Carbon neutral: including offsetting fees in registration

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Re: Carbon neutral: including offsetting fees in registration

Postby Stephen Sewalk » Wed Feb 24, 2010 12:50 am

Allyson I see that my post only made it to facebook and not to this forum. So here is my post below.

May I suggest that participation was low not because people do not want to offset their carbon, but rather because carbon offsets are a gimmick. i.e. Plant a tree and you can pollute all you want. Buy permits (whether real or fake) and keep on polluting.

The only TRUE way to minimize carbon output is to take actions that actually minimize your carbon output. This requires foresignt and real action, among the options are: More efficient travel options, car pooling, shutting lights off when not in use, energy efficient lighting, solar and wind as well as geothermal and nuclear, even eating vegetarian rather than eating meat.

The best way to do so would be to have an online conference which minimized any need for travel, given that airline travel is one of the worst souces of pollution as it emits at very high altitude. Alternatively participants could offer to 'really' reduce their carbon footprint and post their story online as part of a conference website. Personally I have redone my home with the most energy efficient lights I could find, am changing my furnance to a much more efficient one, added insultation to take the attic R value from a 15 to a 55, and am looking at adding solar PV to power my new home, and therefore, honestly, get as close as possible to a 'real' zero carbon footprint.

The unfortunate reality is that carbon offsets are a creation of the Al Gore camp to justify having a lifestyle that does not connect to what is being said. People who buy them use them to justify having an SUV or Luxury vehicle that gets 10 MPG, travel exclusively on corporate jets (very large carbon footprint), use excessive energy in their homes and offices, and travel by limo rather than bus, subway or train. (SEE BELOW FOR GORE's LIFESTYLE)

To me signaling that we 'internalize' carbon using a gimmick rather than choosing a venue that minimizes carbon would not be a positive.

Some key questions we should be asking in determining conference locations include.
1) How do we pick locations for our conferences?
2) What role do Carbon Emissions play in choosing the location?
3) Did we choose a location with the most direct flights to minimize airplane emissions from travel?
4) Did we choose a location that could offer the most public transport to minimize emissions?
5) What about the building for the conference, is it leed certified, does it get its energy from low carbon emissions?
6) How about the hotel where participants are staying, are they the most energy efficient they can be?
7) Did we choose meals that do also result in low carbon emissions? The UN FAO identified farm animals (cows, pigs, sheep, chicken) as accounting for 17% of worldwide GHG emissions.
8) And did we choose a venue with the best possible natural lighting and most efficient indoor lighting?

Let's not use a gimmick like Al Gore, let's do something real.

Which of the Houses Below belongs to Al Gore and which one to George Bush.

House #1 A 20 room mansion (not including 8 bathrooms) heated by natural gas. Add on a pool (and a pool house) and a separate guest house, all heated by gas. In one month this residence consumes more energy than ! the ave rage American household does in a year. The average bill for electricity and natural gas runs over $2400. In natural gas alone, this property consumes more than 20 times the national average for an American home. This house is not situated in a Northern or Midwestern "snow belt" area. It's in the South.

House #2 Designed by an architecture professor at a leading national university. This house incorporates every "green" feature current home construction can provide. The house is 4,000 square feet (4 bedrooms) and is nestled on a high prairie in the American southwest. A central closet in the house holds ; geothermal heat-pumps drawing ground water through pipes sunk 300 feet into the ground. The water (usually 67 degrees F.) heats the house in the winter and cools it in the summer! The system uses no fossil fuels such as oil or natural gas and it consumes one-quarter electricity required for a conventional heating/cooling system. Rainwater from the roof is collected and funneled into a 25,000 gallon underground cistern. Wastewater from showers, sinks and toilets goes into underground purifying tanks and then into the cistern. The collected water then irrigates the land surrounding the house. Surrounding flowers and shrubs native to the area enable the property to blend into the surrounding rural landscape.

HOUSE #1 is outside of Nashville , Tennessee ; it is the abode of the "environmentalist" Al Gore;

HOUSE #2 is on a ranch near Crawford, Texas ; it is the residence the of the President of the United States , George W. Bush.

An "inconvenient truth".
Stephen Sewalk
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Re: Carbon neutral: including offsetting fees in registration

Postby Bill Braun » Thu Feb 25, 2010 2:35 pm

Stephen Sewalk wrote:In natural gas alone, this property consumes more than 20 times the national average for an American home.

Will the apples and the oranges please report to the the principal's office.

Gore's House in Feet Sq: 10,000 (Source: ... 2844.shtml)
Gore's Kilowatt consumption: 191,000 in 2006 (Source: ... 2844.shtml)
Gore KW Consumption per Square Foot: 19.10

Average House Feet Sq: 2,349 (Source: ... Id=5525283 citing the National Association of Home Builders)
Average Nashville House Kilowatt Consumption: 15,600 (Source: citing the Associated Press)
Avg House KW Consumption per Square Foot: 6.64

Gore's House as a multiple of the Average House: 2.87 (19.10/6.64)

That's not an insignificant number. However, while data sources may vary and the multiple may move up or down, it is a whole lot less that a multiple of 20.

Bill Braun
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Re: Carbon neutral: including offsetting fees in registration

Postby Thomas Fiddaman » Thu Feb 25, 2010 6:03 pm

To assert that offsets don't work whether they're real or fake strikes me as an overstatement. Obviously there are lots of potential problems with offsets that are not "additional" or are outright fraudulent. But to the extent that these are avoided, and offset is just a way to trade money for reduced emissions somewhere else. I don't see how that's different from trading money for reduced emissions at home. The problem with offsets is not that they're intrinsically a gimmick, but that they have a lot of enforcement and transparency problems, especially when the price of emissions in the rest of the world is 0.

That aside, I think it's legitimate to question the conference venue. My guess is that transport would be the dominant share of emissions, that meals and lighting hardly matter, and thus we should focus on things like location and provisions for teleparticipation.
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Re: Carbon neutral: including offsetting fees in registration

Postby Aldo Zagonel » Thu Jun 10, 2010 1:57 pm

Some of you may be wondering what happened to the carbon neutral proposal that was discussed in the Winter PC Meeting. I copy below a summary offered to the Policy Council which explains why we decided to hold off on the proposal, as well as an external link to the ongoing voluntary offsetting instrument: ... conference

If you will be attending the Conference in Seoul, we encourage you to contribute. Contributions last year raised only $651.10 --the equivalent of ~43 participants (at $15.27/each). This is less than 10% of the number of attendees. This year, the estimated average emission per attendee went up and the corresponding contribution was set to $19.55/person (to offset 1.95 metric tons/person). The overall aim is to offset 742.9 metric tons, by raising just over $7,000 in total.

While we may wish to continue the carbon offsets discussion here, I am creating a new item in "open discussion" that addresses he issue of climate change more generally, beginning with calling your attention to a recent book by science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, "Merchants of Doubt," that creates a devastating portrayal of organized scientific disinformation campaigns that makes clear just how gullible the press, scientific community and the public have been in the treatment of this issue: ... ubt_hc_104

Summary of the carbon neutral discussion:

A voluntary carbon neutral program was initiated for the first time at the Albuquerque conference in 2009. In response to comments following the conference, several of us proposed that the Society continue the practice of allowing participants to purchase offsets for the average carbon emissions associated with conference travel and attendance. Our proposal allowed participants to make up their own minds. Those who did not wish to contribute would elect an "opt-out" option when registering.

We sent the proposal to the SD Forum, and the environmental special interest group’s LinkedIn site, and a serious discussion ensued. Later this fall [2009], the proposal was opened for discussion with the Policy Council via [their] list serve. It was also discussed at the face-to-face meeting in Boston. There were many comments, both in favor and opposed to the proposal. The main argument in favor was that the Society should strive to internalize the impact of our conferences. Given the current state of carbon policy, this may be done by adding the cost of offsets to the registration fee. Some argued that this constituted a political act, and that the Society should not commit to a political action. Others pointed out that not acting is also a political act.

To act or not to act? Those arguing for inaction voiced concern over the extra work at the Society’s home office and the difficulty in verification of carbon offsets. Some argued that focusing attention on carbon policy is a distraction, one that shifts the focus away from the root problem of industrial and population growth. A few argued that the scientific basis for curbing greenhouse gas emissions is too speculative to warrant action. And finally, several argued that offsets are a good idea, but buying offsets should be a personal choice, not a choice for the Society.

The discussion left us with the impression that there is no clear consensus in favor of the proposal. Although the discussion was vigorous, it appeared that the participants were limited to a small fraction of the Society membership. Therefore, we decided it was not appropriate to put the proposal to a Policy Council vote this winter. Instead, we will continue to offer the voluntary web link on the registration site for those who wish to offset at the 2010 conference.

Meanwhile, we encourage continued discussion of the Society’s position on carbon neutral conferences. The coming years may see important changes in carbon policies adopted around the world. We would hope that the USA and other nations with large, uncontrolled emissions pass legislation to put a price on their emissions. And in the meantime, we hope that conference participants will “vote with their wallets” by purchasing the offsets needed to reduce the climate impacts of the Society’s conferences.

Allyson Beall, Richard Dudley, Andrew Ford, Aldo Zagonel, and others [February 10, 2010]
Aldo Zagonel
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Re: Carbon neutral: including offsetting fees in registration

Postby Aldo Zagonel » Wed Jul 13, 2011 3:23 pm

A new report concludes that each ton of carbon dioxide emitted in the atmosphere inflicts as much as $900 in environmental harm:

If this is the case, the $10/metric ton used to offset conference attendance grossly underestimates the social cost of carbon emission associated with individual conference attendance ($15 per 1.5 metric tons). This value is inferior to the government's estimate ($21/metric ton) criticized in the report.

For those interested in this issue, please be aware that the Environmental SIG is sponsoring scholarship awards for students and new researchers whose conference papers are about promoting carbon neutral practices. The deadline has passed for this year's conference, but the opportunity will likely be available next year as well.
Aldo Zagonel
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Re: Carbon neutral: including offsetting fees in registration

Postby Thomas Fiddaman » Wed Jul 13, 2011 4:03 pm

I think a big gap between the social cost of carbon (SCC) and the cost of offsets implies that offsets are simply grossly underutilized, because the carbon externality is not priced into most markets, so that offset providers have not run up their supply curve to the point of indifference between emitting and offsetting.

If the SCC is $900/ton and offsets cost $10/ton, then offsets can be almost 99% gimmick and still be a good deal for aggregate welfare.

Still, that leaves the question of whether it's better to buy offsets, or to use the money to do something more directly to prepare for a carbon-free conference in the future. Go totally virtual, for example?
Thomas Fiddaman
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