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Derev'ya derivatives

07 Apr 2021 | OP ED Watch

There is another way to solve the climate crisis, of course. And it involves accounting, which may not be everybody’s favourite occupation especially at tax time, but sure beats giving up trains, planes and automobiles. Thus Russia has a plan to fix its emissions by selling its forests. Not the actual trees, mind you. Just their capacity to absorb carbon providing no mushroom comes along. By selling carbon credits to international firms, they could put a massive dent in global warming without, and here’s the marvellous part, anyone having to do anything differently.

This idea is so brilliant that it got glowing press from Bloomberg to the Kashmir Eagle to E&E News to Canada’s Financial Post. And you’d think somebody would go hey, wait a minute, if nobody’s actually emitting less carbon it’s basically Vladimir Putin selling indulgences. Which is all too common when it comes to carbon, almost as though people wanted to seem virtuous without the hard work.

For instance, h/t Eric Worrall, the New Zealand navy has a cunning plan to buy carbon credits so it can keep zooming about in fossil-fuel-powered ships. Basically it’s going to pay the New Zealand carbon tax to the New Zealand Treasury with money it gets from… the New Zealand Treasury. Except on fuel burned overseas, where you’d think a navy would often be: For it there’s no charge and hence no rebate. As if it made any difference. Either way it’s abracadabra carbon be gone. Except for the fact that just as much is still being emitted unless they find another shell for the pea.

Or perhaps an obolochka from that nice Vladimir Vladimirovich there in the Kremlin. Though to be fair that story about Russia’s forests, after its lyrical invocation of “the bears, wolves and rare breed of tiger that live there”, did include a warning that “It may be a particularly hard sell from Russia, which has the weakest climate target of any major economy and is planning a slight increase in emissions by 2030.” Still, fixing climate is meant to be easy and painless and the green economy offers lots of high-tech jobs including apparently ones involving digital salespersonship. And jiggery-pokery.

Like this bit of the story: “Russia has long argued that it should be granted more slack in climate talks for the sequestration potential of its forests, which hold an estimated 640 billion trees. But until now the huge taiga has been poorly managed, leading to record forest fires in the past two years as global warming has made summers hotter and dryer.”

Being still vaguely grounded in reality, we want to say hang on, that makes no sense. Either the forest is on fire because of poor management or because of global warming that has “made summers hotter and dryer”. Has it really? Is Russia even having more fires, because Canada isn’t and nor is Australia or the Amazon despite panic-mongering.

Wikipedia says yes, record temperatures and record fires in Russia. In um 2010. Burning 300,000 hectares. And a paper back in 1996 said well, who knows, Russian statistics are rubbish. (OK, they said “Estimates of the extent of fires in Russia’s boreal forest vary over an order of magnitude (table 1); those made by Russian government agencies are among of the smallest.” Which amounts to the same thing.) But if we don’t know what Russian fires were like even 25 years ago, how do we know today’s are unprecedented? Because warming aaaaaah we’re all going to die, of course. (In 2020 something like 14 million hectares burned in Siberia, it seems. Which is apparently how many burned in 1987.)

Still, why quibble about mere facts? We’re saving the human race without doing any work here. Mind you the story also says “Canada, which has the world’s third-largest forest area and an economy largely based on fossil fuel extraction, is also setting up a marketplace to trade carbon credits, but the system will run alongside efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by mid-century.” It might. But what if we can do it by going “Hey, look at those trees” instead of junking all our cars?

One comment on “Derev'ya derivatives”

  1. It almost sounds like you are claiming there might be some hoaxing going on here! (But "jiggery-pokery" is a much more acceptable term for it.)

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