Monday, February 5, 2007

Green pig-skin?

The Super Bowl was the most recent major sports event to go "carbon neutral", following in the footsteps of last summer's Olympics and World Cup, and the Indy 500. In case you haven't heard, going carbon neutral is pretty much the new black. Everyone's doing it--the Dixie Chicks, Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews, "Syriana", agencies CAA and UTA. It's the ultimate extension of carbon offsetting--which allows anyone and everyone (you, too!) to pay to offset the amount of CO2 their activities pump into the air. Numerous companies will help you calculate how much CO2 was emitted on your flight to Prague, or on your tour around the country in a rockstar bus, as the case may be. The offsetting is achieved by a combination of "energy credits"--basically investment in renewable forms of energy, and tree-planting. Yes, tree-planting. You know, because trees absorb CO2. And while much has been made of this new kind of environmentalism, I remain skeptical. Can we really just continue along our merry little way, driving, flying and emitting as many greenhouse gases as we want with the assurance that we can pay for our sins? On the one hand is the "it's better than nothing" argument, which I can totally get into. And, hopefully with such high-profile events, bands and movies publicizing their efforts, normal people will start to take heed of the need for action. Perhaps the Super Bowl's "carbon neutrality" will help legitimize the need to do something about global warming to the general public. Hey, no doubt the event probably is a more credible source to many Americans than scientific consensus. (BTW, was there even acknowledgement of their neutrality during the game? I was not in attendance...) But, on the other hand, I fear that ultimately carbon offsetting will serve as a distraction from the primary issue--that we need to stop consuming so much oil and other natural resources. It's quite American to hope for some easy answer that doesn't effect our lifestyle in any serious way, isn't it? And while it's great that investment is being made in renewable energy, that should be done on a large scale, preferably by our government. (Also, the science behind the benefits of tree-planting is questionable, which you can read about on Grist's discussion of the Super Bowl issue, here.) So I guess my hope is that "carbon neutral" bands, movies, and events will use their offsetting as a stepping stone to urge people, first and foremost, to cut down on their consumption. Unfortunately, we can't buy our way out of this problem, folks.


tomo said...

Well managed, sustainable woodland will play a large part in global cooling. As a building material it has no peers- No energy input to grow and much less than steel and concrete to produce- while it stores CO2 for a thousand years or more. We have to move to a biological model of industry!

Sara said...

i agree! I didn't mean to imply that we shouldn't be planting trees. only that we don't want people to think that tree-planting via carbon offsetting is a panacea for global warming. the best path is to emit fewer greenhouse gases in the first place, leaving less CO2 for the trees to have to absorb.