Opinion

What is the point of carbon credits?

Aaron Bichard’s Nov 26 column stated “Issuing carbon credits is missing the real point.”

While I empathize, I believe that depends on what goal we’re aiming for and how it can be realistically achieved.

Cowichan Recyclists is aiming for beyond carbon-neutral. Bichard’s bicycle-powered recycling firm has proven this can be profitably achieved, literally, under its own power.

But the carbon market wasn’t designed for profitable green businesses, it’s to help everyone else.

What if you operate a helicopter company that provides a lifeline to remote communities or transportation for medical emergencies? What if you want to visit family in Ontario? There are no carbon-neutral transportation solutions currently available.

What if a business offering services to help us become carbon-neutral couldn’t compete in a world awash in cheap fossil fuels without financial help starting out?

Not everyone believes in climate change, or peak oil, or values other than the financial bottom line.  The economic system supports those beliefs more than it currently supports sustainable alternatives.

What if we could create a system that made “problems” pay for the very “solutions” necessary to eventually make the system unnecessary — a positive feedback loop with a built-in self-destruct mechanism? Would such solutions be worthless simply because they weren’t created by the people responsible for the problems?

Some of the recycling services society values so much are not profitable and are only available because they’re subsidized by taxes or environmental handling fees. As the market becomes profitable, the private sector begins to offer services and our recycling options increase. With competition, prices decrease as does the need for the initial subsidies.

If the point is to reach complete carbon-neutrality but the only way to achieve this is by changing operations, then that point is going to get missed by most businesses, governments and people in the developed world because there simply aren’t enough carbon-neutral options to make it possible  — not without sacrifices that would take us back to the days before the Industrial Revolution.

But what if we had a system that provided options to support that shift, increasing the viability of renewable alternatives by giving the low-carbon economy a helping hand?  It would probably look like the emerging carbon offset market.

I didn’t always believe offsetting was a solution and certainly some carbon-trading schemes have made me wary of projects undertaken in far-off places by businesses outside of my community.

With transparency and local accountability I believe a carbon exchange system can work and make our communities and the planet better-off in the process.  This is why Cowichan Energy Alternatives is working on Cowichan’s very own Community Carbon Marketplace.

At this transitional point in history, not everyone can run a business that reduces carbon emissions. Enabling more people that do through a local carbon market may just be the best solution in an imperfect world that needs to change.

Maybe that’s the real point of the carbon market.

Brian Roberts is with the Cowichan Energy Alternatives Society.

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