By Thomas Neuburger
"If our rulers wanted to mitigate the damage from climate change, they’d be doing it now and we’d be seeing them do it." —Yours truly (discussed here)
The release of the recent IPCC Assessment Report (AR6 - Working Group 1) has caused renewed conversation about climate change and how to address it. Note that the conversation is no longer about whether to address it.
The reasons for this shift — from whether to address climate change to how to address it — has several causes. Among them:
1. The number is falling fast of sentient Americans who don't know that the earth is heating, the climate clock is way out of sync with itself, and we're heading to world where worse is yet to come.
2. The people who want to keep the fossil fuel-based engine running — which is most or all of our ruling elites — have discovered two wonderful ways to acknowledge change and still keep their unmonetized assets viable.
The first is to target "net zero" emissions by a given date.
The second is to tout (and fund) "carbon capture and storage" (CCS) technology, which exists nowhere in the world, as the magic carpet that will carry us into the future that most resembles our pre-destroyed past — high fossil fuel use, infinite "growth" (in profits), and a "civilized" lifestyle based on high energy consumption and ever-increased manufacturing, which rips from the earth what is raw (minerals and the like) and turns it into finished, sellable goods (like buildings, smart phones and plastic).
This leaves entirely aside the question of whether that past can be transported to the future. After all, the greatest unasked question in the mainstream climate movement is the most basic of all: Can we really keep "modern civilization" and have our climate too? Or does trying to keep one inevitably destroy the other?
Let's leave for later the questions around CCS technology, and also the greater questions raised in the previous paragraph, and focus for now just on "net zero emission" targets.
Bottom line first: "Net zero" targets are a scam.
What Does 'Net Zero Emissions' Mean?
According to the website Climate Central, a generally good mainstream pro-climate site, the term "net zero" means that "any greenhouse gas emissions released are balanced by an equal amount being taken out of the atmosphere."
In simpler terms, under a net zero policy, atmospheric CO2 emissions in one place are offset by negative emissions (CO2 reductions) somewhere else, keeping global CO2 static.
Notice that the goal of net zero emissions is vastly different from zero emissions. The first allows fossil fuel companies to continue operating at current or even increased capacities so long as offsets are found to balance the global equation. The second puts fossil fuel companies out of business forever.
Needless to say, fossil fuel companies love the first goal and hate the second. Also needless to say, governments controlled by fossil fuel companies (such as our own) also love the first goal and hate the second.
The IPCC Supports 'Net Zero Emissions,' not 'Zero Emissions'
Guess which goal the global government–dependent IPCC is touting. From the Summary for Policymakers (i.e., politicians) of the recently released report:
Achieving global net zero CO2 emissions is a requirement for stabilizing CO2-induced global surface temperature increase, with anthropogenic CO2 emissions balanced by anthropogenic removals of CO2. This is different from achieving net zero GHG emissions, where metric-weighted anthropogenic GHG emissions equal metric-weighted anthropogenic GHG removals. For a given GHG emission pathway, the pathways of individual greenhouse gases determine the resulting climate response46, whereas the choice of emissions metric47 used to calculate aggregated emissions and removals of different GHGs affects what point in time the aggregated greenhouse gases are calculated to be net zero. Emissions pathways that reach and sustain net zero GHG emissions defined by the 100-year global warming potential are projected to result in a decline in surface temperature after an earlier peak (high confidence).
Nowhere could I find an aspirational goal of "zero emissions." The IPCC is fully on board with the push for "net zero" emissions, just like Exxon, which has no intention of going out of business.
Yet aspiring to just "net zero" is a recipe for failure.
What's Wrong With Net Zero Policies?
What's wrong with every net zero policy is "carbon offsetting," a practice that's so easily gamed as to be laughable as a solution. Despite the myths, the fact is that no "net zero" regimen achieves net zero emissions. Here are a few (of many) reasons why from an explainer produced by Climate Home News:
• Net zero by 2050 is insufficient to solve the climate crisis.
Major and unprecedented reductions in emissions are needed now. Otherwise, our current high emissions will consume the small remaining global carbon budget within just a few years. Net zero targets typically assume that it will be possible to deliver vast amounts of “negative emissions”, meaning removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through storage in vegetation, soils and rocks. However, deployment of the technologies needed for negative emissions at the required scale remains unproven, and should not replace real emissions reductions today.
• We cannot compensate for fossil fuel emissions using so-called “nature-based solutions” like such as carbon sequestration in vegetation and soils.
Fossil fuels are part of the slow carbon cycle. ... Nature-based solutions are part of the fast, biological carbon cycle, meaning that carbon storage is not permanent. For example, carbon stored in trees can be released again by forest fires. Fossil emissions happen today, while their uptake in trees and soils takes much longer. The overall capacity of nature-based solutions is also limited, and is anyway needed to help remove the carbon dioxide that we have already released into the atmosphere.
In addition, from the report "Not Zero: How Net Zero Targets Disguise Climate Inaction":
• The term “net zero” is used by the world’s biggest polluters and governments as a façade to evade responsibility and disguise their inaction or harmful action on climate change.
• There is simply not enough available land on the planet to accommodate all of the combined corporate and government “net zero” plans for offsets and Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) tree plantations.
Or as one writer put it at the academically oriented site The Conversation: "There aren’t enough trees in the world to offset society’s carbon emissions – and there never will be".
• Collectively, “net zero” climate targets allow for continued rising levels of greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions, while hoping that technologies or tree plantations will be able to suck carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the air in the future.
• By putting the burden for carbon sequestration onto land and tree plantations in global South countries - which have done little to cause the climate crisis – most “net zero” climate targets are effectively driving a form of carbon colonialism.
The Net Zero Scam: The Audubon Society Greenwashes California Polluters
Let's look a little deeper at the first point above, the use of the net zero goal by polluters and governments as a façade for harmful action. From the "Not Zero" report:
In almost every case, “net zero” pledges signify a lack of ambitious action. Most actually serve to greenwash corporate plans that will cause great harm, including human rights abuses, runaway emissions, and ecological destruction.
Far from signifying climate ambition, the phrase “net zero” is being used by a majority of polluting governments and corporations to orchestrate escape clauses so as to evade responsibility, shift burdens, disguise climate inaction, and in some cases even to scale up fossil fuel extraction, burning and emissions. The term is used to greenwash business-as-usual or even business-more-than-usual. At the core of these pledges are small and distant targets that require no action for decades, and promises of technologies that are unlikely ever to work at scale, and which are likely to cause huge harm if they come to pass. [emphasis added]
And here's a prime example. California has a "carbon offsets" program in which it encourages people and institutions to offer to protect forests that would otherwise be logged and sell that protection to polluting companies to offset or negate their own CO2 emissions.
As ProPublica explains it:
The program allows forest owners ... to earn so-called carbon credits for preserving trees. Each credit represents a ton of CO2. California polluters, such as oil companies, buy these credits so that they can emit more CO2 than they’d otherwise be allowed to under state law. Theoretically, the exchange should balance out emissions to prevent an overall increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. [emphasis added]
The Massachusetts Audubon Society manages thousands of acres of forested land. In 2015, the Mass Audubon Society, which has no interested (one hopes!) in logging its forests, nevertheless claimed it could "heavily log 9,700 acres of its preserved forests over the next few years."
It did this in order to participate in the California program: "The group raised the possibility of chopping down hundreds of thousands of trees as part of its application to take part in California’s forest offset program."
Why did Audubon do this? Money:
The [California] Air Resources Board accepted Mass Audubon’s project into its program, requiring the nonprofit to preserve its forests over the next century instead of heavily logging them. The nonprofit received more than 600,000 credits in exchange for its promise. The vast majority were sold through intermediaries to oil and gas companies, records show. The group earned about $6 million from the sales, Mass Audubon regional scientist Tom Lautzenheiser said. [emphasis added]
So (a) one of the state chapters of the National Audubon Society, easily a "big green" organization, and a well-reputed one, made $6 million from a phony promise to not log trees it had no intention of logging in the first place.
And (b) California oil and gas companies got permission to continue their profitable, civilization-ending pollution, offset by nothing.
That's how the "net zero scam" works. Shame on the IPCC for heavily promoting it.
And shame on those in the media and "big green" organizations who actively offer it as a solution. The generation that will suffer most will not thank them when the billionaires who profited from the net zero scam are dead ... and they inherit the mess.