Carbon trading creates ignorance

Larry Lohmann is a scholar and a researcher for the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation. He has written important essays about carbon trading; I think it fair to say that Mr Lohmann, like me, does not think much of carbon trading. I approach the subject from the basis that it will harm the environment, as readers of these posts will know, but Mr Lohmann has a different and more philosophical perspective which I think is important.

Mr Lohmann examines how carbon trading affects our world, not in terms of merely reducing carbon emissions (which is the point of the exercise) but in terms of its effect on human development. He reaches the conclusion that carbon trading creates ignorance.

That is a serious charge. Ignorance has been the great enemy of humanity. We have developed and improved our lives by overcoming ignorance. Have all those well meaning folk at Kyoto and Bali come up with a way of making people more ignorant? Is that possible?

If carbon trading creates ignorance a Mr Lohmann asserts, then we are actually setting human progress in a direction that we have fought hard to avoid.

Mr Lohmann points out that carbon markets are designed to be a cheap alternative to regulations. That means that instead of rewarding people to design and install technologies, which can be repeated elsewhere, carbon markets permit companies to “buy” the right to continue pollution on the assumptions that one man’s carbon reduction enables another to emit carbon of the same “equivalence”.

Now carbon trading has created some highly dubious CO2 equivalences. Many greenhouse gases are given a higher CO2 equivalence than they actually deserve. Under the carbon market system trade is based credits created by using  scientific fictions. The biggest single earner of carbon credits is for plants that destroy HFC-23 greenhouse gas (by incineration) which earn credits that over value what the effect of destroying HFC-23 by at least 30%. Nice work if you can get it.

The calculations based on alleged emission savings not only reward behaviour which does not reduce the amounts of emissions claimed, but  also rewards behaviour which might well be environmentally damaging. Mr Lohmann gives examples that are very disturbing.

Those calculating the value of the credits to be awarded for a project do not look at the bigger picture. There is no point in saving emissions if the way of saving them is to create ecological problems in the project that is supposed to be saving emissions. The precise ecological effect of supposed emission savings play no part in either the decision to provide a carbon credit or the decision to purchase a carbon credit. You have to bear in mind that the carbon credit will be purchased almost certainly by a first world business that is in the business of creating emissions and wants to keep creating them as cheaply as possible. Why should they bother if the dam or plant that has the credits is polluting or adversely affecting the third world community in which it is located?

One of Mr Lohmann’s most valuable points concerns carbon offsets. The system of carbon trading allows both emission allowances to be exchanged for carbon offsets. Kyoto allows offsets – things like tree planting – to be treated as emission reductions. Offsets are not reductions. Tree planting and the like does not reduce carbon emissions. It is intellectually dishonest to claim it does and yet Kyoto and the whole of the carbon markets adopt this dishonesty as fundamental to their way of attempting to reduce emissions.

Kyoto has established a way of enabling companies to profit by projects which destroy local sustainable styles of life in the third world without affecting the first world’s ability to burn fossil fuel. Indeed instead of setting up a carbon emission reduction system, Kyoto has set up a technical complex series of hurdles which reward you if you can overcome them all, whether o not you have reduced emissions. It is about playing a game, not about achieving anything real.

Does carbon trading create ignorance? You will have to read Mr Lohmann’s whole work yourself to decide.

My view is this. When I started Genersys eight years ago there was widespread ignorance about climate change and knowledge about climate change, real knowledge, has increased almost exponentially among people everywhere. What was a concern of a handful of environmentalists has become almost religious in its acceptance by the world at large, who now understand and generally accept that climate change is most likely caused by humans.

As knowledge of climate change has increased the polluting industries and nations have successfully launched a propaganda war. The big lie that this propaganda sells is that reducing carbon will not hurt – in fact we can benefit the third world by having them reduce carbon which will offset our carbon. It is the same argument that claims that if we pay to plant a tree we can fly with good conscious, and so forth.

This has resulted in earnest politicians and economists eagerly buying into the big lie – that emission reduction does not need to hurt – and it has enabled oil companies and fossil fuel energy generators to disguise themselves as environmentally beneficial enterprises and politicians and policy makers to cloak themselves in the same disguise.

In that way carbon trading creates ignorance because it persuades people to accept that it is a way of genuinely reducing carbon emissions. You don’t get to tell a bigger lie than that.

You can read Mr Lohmann’s work at


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