Who is Responsible for Carbon Neutrality?

Who is Responsible for Carbon Neutrality?

I don’t have the answers to this. I just have a lot of questions.

Hundreds of firms will at sometime sign up for Carbon neutrality. This may well include all large and important American companies, except for fossil fuel companies. Very liberals may question the sincerity of some companies, and look into how they do it. If there is a movement to favor such companies by consumers or investors, even more will move into this.

A main question is where does individual responsibility fit in? Is it in choosing carbon neutral companies? If you eat a hamburger or have milk with your cereal, is the cow or steer’s methane the restaurant or the chain’s responsibility, is it the rancher’s responsibility, or is it your responsibility? So far, we have been working only on individual’s responsibility, and how has that worked out for us?

A major issue is deferred production to other countries, who produce with mainly dirty coal power. In 2015, 13% of China’s emissions came from making goods for other countries. Probably largely steel and concrete. In India, this was 20%. China’s steel industry emits 23% more carbon for the same product than would the American steel industry. The US was the largest importer of “embodied carbon”. The US bill for CO2 generated by imported goods would increase our CO2 by 14%. Are we responsible for this? Will it be charged to us in some sort of carbon market, or carbon tax, or import duty? Or will it be offset by the importing industries’ becoming carbon neutral?  While I decry the terrible pollution over Chinese and Indian cities, am I partly responsible for 14% of what they are suffering?  Even if we took back some 10% of our steel manufacturing, wouldn’t it still be by coal?

When you commute to work, is it the firm’s responsibility to put you in an electric car and charge it for free on site, or is it left to you? Do they at least give you a subsidy for the share of the commuting driving out of your total driving? The university provides commuting vans for large group car pooling. The university even charges the faculty for parking.

For another thing, what about mom and pop stores, or individual restaurants? Laguna Beach delights in having unique restaurants, and not chain ones. They are clearly at a disadvantage compared to large chain stores or restaurants, who can hire environmental experts and make deals across their supply chain. Perhaps now, or soon, businesses will arise to provide carbon offsets and advice to make small businesses carbon neutral.

In terms of third world investments for carbon neutrality, there have been questions about whether they are really accomplishing what they claim. There are companies that manage this, but how are they monitored to guarantee that they accomplish this? This is part of a regulated carbon market.

Even in a carbon market, is it the consumer who pays, the gas station, the oil company, or the individual or a conglomeration of 50,000 drillers who pays? If it is distributed down the line, how do they apportion it? If Trump succeeds in changing the regulations on gasoline, on coal, and on methane leaks, how to make it costly enough that the industries maintain the stricter standards anyway? If you are running a highly competitive oil company, do you compete on carbon neutrality, or on lower prices? Is carbon use even the responsibility of the oil company, or the consumer? Even moderately high oil prices do not seem to discourage people from buying SUVs, except they can also buy crossovers and hybrids for similar models.

I’m sure some people have some of the answers, but maybe a lot of the questions are still ours to decide about. As this movement progresses, we will assuredly learn more about it.

About Dennis SILVERMAN

I am a retired Professor of Physics and Astronomy at U C Irvine. For a decade I have been active in learning about energy and the environment, and in lecturing and attending classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UC Irvine.
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