The non-solution of carbon trading

Illustration by Jaida Noble | Current plans to address the climate crisis are insufficient to avoid or mitigate a devastating future.

The COP26 climate change conference was a joke. Run by the elite, their answers center around padding their pockets. From carbon trading to corporate innovation, they seem to only push market solutions when we know capitalism is killing the planet.

The U.N.’s  26th two-week Conference of the Parties (COP 26) to address climate change ended last week. While world leaders pat themselves on the back and figure out how to tout their “successes,” their abject failure is clear for us to see. 

The Financial Times reports that while “companies are not formally part of the Conference of the Parties meetings… this year’s summit was swarming with executives and their consultants, crowding out campaigners and even national delegates from Glasgow’s overfull hotels.”

And what were these executives and their consultants up to? In collaboration with world leaders, they were pushing the non-solutions of “net-zero” emissions.

Net-zero sounds pretty good. Like, yeah, we need zero carbon emissions.  But as The Guardian explains, it is simply “a brilliant cover for not restricting emissions. In exchange for non-verifiable offsets, they (companies) are allowed to continue plundering the planet’s remaining stored carbon.”

A company can produce tons of CO2 emissions in distribution, for example, and then buy an equal amount of carbon off-sets from another company that plants trees. Unfortunately, capitalism and honesty don’t actually go together. 

So the company planting trees might be planting trees in an area recently deforested by the lumber industry. Not only is deforestation followed by planting trees a wasteful way to maintain a carbon sink, but there is an incentive to lie about how much carbon off-setting is being done.

This means companies selling carbon credits make misleading claims about how much carbon is offset in order to pad their pockets. This unregulated market of carbon credits simply allows the polluters to continue polluting.

The carbon market is fraught with such examples and outright scams. And yet the capitalists and their political puppets are trying to convince us that the free market and the financialization of carbon is the solution.

The monarchist Prince Charles, spoke at COP 26 lauding the private sector, pointing to corporations as the force able to save the planet. These types of arguments were prevalent at COP 26 meetings and the only future they offer is one with out-of-control climate change.

Of course, we all know what solutions would actually work. Banning the extractive industries, extremely tight regulation of all aspects of the polluting economy, and a publicly controlled retooling and reorienting of the economy on the scale not seen since WWI in this country when various industries were retooled and reoriented to the war effort. 

Blank checks, like the one written for the Manhattan project to produce a nuclear bomb, need to be written for this project.  Not like the insufficient budgets passed for Biden’s Build Back Better plan or what we can expect from his climate change plan.

It’s not just that the billionaire class and the two political parties don’t have the will to address the problem, they are actively interested in the short-term profits that involve maintaining the fossil fuel industry and creating financial gimmicks like carbon trading or building up the electric car industry instead of mass transit.

We need mass struggle and strikes centered on the politics of eco-socialism to save our planet. This struggle must be independent of the capitalists and their political parties, the Republicans and Democrats. Such a framework must be grounded in anti-racism and gender liberation.

We need to struggle today to win stopgap reforms from this elite like closing down coal plants or stopping a pipeline. But we will need to connect these short-term projects with a longer-term project of expropriating the expropriators and organizing a true democracy that goes beyond the limited political scope of today and encompasses the social and the economic.

Such a broader democracy will be resisted by those who currently rule but nothing else will get us to where we need to be.

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