The Green Issue
The New York Times Magazine, April 20 2008
On April 20, 2008, the New York Times Magazine released it's Green Issue, featuring seven steps to "make your carbon footprint smaller":
- Act: Carbon Trading
- Eat: Grapes, Potatoes, Beef, and more...
- Invent: New solutions on their way
- Learn: Sustainability in schools, universities, and investment
- Live: Windup radios, Nascar, pet care, and more take the leap to green
- Move: Green transportation
- Build: Constructon, LEED, solar homes, and more.
The New York Times Magazine
The Green Issue
April 20, 2008
A CLEAR SENSE OF EMISSION: Carbon-dioxide equivalents may be the most complicated currency on world markets today. A basic exchange works like this: When a company like the Gap commits to reducing emissions but cannot, or chooses not to, cut the energy used to move clothes across the globe, it finances someone else’s green project. Rather than put $100, say, toward reinventing its shipping system, the Gap may spend $20 to plant trees or invest in a clean utility. If a new power plant is needed in India, carbon investments from the Gap and others make it possible to build a more expensive wind farm instead of a coal plant. Win-win, the logic goes: because carbon emissions are a global problem, it doesn’t matter where they are reduced. The system of carbon trading exploded after the Kyoto Protocol and in 2006 sustained a $30 billion market representing nearly 1.7 billion tons of traded carbon dioxide. The market extends beyond signatories to include companies that participate voluntarily. These days, even individual consumers are joining in to pay offset retailers somewhere between $3 and $40 per ton in order to counter the carbon they emit driving to work or just running their refrigerators. But individuals are confronting many of the same uncertainties that companies and countries have been navigating under the Kyoto Protocol. First, how to determine your emissions? There are several calculators on the Web, but they yield different answers. “When you fly, the fuel efficiency of your plane varies,” Jeff Swenerton, a spokesman at Green-e, an offset-certification program, points out. He says that calculators, for example, don’t factor in that “all things being equal, different airplanes of the same model can have wildly different burn rates.” Once you have a carbon figure, which offsets should you buy? Certification isn’t standardized either. Part of the problem is in the measuring: how old should a replanted forest be before it earns credit? What if it gets logged or burns? Another issue: how do certification schemes verify that the projects they invest in add real, new carbon reduction to the market? Should credits subsidize solar power in a city that already gives solar tax breaks? There are social questions too: should certification only make sure that carbon hasn’t entered the atmosphere, or should it include other goals, like sustainable development? Some argue that if a project generates less carbon but disrupts a local community, it forces the poor to take responsibility for the pollution of the rich and reinforces a model of development that created the problem of global warming in the first place.
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