(From Hawaii Reporter, January 22, 2009)
It’s OK to have a carbon footprint if you pay enough. You do this by buying carbon offsets. These are used by politicians, environmentalists, movie stars, athletes, and others to claim the impact of their high-consumption lifestyles on the environment can be canceled out by paying someone else to invest in carbon-reducing initiatives, reports Lorrie Goldstein.
Many famous people who are for sustainability and against global warming live in many very big houses, drive many very big cars, and fly in private jets. If you travel frequently by air, even on commercial flights, you can’t escape having a huge carbon footprint. Yet many of the most vocal advocates of cutting emissions—politicians, entertainers, environmentalists, journalists, scientists—are continually jetting off to campaign events and conferences and workshops. Are they going to change the way they operate? If not, how are they going to persuade anyone else to cut back emissions, asks John Tierney.
The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, was ‘carbon neutral,’ despite all the folks flying to attend, because in large part, people donated money to third world countries to plant trees or build hydroelectric dams for electricity.
The Live Earth concerts held in 2007 created a huge carbon footprint on the globe in the name of climate preservation; an estimated 7,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. This does not include the private jets of all the celebrities who attended or the thousands of people who drove their cars to each concert. An official volume, The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook, presents 77‘essential skills for stopping climate change.’ Here are some guidelines from the book: “Let’s say that despite your best efforts, you still have to fly to your best friend’s wedding. You’re dumping 3,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and you’re wracked with guilt about your contribution to global warming. Relax, you can throw money at the problem. Go online, find a company that sells clean energy credits, and buy enough to make up for the greenhouse gases your trip created.” The book goes on to state that you must choose your offsets carefully and points out that trains are the most ecologically low-impact way to cover long distances. How many celebrities take Amtrak? And speaking of celebrities and their eco-friendliness, let’s look at a few.
Al Gore, academy award winner and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, has to be high up on the list. Bruce Nussbaum notes, “Gore deserves a gold statue for hypocrisy. Gore’s mansion, (20-rooms, eight-bathrooms) located in Nashville, consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year, according to the Nashville Electric Service (NES). The average household in American consumes 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, according to the Department of Energy. In 2006, Gore devoured nearly 221,000 kWh—more than 20 times the national average. Last August alone, Gore burned through 22,619 kWh—guzzling more than twice the electricity in one month than an average American family uses in an entire year. Gore’s extravagant energy use does not stop at his electric bill. Natural gas bills for Gore’s mansion and guest house averaged $1,080 per month last year. In total, Gore paid nearly $30,000 in combined electricity and natural gas bills for his Nashville estate in 2006.”
Like a good citizen, Gore buys carbon offsets to assuage his high energy lifestyle, and this is good. But here’s the rub. He buys his carbon offsets through Generation Investment Management, a company he co-founded and serves as chairman. Through this company, he and others pay for offsets. The firm invests the money in solar, wind and other projects that reduce energy consumption around the globe. As co-founder and chairman of the firm, Gore presumably draws an income or will make money as its investments prosper. In other words, he ‘buys’ his ‘carbon offsets’ from himself, through a transaction designed to boost his own investments and return a profit to himself.
Madonna, who was the main attraction at the London Live Earth concert owns a collection of fuel-guzzling cars, including a Mercedes Maybach, two Range Rovers, Audi A8s and a Mini Cooper S. She flies everywhere in her private jet and her Confessions tour produced 440 tons of carbon dioxide in four months last year. This was just the flights between the countries, not taking into account the truckloads of equipment needed, the power to stage such a show and the transport of all the thousands of fans getting to the gigs.
John Travolta says, “Everyone can do their bit. Global warming is a very valid issue—we have to think about alternative methods of fuel.” Travolta once starred in a movie about bringing industrial polluters to justice. But in real life he has probably the biggest carbon footprint of any Hollywood star. He parks his personal Boeing 707 on his front lawn—next to his three Gulfstream jets and a Lear jet. Rather appropriately, he has called his home Jumboair.’
The Red Hot Chili Peppers produced 220 tons of carbon dioxide with their private jet alone over six months on their last world tour which was 42 dates.
All this prompts Ginny Buckley and Max Flint to ask, “Is the hot air emitted by celebrities when they spout ecological platitudes a greenhouse gas?”
Enron and Lehman Brothers
There’s big money to be made in the carbon business. Enron and Lehman Brothers are two examples. Ken Lay became a celebrated corporate executive praised for his ‘21st century’ business visions. But Enron’s internal memos, leaked to reporters during its bankruptcy scandal, revealed other motivations. Christine MacDonald in her book, Green, Inc., notes that Lay had two meetings with President Bill Clinton and Vice-President Al Gore on a treaty capping carbon emissions. An internal Enron memo predicted this would ‘do more to promote Enron’s business than almost any other regulatory initiative outside of restructuring the energy and natural gas industries in Europe and the United States.’ MacDonald adds, “Enron also had plans for using its support among environmentalists, who cooed over Lay.”
Lehman Brothers was at the forefront of the vast trade created by the new worldwide regulatory system to ‘fight climate change’ by curbing emissions of carbon dioxide. Jane Orient notes, “In 2007 they released a long and highly publicized report about climate change in which they preached about decarbonization, trying to make their investors keep getting high profits from the Kyoto carbon trade scheme and the support of huge public subventions. They recommended to their investors what they considered a central value of the carbon ton 50 years into the future. All of this of course, with the applause of the usual choir of politicians, the entire media, and the Greens.”
Thousands of green militants have been using the Lehman report as a proof of global warming and impending chaos. The report is the basis for policies on climate change in Spain, Argentina, and several other countries, it is used by economy professors playing climatologists, and by newspaper editorialists. Yet in spite of their ability to predict the climate 50-100 years ahead, they couldn’t predict their own bankruptcy.