Net zero … or carbon neutral?!
Posted on 31.03.22
One of our roles is to demystify some of the mystifying nonsense. So this is a crucial example…
Net Zero means getting to a stage where we have reduced our carbon to the absolute minimum, and we have compensated for the bit we can’t reduce by either capturing the carbon that’s still out there through natural means (like more planting) or through technology (using technology that, to be honest, has NOT been invented at the scale required.) So Net Zero refers to when all greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere are equivalent to the greenhouse gases being removed from the atmosphere on a global scale (ClimateSeed, 2021). The “net result” is zero.
The good thing about net zero:
- it’s caught the popular imagination, and lots of people are talking about it.
The not so good thing about net zero:
- almost no-one understands properly what it means
- it does not make it clear that we have to REDUCE massively first before we start “compensating” (ie offsetting) as we just don’t have enough land to plant enough trees on to take out all the carbon in the atmosphere without working really hard to reduce it first; and
- lots of people think that they can carry on with BAU as long as they plant a few trees. That’s like urgently having to pay off a credit card because the Bank has got fed up warning you and is going to come and eat you for breakfast. It’s urgent. But you carry on spending, but tell yourself it’s all ok because you’re paying off the interest you’re accruing each month. Clearly nonsense. You’re still left with the massive problem of not having reduced the debt and very soon the Bank will come and eat you for breakfast. And with carbon, that debt will actually come back and eat us for breakfast, not very politely, because it will make our atmosphere completely unliveable in.
- lots of people think we can do it all at the last minute. We can’t. Imagine that debt. If you pay off a bit each month, you can manage it. If you get to the last month you have been given, right up against the deadline for paying it off, you are faced with a massive task of having to get rid of the debt all at once. Nightmare. You can’t do it, and you get eaten for breakfast. That’s what we’ve done with carbon. Ouch. Time to get busy…
So many people are now talking about “real” zero not “net” zero. ie no offsetting, no technology eating the carbon we will want to emit, no excuses. Just stopping the emissions. Full stop.
As an example of the mangled thinking in the net zero world: there is a FlyNetZero campaign. That will mean, by 2050, amongst other things, 65% “sustainable fuel” (which at the moment means taking land out of food production to grow crops we turn into fuel. Hmmm) and 19% offsets and carbon capture. So they also NEED MORE land to do the offsetting planting, and the NotYetInvented technology for the carbon capture.
Hmmmm. What if the truth is we just can’t keep flying? But we get to eat instead?