[Coral-List] carbon offsetting AND the need for innovative problem solvers to halt climate change

Douglas Fenner douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
Sun May 12 22:48:11 UTC 2019

      Well, removing the root cause of the problem is certainly vastly
better than "mitigation" by band-aid solutions or just "learning to live
with it" such as learning to live with dead reefs, temperatures so high
that people die every summer, and so on.  I can't agree more that the cause
of the problem MUST be fixed for reef survival and the survival of many
humans and avoiding a decrease in the quality of life for many if not most
people in the world.
      The problem is that avoiding flying and other consumption that causes
emission (driving cars, heating houses in the winter, using cement, and a
myriad of other things) calls for self-sacrifice which I don't think will
ever become popular.  I'm American, and looking at American culture now,
there is just about no way that is going to work.  Everyone wants to make
more money and consume more.  Or waste more, as exemplified by the many
American garages full of stuff people buy  and don't use, no space left for
a car in the garage, and so stuff gets put into "mini-storage" places.
People with more money in the modern American culture can't resist buying
more stuff, which they mostly store or throw away or donate instead of
using.  Consumer purchases are 70% of the US economy, and everything is
built around growing the economy endlessly larger.  People are hooked by
all this, everybody's in it.  There used to be a phrase, "the rat race" for
working hard endlessly.  I hadn't heard it for a long time so asked
someone, the answer they gave me was that nobody talks about it "because
the rats won."  And, Americans work shorter hours by far than people in
some societies like Japan, where working to about 10pm is the norm for
businessmen, I've read.  (mind you, in other societies there isn't nearly
as much pressure to work so hard).
      But the basic problem with self-sacrifice (voluntarily consuming
less) is that the effect of one person doing it is undetectable (even for
flying, the plane will fly whether you are on it or not, and the plane will
emit the same CO2, if they have less passengers they load more freight).
And it is trivially easy to be a free-rider, consume all you want and share
in any benefits that those who self-sacrifice produce.  This is the most
extreme case of the "tragedy of the commons" I know of.  All the incentives
are to work harder, earn more, so you can spend more, buy more, consume
more, waste more.
       There IS a very, very small "minimalist" movement.  They say that
once you leave the rat race and stop trying to get ahead of the Joneses and
endlessly make more money and stop buying things you don't need, suddenly
you have lots more spare time, you don't have to work at a high-paying job
you hate, and your quality of life goes way up.  Will anything but a tiny
fraction of the public do that??  I have my doubts.  It would be great if
they did.  But I don't see it happening.
         We need to find things that actually solve the problem and reduce
the emissions, and self-sacrifice has essentially NO chance of doing that
(especially as quickly as it must be done), unless everyone converts to
minimalist living almost immediately.  Not going to happen (and if
everybody did it economies might well collapse).  Among other things, the
majority of the world, including the largest countries, are going full
blast to grow their economies (to get out of poverty), including
consumption, and they all want to eat much more meat, and fly whenever they
want, and drive cars instead of riding bicycles, and on and on.
        So it is a wonderful, altruistic idea, but it will not solve our
problem.  Even one whole country doing this will not solve it, the whole
world (including, notably, the USA) must do it in a vastly more extensive
way than they have even proposed, for it to work.  So far all the good
words of the Paris agreement have not made even a tiny dent in emissions,
and this year emissions are even above what they have been, since some
economies are doing well (at least for the moment).
       So unfortunately, not flying is not going to be a solution.
Projections are (unfortunately) that in coming decades, the amount of
flying that is going to occur is going to grow dramatically, and a few
self-sacrificing people won't make any dent in that.  It would be wonderful
if it worked, but it has essentially zero chance of working (unless a
miracle happens and suddenly everyone becomes a minimalist.  That certainly
won't happen in the US, nor will it in developing countries that want to
get out of abject poverty (as well they should)).
        On the other hand, flying carbon-neutral is surprisingly
inexpensive.  Countries could just mandate that airline tickets must
include carbon offset, and it would increase flying costs less that taxes
do.  Then they could do the same for gasoline for cars and trucks.  And so
on.  Probably won't happen because that would raise prices.
        Sorry to be such a pessimist.  But we need solutions that will
actually solve the problem, and self-sacrifice has no chance of doing it.
The situation isn't hopeless, after all we know the basics of what the
problem is and how to solve it (in at least general terms).  The world's
societies have to take decisive action, but they are dragging their feet
and delay makes it so action has to be even more drastic and expensive to
reduce emissions enough to avoid disaster (though still orders of magnitude
cheaper than the costs of inaction).
Cheers, Doug

On Sun, May 12, 2019 at 8:31 AM MariaJung89--- via Coral-List <
coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> wrote:

> Hi Emma, Franziska and all coral listers,
> I´m glad this topis has been raised which I personally think is very
> important and overdue. I absolutely agree that avoiding/reducing is much
> better than offsetting.
> My motivation to study Marine Biology was ocean conservation and I ended
> up studying the resilience of corals to bleaching and their capacity to
> recovery. A very important aspect since bleaching events are increasing in
> frequency and severity - which we all know and this is highlighted in every
> paper we write and in every conference talk we give.
> However, to do so, I travelled from Bremen to Australia which brings an
> enormous amount of CO2 emissions with it. Ironically, to be able to attend
> the ICRS next year, I would have to do the same the other way around since
> I no longer live in Bremen. So unfortunately, I´m contributing more to the
> climate crisis than to its solutions and I´m sure that I´m not alone with
> these thoughts since many projects require field trips/meetings all over
> the world.
> Without doubt - conferences like the ICRS are extremely important because
> a large proportion in science is based on communicating and connecting on a
> global scale. Nevertheless, I think there is an urgent need of improving
> our networking and maybe even moving away from the "traditional" science
> structure so that we will be able to organize global (and regional)
> conferences/meetings in a sustainable way which exeeds the important aspect
> of avoiding/reducing plastics at the events. This is necessary since we are
> already in the middle of the climate crisis.
> So my question is: Are there any thoughts/ideas/developments towards
> alternative approaches, for example purely online-based conferences? This
> would perhaps also be a good topic for a session at ICRS?
> I´m looking forward to reading your comments, ideas, inputs.
> Cheers,
> Maria Jung
> M.Sc. Marine Biology
> -----Original-Nachricht-----
> Betreff: Re: [Coral-List] carbon offsetting AND the need for innovative
> problem solvers to halt climate change
> Datum: 2019-05-10T15:00:15+0200
> Von: "Franziska Elmer via Coral-List" <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
> An: "emmalassiter at gmail.com" <emmalassiter at gmail.com>, "
> coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov" <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
> Hi emma and coral listers,
> Awesome to hear you want to assess the quality of carbon offsetters. I
> think this is veey important. Please let me know what you find out. I
> personally use either of these whenever i fly:
> https://www.oceanfdn.org/calculator
>  i like this one because they plant seagrass which is important for coral
> reefs. But i dont know how well they monitor the plots so I am unsure if
> they are a good program of actually offsetting what they say they offset
> (if you find out please let me know)
> Www.myclimate.org
> I like myclimate because i know their story and they were one of the first
> offsetters out there (if not the first). I trust their offsetting as they
> have strict standards they follow. Plus they are swiss like me.
> Please also keep in mind that offsetting is only the last option. Reducing
> is much better and with the severity of the climate change problem (a
> crisis), every conservationist or environmentally concious person should
> focus in reducing their footprint drastically and only offset what is not
> possible to reduce. Put time and energy asside to work on reduction plans
> and think outside the box:  can meetings be combined, can they be done via
> video, can you take the train, bus, a boat instead? What could you
> accomplish in the extra time given to you if you choose to travel at a
> slower pace? Undisturbed working time to finish up a manuscript may not be
> a drawback but a bonus from less carbon intensive travels.
> As conservationist who want society and our governments to take climate
> change serious we have to speak with actions. The next ICRS meeting in 2020
> for example will likely make a statement about climate change and may call
> for rapid and unproceeded actions. But how strong is that statement going
> to be if the conference is held like it has always been with 1000s of
> people flying to Bremen from all over the world? By then we have know about
> the rapid and unproceeded changes that need to be done for almost 2 years
> and were inactive in transforming our conference for almost 1/6 of the time
> we have to act to save the coral reefs and a livable planet. The statement
> made at the end of the conference will be a lot stronger if we make a big
> effort to reduce (not offset) the emissions caused by it. Either hold
> several smaller meetings that people can travel to without flying. Or have
> as many people as possible arrive by cargo ships, trains and other low
> carbon ways of transport. Or cancel the
>  conference and ask participants to dedicate that week towards actions
> that will lead to climate justice. All these actions would speak strongly
> for the severity of the situation. If we continue as we are now, we will
> reach 1.5 degrees warming in 15.5 years (https://climateclock.net) after
> that our coral reefs will go extinct and we will have to find new careers.
> Our number one priority should be to reduce carbon emissions drastically
> world wide and we should dedicate a large amountof our time and energy
> towards this.
> There is still hope and we are smart innovative people with an incredible
> talent for creative problem solving. Think back to a time in your career,
> when you had an impossible problem to solve and little time and money to do
> so, either in the field, in the lab, working with locals or wherever else.
> Let this inspire you of what you are capable of doing. And then use this
> talent to find creative solutions to lower your own, your companies, your
> countries or the worlds carbon emissions. We are some of the smartest and
> most talented creative problem solvers on this planet and our talents are
> desperately needed to solve this crisis.
> Sorry for going a bit off topic but I think this is very important to be
> said.
> Franziska Elmer
> Marine Ecology Lecturer
> School for Field Studies
> Turks and Caicos Islands
> Felmer at fieldstudies.org
> Sent from the octopuses garden.
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Douglas Fenner
Ocean Associates, Inc. Contractor
NOAA Fisheries Service
Pacific Islands Regional Office
PO Box 7390
Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799  USA

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