Friday, May 04, 2007

Guilt trips

Quite often anthropogenic climate change is characterised by it's opponents as a faith structure or religion. If that's the case then a church has arisen around this religion and the money lenders are already in the temple. So it's fitting that Environment Secretary and South Shields MP David Miliband had an audience with the Pope last week, as the Church of Rome and the Church of Greenwash have a very similar stance on guilt.

In the Roman Catholic Church sins are forgiven through the acts of confession, contrition, penance and absolution. During the Middle Ages the rich could buy absolutions from priests to avoid eternal damnation. Those folk knew they could carry on sinning, comfortable in the knowledge that they could buy themselves out of hell.

In the Church of Greenwash, burning fossil fuel is the new sin and like the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, absolutions can be bought. We don't call them absolutions now though, we call the process offsetting. I have a problem with offsetting - it's complete bollocks. It doesn't do anything to reduce emissions. Once you've flown to Paris for a tenner your share of the emissions is out there - and they're going to be around for a very long time.

Offsetting is not so much absolution as an absolving of responsibility.

In Tuesday's Guardian Monsignor Miliband praised budget airline easyJet for promising a scheme where it's passengers can purchase offset credits from easyJet. To back his support for offsetting, he said:

"Businesses and consumers need to be sure that the way they offset actually results in a robust and verifiable emission reduction."

To the objective eye this seems like a reasonable statement, but he followed up with:

"That's why the government has consulted on a proposed voluntary code of best practice for all providers of offsetting products and is now considering the responses."

Voluntary. Let's think about that word. It's certainly not a synonym of "robust". Then think of the phrase "best practice". My spidey senses tell me that Miliband didn't really mean "robust" at all. Translated out of Westminster bullshit into English it really means "businesses can do what the fuck they want". That's New Labour's dogma - let's talk about how terrible climate change is, but never actually do anything about it that may upset our chums.

In Rome, Mr Miliband and Pope Benedict called for a moral and ethical approach to climate change. To most sensible folk this is a no-brainer - if it's not dealt with global heating can bring about the deaths of millions, if not billions, of people.

As an aside - if Pope Benedict wants to reduce the Catholic Church's carbon footprint then a good start would be to look at the human footprint. He could kick in the Church's support for family planning, including contraception, straight away. Less people on the planet means a bigger share of the planet's resources for everyone.

But on the ethical conundrum, the problem is that most businesses don't know how to be ethical - their prime function is to make profit. Profit in itself is neither good or bad, it's merely an economic surplus. It's how the profit is made that defines it's moral and ethical boundaries. For most citizens we have laws drawing those boundaries. But in the UK there is no law saying that businesses should act ethically or in the interests of society. Gordon Brown saw to that by ripping out the corporate social responsibility reporting requirements for companies' financial reports.

But offsetting gives businesses a chance to sell themselves as somehow caring and responsible, whilst not actually doing anything to reduce their emissions and profiting off the enviro-guilt of their customers.

If businesses and consumers need to be sure of anything, it's that offsetting is nonsense. It produces nothing but apathy and feeds the current ambivalence towards the environment and the peoples in other countries who are going to feel the pain of global heating before we do.

Offsetting promises guilt-free polluting but gives us business as usual and sod the planet.

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