it in geological funds, that is, , forms of geoengineering.

The "offset" proposal has been developed for years, associated with payment schemes for environmental services, biodiversity, etc., essential components of the so-called "green economy". It is about justifying the destruction in one place, while in another it is supposed to be “compensated” with some payment, as if it were the same to leave an entire town without forests or water in a country or region, because there is a community that care elsewhere. These payments generate "bonds", speculative financial instruments that are traded in secondary markets.

Now, so that everything can be measured in units of CO2, all gases are translated into the abstraction of "CO2equivalent", regardless of whether they are gases emitted by a mining transnational that devastates ecosystems and towns, by burning a forest. or the manure of some animals of a shepherd. The concept of “net zero emissions”, not real reductions but compensated, completes this operation ( In this way, the “carbon economy” could encompass all the previous items, to become the new “currency” of exchange, which justifies pollution and produces profits for those who cause it.

Not only are the causes of climate change lost sight of, but also in this way, the consideration of other serious environmental problems and the interactions between all of them is grossly simplified, and social impacts, the system that causes them and the truths solutions.

- Silvia Ribeiro is a researcher at the ETC Group


Video: Measuring u0026 Reducing Embodied Carbon with Stacy SmedleyPassive House Accelerator (May 2022).