The problem with net zero

The problem with net zero

Many companies and organisations are saying they will go net zero by 2030. This is in response to the climate emergency.

The intention is good but flawed. It is not suitable for a climate emergency. It is suitable for a mild climate headache, several notches less serious and less urgent than a climate massive heart attack. There is another approach suitable for a climate emergency: companies and organisations should go net zero now and then work to drastically improve the quality of the zero by 2030.

Net zero means that your net emissions are zero. That is the net of the emissions of your business less the offsets which you acquire. Offsets are actions which suck up CO2 such as planting trees, switching to regenerative farming or using technologies like carbon mineralisation or direct air capture of carbon. These technologies are not yet widely available, unlike the technologies of trees and soil which have been around for a few hundred million years and can be considered proven.

To go net zero you add up all the emissions of your business and then buy offsets to match.

After that, during the years to 2030, you improve the quality of your zero, by cutting your own emissions more and more, so you steadily need to buy fewer and fewer offsets.

In practice it takes a few months for a company to calculate its emissions to a reasonable accuracy and buy offsets to match those emissions. This means you can easily be net zero by 2020.

There are plenty of offsets available, plenty of projects which are ready to go once they get commitments from offset buyers, and plenty of entrepreneurs ready to embark on new projects if they see demand and prices growing. So for the next few years, at least, there is not going to be a shortage of offsets.

Saying you are going net zero by 2030 is not ambitious and not particularly impressive. It makes more sense to go net zero now. Then, in the knowledge that you are having no net impact from day one, you have ten years to design and implement a plan to drastically reduce your own emissions, through efficiency measures, changes in strategy, operations, products and services, procuring genuinely renewable energy, establishing your own renewable energy sources, banning leaf blowers and so forth. Thousands of energy and environment consultants can advise on that.

For companies and organisations with high added value per unit of energy consumed – media, IT, FMCG brands, commercial and light industry, going net zero now is not a costly exercise. Heavy industry could make a similar step, but they would have to thwart pesky monopolies commissions and do this in synch with their competitors so that some of the additional cost could be passed on to customers.

After voluntary offsetting had its first vogue in the mid 2000s, and then got hit with scandal and accusations that it stops people putting in the effort to reduce their own emissions, it became standard practice to say that you first reduce the emissions you can, then you offset the residual amount. That was ok in the leisurely years after the financial crash and before the emergency, when we still had forty years until 2050 to solve climate change. But now we have only ten years, we have to approach it the other way round. Offset first, then reduce what you can.

The original approach runs the significant risk that you do nothing for ten years and then in the last year you offset all your emissions. The new approach of net zero now demands action now and creates an incentive to search for real emission reductions in the following years.

The message is: Net zero now. Not 2030.

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Who ate all the pies? The fate of American birdlife

Peritonitis Girth, the chief mathematician to the government of Onan Hash, recently delivered his report on the tragic decline in American birdlife.[1]

Since the 1970s, bird numbers in North America have fallen by one third. 3 billion birds have disappeared. “Where have they all gone?” ask Doctor Girth.

He outlined his explanation at a press conference in at the Telford Centre for Ecological Restoration.

“I am a man of numbers. In numbers we can find every truth. This is the beauty of mathematics.

“There are 300 million Americans, with an average weight of 81 kg. This is some 10 kg more than the average weight of a European– 71kg, whose diet, though scarcely wholesome, is markedly more modest.

“This implies an excess of American flab of approximately 3 billion kg or 3 million tonnes.

“We assume a feed conversion ratio of 4 – this is typical of a pig, the closest farm animal to the North American. This implies that Americans have eaten 12 million tonnes of pie more than the Europeans.

“It is commonly known that there are traditionally 24 blackbirds baked in a pie, according to the Song of Sixpence. Now, American food standards being what they are – since President Randolph Blast closed down the food safety agency – a standard 2kg bird pie only contains 2.5% bird, or 50 grammes. Thus 12 million tonnes of pie contain 300,000 tonnes of bird.

“The average bird weighs 100g. Thus 3 billion birds have evidently been consumed in American Pies. This is our missing number.”

And indeed that is where the birds have gone. Destroyed by death farmers who, with impunity and outside the framework of the Chemical Weapons Convention, wage warfare, conventional and unconventional, on the land , as they cram the gargantuan gullets of the American people.

[1] See earlier tales of the regime of Onan Hash in the Bustard under the Chronicles of Nat Eb.

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Notes on Sweden, Saudi and behaviour change

When I read that someone had bombed Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities and their production was down 50%, I assumed that Sweden had finally realised that climate diplomacy was doomed to failure and decided to take proper action.

Disabling Saudi’s oil industry is something I have dreamed about many times, not only when delirious with fever. As a complement to advocacy, policy, technological improvement and behavioural change, taking out important fossil fuel facilities makes sense if you want rapid decarbonisation of human society. This is easier because few people have deep, emotional sympathies for the regime of Saudi Arabia.

Then I read that it wasn’t the Swedes but the Iranians. That’s smart of the Swedes. Getting an equally odious regime to do the dirty work. With the added benefit that the obvious response of Saudi will be to knock out Kharg Island.

All this puts up the price of oil (and stretches military budgets which should be charged on to oil traders), with a bigger economic impact than timorous attempts by governments at imposing carbon taxes. No chance of a backlash: the French yellow jackets won’t go to Teheran to demonstrate.

Even until very recently bigwig academics, technologists and bureaucrats have been trying to make us believe that it’s really quite simple to deal with climate change. “All you need is a global carbon price,” they used to say – say five to ten years ago. Then a bit later they corrected that. It’s really quite simple to solve climate change. All you need is innovation. An energy revolution.” That would be a few years ago. And so on. It was a whopping misrepresentation born of narrow thinking and naivety: hopium.

Now they have started to join the dots a bit more, they have realised that technological innovation in energy does not help solve deforestation or the criminal malpractice known as industrial farming. They have remembered the age-old Jevons Paradox – when you save energy in one area, you just spend it in another. They note the rise of soft fascism which despises environmentalism.

I was pleased when finally someone with public responsibilities, Professor Sir Ian Boyd, the chief environmental scientist of the UK government, warned us last week that: “People must use less transport, eat less red meat and buy fewer clothes if the UK is to virtually halt greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.”

He added that the public has little idea of the scale of the challenge to cut greenhouse gas emissions out of our lives.

“We need to do more about learning to live sustainable. We need to change our behaviours and change our lifestyles.”

Yet to that, people protest indignantly at threatened loss of freedom: “Who’s to tell me I can’t have a holiday in the Caribbean? It is my right to have cheap food and petrol! Isn’t this the job of government and big business?”

People have been asking these indignant questions for decades and it amazes me that they still have any political clout. It is blindingly obvious that everyone needs to pull their weight and tighten their belt. It’s ok to dick about like the Victorians did when there were a couple of billion humans on the planet most of whom lived simply; but with 8 billion people aspiring to middle class: you redesign a ketchup bottle and you kill a billion fish.

And then I see that even the best of those that run our nation states – ok, the only normal one left, Mrs Merkel, and she’s going – ultimately lack the courage to put their careers on the line for the sake of the Planet – and the hapless carnival that is the New York Climate Summit with Greta’s beautiful, heart wrenching and futile plea.

I find myself wishing for an authoritarian regime: it would be so much easier not to fly if I was not allowed to fly. And if no-one was allowed to fly, there wouldn’t be any FOMO.

Today we have a bleak menu:

  1. Stop eating meat, stop industrial agriculture and stop flying
  2. See the bright side of a war in the Middle East.
  3. Endure an authoritarian regime

The alternative is, obviously, no choice. We fry.



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Say the obvious: To save the Amazon, stop eating meat.

If you ask an expert about the causes of destruction of the forests in the Amazon, they will say: meat. It is virtually all about meat eating. Ranchers raising cattle. Farmers growing soya for export to the meat industry.

This is borne out in an excellent report by Mighty Earth:

So there is one thing you can do about: cut down on eating meat (and dairy). And if you don’t mind being a hypocritical for the sake of the planet, get your family and friends to.

Below are the largest customers of the slaugherhouses and soy animal feed traders most associated with cattle and soy deforestation. So these are the companies you should not buy from until they sort out their act:

Study the logos carefully and if you see them any place, don’t go in.

You might say: well, I only eat local, grass-fed meat, so it’s ok. That works a bit but not much. If you eat that local grass-fed meat (which has limited production capacity), it means someone else has to get their meat from more damaging sources.

I was amazed to read these short interviews with eminent professors at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

They are pronouncing on what to do about the destruction of the forest in Brazil.

Not a single one of them says the obvious: Stop eating meat.

When the brainiest people on the planet don’t or daren’t talk about the real causes of things, (a) it gives cause to lose hope and (b) it is an indictment of our educational system. The system raises highly refined, brainy people, and with that, they lose the ability to talk straight.

Perhaps this is too harsh.

I wondered what they would say about drug policy and the war on drugs? Surely at least some would say that: “Ok send in military helicopters to shoot up the drug lords in Mexico if you want, BUT ALSO work on domestic policies to reduce demand for drugs. Education, health care, mental health care, make it socially unacceptable etc.”

Demand-side measures are ok for drugs. So let’s have demand side measures for forests, too.

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People who really care about Great Britain

You can’t be an environmentalist without being a hypocrite. It’s obvious why: we aspire to something which we can’t easily achieve. If it was easy, you wouldn’t need environmentalists. If you didn’t aspire to it, you wouldn’t be true. Today the darkest greens need broadband and laptops to communicate with, even if they might abhor some of the ramifications of the internet.

Here is a parallel, closer to Brexit. A chap I was at school with, Robert Loomes, based in Stamford, Lincs, makes a wristwatch manufactured entirely in Britain. It is a true, British product we can be proud of. But is the white gold mined in Britain with British-built machines? No, and that does not matter. Principles have to be applied within reason – pushing the conventional borders but not to the point of impossibility or insanity.

If you are well informed, you understand that life on the planet is a fiendishly complex web of living organisms interacting. You pull out one part of that web and you weaken it in some way. The more parts you pull out, the more you weaken it, until the thing collapses. Anyone who played jenga ( would know about that; or a carpet maker – you can remove threads and no-one will notice, until the point that you have no carpet anymore.

Enmeshed in that web of life is real ale and village greens with cricket and beef-eaters, and bulldogs and even Morris Dancers. And not just facile examples, but the food that feeds working people across the country, the air they breathe, the water that gives them life. Everything that is Great Britain is by definition a subset of the life on the planet.

If you are a reasonable and intelligent person, you recognise that. You would not deride and undermine the people who are trying to sustain the fabric and bedrock of the existence which you cherish. Actually, they cherish the same things as Nigel Farage does. The difference is that they actually want to protect those things fundamentally, not just dream about them.

Before divert attention from the key issues, by mocking the way that environmentalists travel, it is important that Nigel Farage grows up a bit and starts to understand the substance of what they are saying. And then encourage his followers to do the same. It would be a service to them and their children.

It is a sign of limited imagination and understanding to believe that Conservative living or even “right wing values” are incompatible with caring for the planet. There are plenty of Conservative philosophers with a robust case for being green. Take the British thinker, Roger Scruton, for example.

I know that some people bristle at the idea of people “telling them what to do”. It hits their identities full on, because their sense of personal sovereignty assumes they are doing everything right anyway and no outsider should impose on their “freedom”.

It doesn’t take much quiet reflection to see it differently – if my freedom is unnecessarily fucking up someone else’s or something else’s freedom, then any reasonable person recognises that communication, compromise and compassion might be needed. If it takes someone else to draw that to my attention, of course I should listen. If I am about to reverse into an old lady, I should be glad that someone points it out to me (even if that person were a serial killer, for that matter).

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