01 March 2007

Carbon credits - the new indulgences

As every schoolchild ought to know, on October 31, 1517 Martin Luther wrote to Albert, Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg, protesting against the sale of indulgences in the bishopric. What has caught the imagination of posterity is Luther also nailing the 95 Theses to the great door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

Briefly, indulgences were among the most obvious of the many corruptions the Church was suffering from: documents produced by the Papal Curia that, if bought, supposedly allowed people not to suffer for their sins in Purgatory. You could buy them for yourself or others.

They had been sneered at for some time. Chaucer talks of the Pardoner and
His walet, biforn him in his lappe,
Bretful of pardoun, comen from Rome al hoot
A lovely image of pardons and indulgences being baked in Rome and carried round like hot cakes.

There were many other complaints but it was not till Martin Luther’s stand that they developed into a strong movement, the reason being the printing press. Luther’s Theses, other sermons and pamphlets, as well as the Church’s responses could be printed and distributed relatively fast and could be read by far more people than ever before.

In the twenty-first century we find ourselves in a situation not dissimilar from that of the late Middle Ages. Actually, they were probably a little more advanced, scientifically speaking, in the sixteenth century, if popular hysteria is anything to go by. (Not much, just a little, when one thinks of the fact that far more witches were burnt in the seventeenth than in the thirteenth century.)

As we have said before, there seems to be a tendency among various spokespersonalities to shriek that doom has come upon us at the slightest perceived change in weather patterns. Curiously enough, all their shrieking always seems to lead to demands for higher taxation and more legislation.

Climate change has become the new religion with carbon emission taking the place of sin, original or otherwise, and carbon credits are the indulgences of that religion. I appreciate that this is not a particularly new idea, though I did think of it independently of all the other people who have now said it. The overall aim is not personal salvation (though that obviously comes into it, hence the need for those credits) but the saving of the planet.

On a lower scale come saving of thousands of species and, possibly, the human race itself. Though, if the human race is so wicked and incapable of looking after the planet, perhaps it ought not to be saved. I wonder if Sir Richard Branson thought of that when he came up with his offer of $25 million for the best idea to deal with climate change. (It would appear that some scientists with a good sense of humour are taking him up on it.)

Celebrities flying in private jets in order to lecture mere mortals on the need to cut back on energy use? No problem. They have bought carbon credits or given money to a charity that is working (unsuccessfully) to produce alternative energy sources.

Driving real gas guzzlers in order to fly on a private jet to weep over a receding glacier? No problem. Money given in carbon offsets to a charity which will plant trees somewhere or other.

Overheating your enormous mansion and swimming pool and flying a private jet to lecture the world on global warming as a greater threat to us than terrorism? Flying your private jet and driving up in a stretch limo to collect your Oscar for a hysterical film that shows global warming, created entirely by humans and their carbon emissions, is a greater threat to humanity than terrorism? No problem.

Well, actually there is a problem and the reason for that is similar to the reason why the 95 Theses caused mayhem in the sixteenth century. Then it was the printing press, now it is the internet.

It took no time at all for the story of Al Gore’s energy consumption to spread round the internet and, particularly, the blogosphere. The information came from an independent institute, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, which issued a press release having seen and analyzed the Gores’ publicly available energy bills:

The average household in America consumes 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, according to the Department of Energy. In 2006, Gore devoured nearly 221,000 kWh—more than 20 times the national average.

Last August alone, Gore burned through 22,619 kWh—guzzling more than twice the electricity in one month than an average American family uses in an entire year. As a result of his energy consumption, Gore’s average monthly electric bill topped $1,359.

Since the release of An Inconvenient Truth, Gore’s energy consumption has increased from an average of 16,200 kWh per month in 2005, to 18,400 kWh per month in 2006.

We are not even counting his other homes, the use of his various cars (all environmentally friendly, of course) and that private jet.

But, as the Tennessean pointed out, Gore was buying his indulgences:
Gore purchased 108 blocks of "green power" for each of the past three months, according to a summary of the bills.

That's a total of $432 a month Gore paid extra for solar or other renewable energy sources. . . .

"They, of course, also do the carbon emissions offset," she said.

That means figuring out how much carbon is emitted from home power use, and vehicle and plane travel, then paying for projects that will offset that with use of renewable energy, such as solar power.
Well that’s all right then. The Gores can pollute the atmosphere all they like, causing untold harm and warming the globe but their sins will be forgiven because they have spent all that money on projects that use renewable energy, whether successfully or otherwise.

Except that it is not all right, it seems. Once people get the bit between their teeth, there is no stopping them. Maybe Gore will never again boast about inventing the internet.

According to a Tennessean blogger, Bill Hobbs, Gore buys his carbon offsets through something called Generation Investment Management, which he had helped to found and of which he is the chairman. Could that be called clash of interests? Not for Al Gore, it would seem.
Gore is chairman of the firm and, presumably, draws an income or will make money as its investments prosper. In other words, he "buys" his "carbon offsets" from himself, through a transaction designed to boost his own investments and return a profit to himself. To be blunt, Gore doesn't buy "carbon offsets" through Generation Investment Management - he buys stocks.

And it is not clear at all that Gore's stock purchases - excuse me, "carbon offsets" purchases - actually help reduce the use of carbon-based energy at all, while the gas lanterns and other carbon-based energy burners at his house continue to burn carbon-based fuels and pump carbon emissions - a/k/a/ "greenhouse gases" - into the atmosphere.
Eat your heart out Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg.

Jack Kemp on American Thinker enumerates a few more of Al Gore’s hypocrisies and calls the man “tone deaf”. Let’s face it, anyone who started his career as a kind of gopher for Armand Hammer is going to be less than totally sensitive to how his bs sounds to other people.

Another posting on American Thinker compares carbon credits not so much to indulgences but to the commutation fees that wealthy draftees in the Civil War could pay to escape fighting. In other words they paid for someone else to do that fighting instead. This practice undoubtedly was at the root of the infamous draft riots in New York City in 1863 with the accompanying lynching of African Americans, on the grounds that the unpopular war (among those who could not buy their way out) was fought on their behalf.

The resentment of the “rich man’s war” was widespread.

I rather think the resentment of this particular “rich man’s war” is beginning to spread as well. It is not just Gore who is hypocritical, after all, but most of the luvvies, Hollywood fruitcakes, globetrotting politicians and officials. They all cry the same thing: more taxes, more regulations, lower economic growth, a hairshirt for all (except them).

The truth is that economic growth brings environmental benefits for all. Even according to the UN’s official figures, as Bj√∂rn Lomborg worked out a couple of years ago, the environment has become cleaner in all the developed and most of the developing countries. China may well be an exception but the reason there is plain to see: the political system. After all, the Communist countries have been among the world’s most polluted ones.

What has triggered off a good deal of the resentment is the news that at the Oscars this year, to which, one must assume all the stars arrived in stretch limos, having, if necessary, flown in on private jets, there were some very special goody bags for all the guests:
This year's Oscar goodie bag contained gift certificates representing 100,000 pounds of greenhouse gas reductions from TerraPass, which describes itself as a "carbon offset retailer." The 100,000 pounds "are enough to balance out an average year in the life of an Academy Award presenter," a press release from TerraPass asserts. "For example, 100,000 pounds is the total amount of carbon dioxide created by 20,000 miles of driving, 40,000 miles on commercial airlines, 20 hours in a private jet and a large house in Los Angeles. The greenhouse gas reductions will be accomplished through TerraPass' [program] of verified wind energy, cow power [collecting methane from manure] and efficiency projects." Voila, guilt-free consumption!
My goodness, talk about “comen from Rome al hoot”. They really are turning those indulgences out like hotcakes.

Naturally enough, the Church of Green Salvation has fought back. The Gore-supporting MSM and bloggers have been busy. First, the accused the Tennessee Center for Policy Research of stealing the Gore energy bills, only to find that these were publicly available. Why precisely has the MSM neglected to examine them?

Then, the accused the Center of taking money from Exxon. Sadly, the spokesman had to deny this, pointing out that they would be a lot better off if they had been given funds by Exxon. In fact, whether they have or have not been paid by any “evil” organization like Mobil or Exxon, the truth remains that the Gores squander energy like there is no tomorrow. They do not even deny it, babbling merely of carbon offsets [see above].

Then came the worst accusation of all: the right-wing journalists (there are a few) and bloggers are “smearing” Al Gore. I can dimly remember a time when smearing in politics meant telling lies about your opponent. These days it means telling an inconvenient truth about a leftie or “liberal”.

Thus, accusing a respectable think-tank of theft or bribery is OK, as long as the accusations come from the left. Telling the truth about one of the left’s idols is a smear.

And, of course, there is the self-righteous attack on the right for "not understanding" what carbon offsets are.

The point is that it does not take a Wittgenstein to work out the logical non-sequitur in the defence that involves carbon offsets, even if we set aside (so to speak) Gore’s financial shenanigans. If you believe in these charities and organizations and want them to work on alternative technology, you can give them money while, at the same time, not wasting energy resources yourself. That is, if you believe in any of that hot air you keep spouting.

There are examples of rich people building modest dwellings and being careful about the environment. Here is one:

According to TreeHugger (a blog that is new to me but I am always willing to learn), there is a house built by a rich man for his family which
has 25,000 gallons of rainwater storage, gray water collection from sinks and showers for irrigation, passive solar, geothermal heating and cooling. “By marketplace standards, the house is startlingly small,” says David Heymann, the architect of the 4,000-square-foot home. “Clients of similar ilk are building 16-to-20,000-square-foot houses.” Furthermore for thermal mass the walls are clad in "discards of a local stone called Leuders limestone, which is quarried in the area. The 12-to-18-inch-thick stone has a mix of colors on the top and bottom, with a cream- colored center that most people want. “They cut the top and bottom of it off because nobody really wants it,” Heymann says. “So we bought all this throwaway stone. It’s fabulous. It’s got great color and it is relatively inexpensive.”
Some of our readers may have picked up on this story already. If not, I defy them to guess who this is about.

George W. Bush, that’s who and the house in question is his Crawford Winter White House. Read the comments to the piece. Hysterically funny in their twisting and turning.

Meanwhile Clarice Feldman has come up with a modest proposal to the eco-celebs (there’s a lady who knows her Swift). First she explains what it is the eco-celebs are after:
I think I've figured it out what this naked hypocrisy is really about. It's not just scientific and economic illiteracy on their part: It is a narcissistic desire to widen even further the gulf between themselves and those beneath them on the economic and social ladder, while clothing their desires in some moral purpose. This is nothing new of course. At various times and places throughout the world, what one wore-including colors, fabrics, length of swords, how much the tips of your shoes could curl -were set by law to make sure no one mistook the milkmaid and yeoman for the lord and lady.
They were called Sumptuary Laws and caused a great deal of dissent, not to mention the odd spot of rioting in Renaissance Europe and Elizabethan England.

Anyway, here is her modest proposal:
So, I have a modest proposal for the eco-celebs. We'll give you the exclusive right to wear certain colors, shoes, swords and clothing and you can pick what these are. Only those of you who have won OscarsTM, married ketchup queens or created hit TV shows, inherited substantial wealth or whose earned income exceeds by some substantial degree that of the upper middle class-say $10 million a year --will be in this class. In exchange, you have to promise to confine yourself to staying out of politics, pretending you know beans about energy or the environment and leave the rest of us alone.
Nice idea Clarice, but there is one problem. These people do influence public opinion, as expressed by the MSM, and through that policies.

Not so long ago we had a row over Ruth Kelly, a Labour Minister quondam at the Department of Education, sending her son to a private school. Clearly neither she nor many of her colleagues believe in the qualities of the state-controlled education in Britain and, equally clearly, she and her colleagues believe that they can be exempt from that. In itself that would not matter. The problem is that she and her like control education for the rest of us.

In the same way, all those eco-celebs are intent on controlling everybody else's life. Unless, we can stop them with the help of the new printing press, the internet.