Originally published at: https://pluralistic.net/2023/10/31/carbon-upsets/
- The impoverished imagination of neoliberal climate "solutions": "All of the above" is a highly selective proposition.
- Hey look at this: Delights to delectate.
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The impoverished imagination of neoliberal climate "solutions" (permalink)
There is only one planet in the known universe capable of sustaining human life, and it is rapidly becoming uninhabitable by humans. Clearly, this warrants bold action – but which bold action should we take?
After half a century of denial and disinformation, the business lobby has seemingly climate religion and has joined the choir, but they have their own unique hymn: this crisis is so dire, they say, that we don't have the luxury of choosing between different ways of addressing the emergency. We have to do "all of the above" – every possible solution must be tried.
In his new book Dark PR, Grant Ennis explains that this "all of the above" strategy doesn't represent a change of heart by big business. Rather, it's part of the denial playbook that's been used to sell tobacco-cancer doubt and climate disinformation:
The point of "all of the above" isn't muscular, immediate action – rather, it's a delaying tactic that creates space for "solutions" that won't work, but will generate profits. Think of how the tobacco industry used "all of the above" to sell "light" cigarettes, snuff, snus, and vaping – and delay tobacco bans, sin taxes, and business-euthanizing litigation. Today, the same playbook is used to sell EVs as an answer to the destructive legacy of the personal automobile – to the exclusion of mass transit, bikes, and 15-minute cities:
As the tobacco and car examples show, "all of the above" is never really all of the above. Pursuing "light" cigarettes to reduce cancer is incompatible with simply banning tobacco; giving everyone a personal EV is incompatible with remaking our cities for transit, cycling and walking.
When it comes to the climate emergency, "all of the above" means trying "market-based" solutions to the exclusion of directly regulating emissions, despite the poor performance of these "solutions."
The big one here is carbon offsets, which allows companies to make money by promising not to emit carbon that they would otherwise emit. The idea here is that creating a new asset class will unleash the incredible creativity of markets by harnessing the greed of elite sociopaths to the project of decarbonization, rather of the prudence of democratically accountable lawmakers.
Carbon offsets have not worked: they have been plagued by absolutely foreseeable problems that have not lessened, despite repeated attempts to mitigate them.
For starters, carbon offsets are a classic market for lemons. The cheapest way to make a carbon offset is to promise not to emit carbon you were never going to emit anyway, as when fake charities like the Nature Conservancy make millions by promising not to log forests that can't be logged because they are wildlife preserves:
Then there's the problem of monitoring carbon offsetting activity. Like, what happens when the forest you promise not to log burns down? If you're a carbon trader, the answer is "nothing." That burned-down forest can still be sold as if it were sequestering carbon, rather than venting it to the atmosphere in an out-of-control blaze:
When you bought a plane ticket and ticked the "offset the carbon on my flight" box and paid an extra $10, I bet you thought that you were contributing to a market that incentivized a reduction in discretionary, socially useless carbon-intensive activity. But without those carbon offsets, SUVs would have all but disappeared from American roads. Carbon offsets for Tesla cars generated billions in carbon offsets for Elon Musk, and allowed SUVs to escape regulations that would otherwise have seen them pulled from the market:
What's more, Tesla figured out how to get double the offsets they were entitled to by pretending that they had a working battery-swap technology. This directly translated to even more SUVs on the road:
Harnessing the profit motive to the planet's survivability might sound like a good idea, but it assumes that corporations can self-regulate their way to a better climate future. They cannot. Think of how Canada's logging industry was allowed to clearcut old-growth forests and replace them with "pines in lines" – evenly spaced, highly flammable, commercially useful tree-farms that now turn into raging forest fires every year:
The idea of "market-based" climate solutions is that certain harmful conduct should be disincentivized through taxes, rather than banned. This makes carbon offsets into a kind of modern Papal indulgence, which let you continue to sin, for a price. As the outstanding short video Murder Offsets so ably demonstrates, this is an inadequate, unserious and immoral response to the urgency of the issue:
Offsets and other market-based climate measures aren't "all of the above" – they exclude other measures that have better track-records and lower costs, because those measures cut against the interests of the business lobby. Writing for the Law and Political Economy Project, Yale Law's Douglas Kysar gives some pointed examples:
For example: carbon offsets rely on a notion called "contrafactual carbon," this being the imaginary carbon that might be omitted by a company if it wasn't participating in offsets. The number of credits a company gets is determined by the difference between its contrafactual emissions and its actual emissions.
But the "contrafactual" here coms from a business-as-usual world, one where the only limit on carbon emissions comes from corporate executives' voluntary actions – and not from regulation, direct action, or other limits on corporate conduct.
Kysar asks us to imagine a contrafactual that depends on "carbon upsets," rather than offsets – one where the limits on carbon come from "lawsuits, referenda, protests, boycotts, civil disobedience":
If we're really committed to "all of the above" as baseline for calculating offsets, why not imagine a carbon world grounded in foreseeable, evidence-based reality, like the situation in Louisiana, where a planned petrochemical plant was canceled after a lawsuit over its 13.6m tons of annual carbon emissions?
Rather than a tradeable market in carbon offsets, we could harness the market to reward upsets. If your group wins a lawsuit that prevents 13.6m tons of carbon emissions every year, it will get 13.6 million credits for every year that plant would have run. That would certainly drive the commercial imaginations of many otherwise disinterested parties to find carbon-reduction measures. If we're going to revive dubious medieval practices like indulgences, why not champerty, too?
That is, if every path to a survivable planet must run through Goldman-Sachs, why not turn their devious minds to figuring out ways to make billions in tradeable credits by suing the pants off oil companies?
There are any number of measures that rise to the flimsy standards of evidence in support of offsets. Like, we're giving away $85/ton in free public money for carbon capture technologies, despite the lack of any credible path to these making a serious dent in the climate situation:
If we're willing to fund untested longshots like carbon capture, why not measures that have far better track-records? For example, there's a pretty solid correlation between the presence of women in legislatures and on corporate boards and overall reductions in carbon. I'm the last person to suggest that the problems of capitalism can be replaced by replacing half of the old white men who run the world with women, PoCs and queers – but if we're willing to hand billions to ferkakte scheme like carbon capture, why not subsidize companies that pack their boards with women, or provide campaign subsidies to women running for office? It's quite a longshot (putting Liz Truss or Marjorie Taylor-Greene on your board or in your legislature is no way to save the planet), but it's got a better evidentiary basis than carbon capture.
There's also good evidence that correlates inequality with carbon emissions, though the causal relationship is unclear. Maybe inequality lets the wealthy control policy outcomes and tilt them towards permitting high-emission/high-profit activities. Maybe inequality reduces the social cohesion needed to make decarbonization work. Maybe inequality makes it harder for green tech to find customers. Maybe inequality leads to rich people chasing status-enhancing goods (think: private jet rides) that are extremely carbon-intensive.
Whatever the reason, there's a pretty good case that radical wealth redistribution would speed up decarbonization – any "all of the above" strategy should certainly consider this one.
Kysar's written a paper on this, entitled "Ways Not to Think About Climate Change":
It's been accepted for the upcoming American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy conference on climate change:
It's quite a bracing read! The next time someone tells you we should hand Elon Musk billions to in exchange for making it possible to legally manufacture vast fleets of SUVs because we need to try "all of the above," send them a copy of this paper.
Hey look at this (permalink)
- Mastodon’s latest update makes it easier to follow the news https://www.theverge.com/2023/10/30/23938639/mastodon-lists-android-update-news
Ýrúrarí’s Knit and Felted Characters Are Cheeky Additions to Mended Garments https://www.thisiscolossal.com/2023/10/yrurari-cheeky-sweaters/
Youtube’s Anti-adblock and uBlock Origin https://andadinosaur.com/youtube-s-anti-adblock-and-ublock-origin (h/t Nelson Minar)
This day in history (permalink)
#20yrsago Web archiving legal in the UK http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/3231483.stm
#15yrsago Jonathan Carroll’s The Ghost in Love: magical and wonderful fantasy novel about ghosts and love and nostalgia https://memex.craphound.com/2008/10/31/jonathan-carrolls-the-ghost-in-love-magical-and-wonderful-fantasy-novel-about-ghosts-and-love-and-nostalgia/
#10yrsago badBIOS: airgap-jumping malware that may use ultrasonic networking to communicate https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2013/10/meet-badbios-the-mysterious-mac-and-pc-malware-that-jumps-airgaps/
#10yrsago Edward Snowden gets a job in Russia https://www.cnn.com/2013/10/31/world/europe/russia-snowden-job/index.html
#10yrsago Doctor Who spacetime described in physics paper https://arxiv.org/abs/1310.7985
#10yrsago NSA spokesmen told to just say “9/11” to deflect criticism http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/10/30/revealed-nsa-pushed911askeysoundbitetojustifysurveillance.html
#10yrsago Eben Moglen on Snowden and the Future https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCUJn-5By14
#10yrsago Power over USB: when charging a computer means connecting to untrusted data-sources http://radar.oreilly.com/2013/10/power-over-usb.html
#10yrsago Spycraft, Bumblefuck-style https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/rob-ford-scandal-toronto-police-have-video-apparently-showing-mayor-smoking-crack/article_3768efca-e7ce-5128-8159-e4d1b7fc3396.html
#10yrsago Face scrub micro-beads are choking the Great Lakes https://web.archive.org/web/20131031103227/http://5gyres.org/posts/2013/10/28/5_gyres_publishes_first_scientific_paper_on_plastic_pollution_in_the_great_lakes/
#10yrsago Toronto cops confirm video of Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack and making racist and homophobic remarks https://www.cp24.com/news/extended-coverage-police-have-video-of-ford-court-documents-shed-light-on-investigation-1.1521449
#5yrsago The dialysis industry just set a campaign spending record to fight California limits on pricing https://theintercept.com/2018/10/31/california-proposition-8-dialysis/
#5yrsago London’s new high-rises: speculators’ luxury flats designed never to be occupied https://citymonitor.ai/economy/more-expensive-property-london-more-likely-it-be-empty-4312
#5yrsago Rob Ford-o-Lantern https://web.archive.org/web/20140128131045/https://twitter.com/RobboMills/status/396037274736934912/photo/1
Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/).
- A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING
Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025
The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS FEB 2024
Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM
Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION
Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM
Latest podcast: Microincentives and Enshittification https://craphound.com/news/2023/10/23/microincentives-and-enshittification/
- The Internet Con at the Internet Archive (virtual), Oct 31
Hackaday Supercon, Nov 4 (Pasadena)
CBC IDEAS, Nov 16 (Stratford, ON)
Inspiring the Next Generation, Nov 16 (Stratford, ON)
Gibson's Bookstore, Nov 18 (Concord, NH)
Generation of Lost Causes, Nov 22 (Toronto)
Who Is Watching Big Tech? Nov 27 (Toronto)
The Lost Cause at The Strand (NYC), Nov 29
The Lost Cause at Flyleaf Books (Chapel Hill), Dec 7
- Seizing the Means of Library Interoperability (Librarypunk)
Reclaiming the Internet (Firewalls Don't Stop Dragons)
A Drink with Cory Doctorow (The Idler)
- "The Internet Con": A nonfiction book about interoperability and Big Tech (Verso) September 2023 (http://seizethemeansofcomputation.org). Signed copies at Book Soup (https://www.booksoup.com/book/9781804291245).
"Red Team Blues": "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books http://redteamblues.com. Signed copies at Dark Delicacies (US): and Forbidden Planet (UK): https://forbiddenplanet.com/385004-red-team-blues-signed-edition-hardcover/.
"Chokepoint Capitalism: How to Beat Big Tech, Tame Big Content, and Get Artists Paid, with Rebecca Giblin", on how to unrig the markets for creative labor, Beacon Press/Scribe 2022 https://chokepointcapitalism.com
"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone technothriller for adults. The Washington Post called it "a political cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1840/Available_Now%3A_Attack_Surface.html
"How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a solution. https://onezero.medium.com/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism-8135e6744d59?sk=f6cd10e54e20a07d4c6d0f3ac011af6b) (signed copies: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2024/Available_Now%3A__How_to_Destroy_Surveillance_Capitalism.html)
"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1750/July%3A__Little_Brother_%26_Homeland.html
"Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed copy here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2682/Corey_Doctorow%3A_Poesy_the_Monster_Slayer_HB.html#/.
- The Lost Cause: a post-Green New Deal eco-topian novel about truth and reconciliation with white nationalist militias, Tor Books, November 2023
The Bezzle: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about prison-tech and other grifts, Tor Books, February 2024
Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025
Unauthorized Bread: a graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025
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