Apr 20, 2007

Learning about the Carbon Economy

My alarm went off this morning before seven, waking me in the middle of a dream about the assasination of Al Gore. I guess my brain got my recent viewing of "Bobby" confused with my impending morning at the American Association of Geographers conference. There were several sessions today on Theorizing the Carbon Economy.

I saw the first one, which included a very interesting discussion by Sam Randalls about using northern science as the exclusive guide to environmentalism. He spoke about carbon colonialism and the way climate stabilization functions as a progression of mondernity's attempt to control the world. This was all new for me, and at 8 AM, I was wide awake. Wow.

Kathleen McAfee (from SFSU, my alma mater) went into the idea of trading nature to save it. She questioned whether there were net gains in conservation through these carbon (and other ecosystem services) schemes. A lot of this resonated with me.

And Emily Boyd really got my brain swirling with her paper on theorizing the carbon economy. It was illuminating to learn that London is at the center of this new economy, with huge businesses set to profit off of this enterprise in the coming years. And there were concerns with the way these offsets are administered and who stands to benefit. Boyd referenced a scenario in China where people are convinced to plant trees. Ok, so now they're stuck in contracts for the next 30 years with these trees. They can't eat the trees. The time scale is just huge.

I went to the session in part to deepen my own understanding of the carbon economy, what with all this hype about buying offsets. I have considered buying offsets, but as I don't think I'm well enough informed of their actual effect, I haven't. I'm glad I didn't. I've always kinda thought that the offset idea was impractical, or a license to pollute. But I've thought about it for flights. Next month my univeristy is sending me to SoCal to present my research on off-leash dog recreation at a student research competition. I'd rather take a bus, but they're sending us by plane.

I have more learning to do, but before I buy an offset, I'd like to know I'm not locking a farmer into a lifestyle that he can't sustain for 30 years. I'd like to know that I'm not building an economic sector that will be dependent on further pollution. I'd like to know that I'm not buying into an inherently elitist system that prioritizes my flying privileges over the land use rights of people in less developed countries.

Right now I think I'm much better off taking personal responsibility for my carbon emissions and doing my best to keep them low as I can only do so much to offset them (like community organizing for earth day, habitat restoration, etc)

I missed the session that followed. It included a paper w/ the title, "An Inconvenient Celebrity? Promises and Pitfalls of Celebrity Involvement in Climate Change Science, Policy, and the Public".


Robin said...

wow great blog :) very informative, keep it up
take care

Anonymous said...

Nice job.

You wouldn't mind contacting Spanish Speakers, so a Band of Translators could be formed, would ja...?


nm said...

I was at AAG on Thursday.

Too bad we couldn't have connected.


ru said...

Check us out at Treeflights.com, Rachel. We're trying to do the offset thing right.

Kris Shanks said...

There was a very informative article about carbon offsets in the March 9 issue of New Scientist. You have to be a subscriber to read it online, but the gist was that the current carbon trading schemes are so poorly regulated it's hard to know whether you're actually buying a legitimate offset.

Great blog by the way! I'm another SFSU grad.

rachel said...

So how do I make this in Spanish? I will investigate, Santiago, thank you for the suggestion!

nm, what did you attend at aag? i heard several sessions including "rethinking petifilia" , "activism..." on wed at 8AM, "politicial ecology", "geography of palestine/palestinians", "middle eastern identieties: israel/palestine", "animal geographies 1" , and a couple more!

ru: i looked at treeflights. thanks for the reference. i really liked the site. i'm wondering, a lot of the info on the trees said, "found across the british isles". are all of the trees indigenous to the area? it's not mandatory, but it was something that was brought up at the theorizing carbon session.

kris: the lack of regulation for carbon offsets was quite lamented in the session that i attended as well. liked your comment on the sustainability question on colin's blog too. are you in sf still?

Jeremy said...

Hi, I've wondered the same thing about offsetting - is it actually sustainable? Or is it mainly a way for rich people to avoid making sacrifices? I hadn't thought of the effects in the third world at all.

nm said...


I attended a SG business meeting - I am counselor for one of the SGs. I really had to go down just for that meeting. However, while I was there I attended the panel on the building a national framework for natural hazards risk reduction (that is my job), risk assessment and hazards talks.

I usually go all week, but couldn't this time. I love seeing different talks that I wouldn't see on a regular basis and catching up with old friends.