Yesterday, I wrote a piece in which I employed the term “climate abuse”. This, because the Teck Resources Frontier project is much in the news as Mr. Trudeau weighs his political possibilities in order to arrive at a least-unpopular or least-injurious-to-the-Trudeau-brand-or-Liberal-fortunes resolution.

One of the terms being thrown around in the conversation has been the term “carbon neutrality”. Wikipedia offers this helpful definition: “Carbon neutrality, or having a net zero carbon footprint, refers to achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions by balancing carbon emissions with carbon removal (often through carbon offsetting) or simply eliminating carbon emissions altogether (the transition to the “post-carbon economy”). It is used in the context of carbon dioxide-releasing processes associated with transportation, energy production, agriculture, and industrial processes.” The article goes on to say that carbon neutrality can be achieved in two ways:

Balancing carbon dioxide emissions with carbon removal beyond natural processes, often through carbon offsetting, or the process of removing or sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to make up for emissions elsewhere …

Reducing carbon emissions (low-carbon economy) through changing energy sources and industry processes. Shifting towards the use of renewable energy (e.g. wind and solar power) has shown the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions …

One of the ideas around which people in favour of carbon neutrality differ is the notion of reducing versus balancing.

All else being equal, reducing carbon dioxide means that you do less and less damage to the climate and environment over time; and balancing carbon dioxide emissions means that you get to produce any amount of carbon dioxide in one place so long as you offset it somewhere else.

Doing the former means that less and less climate abuse is perpetrated over time. Doing the latter means that climate abuse may be perpetrated so long as you offset that abuse somewhere else.

It seems to me that an ethical posture toward climate change would have us advocate for the decline of climate abuse. Period. The idea is that you don’t get to abuse in the first place. You simply don’t get to do the climate damage in the first place.

Taking this position means a radical rethinking and restructuring of the Canadian resource extraction economy and of the Alberta economy in particular. The federal government would want to support Alberta in all of the retraining and technological innovation and formation which the new economy would inspire and require. We’d need to spend billions, but it would be worth it.

So we say “yes” to carbon neutrality and “yes” to the reduction of carbon emissions. We’d be saying “yes” to a low-carbon economy.

We say “no” to the sleight-of-hand balancing of carbon emissions. We don’t succumb to the beguiling rhetoric “Don’t look at the big hole over here; look at the pretty trees over there.”

André +

André Lavergne writing from a settler-descendant’s home on the traditional lands of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples on the Haldimand Tract (1784). 

One thought on “Reducing”

  1. Thanks for this. Carbon balancing – in the context of Fort McMurray for example – does not address tailing ponds, foul air, etc. I also appreciate your attention to the need to spend billions,,, this will have to be done to get Alberta on board. My Albertan relatives remind me quite regularly that the equalization payments have been going in one direction from their province for a lot of years. Now would be a good time to reverse that with a concrete goal of carbon reduction.


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