Carbon neutral sounds great, until you realize that it is not the answer


By Steve Austin

Stories like this make me scream, silently: breathless reporting about such and such city, nation, corporation going “carbon neutral!” This sounds so cool! So progressive! S0 painless! So easy!

But in reading this particular story – like many others – it becomes clear that all the carbon neutrality refers to is electricity generation and some transportation. “The carbon-neutral goal, as in other cities, only includes emissions from transportation, electricity, heating, and cooling (not, for instance, the footprint of the items that people buy that are made elsewhere and shipped in).”

Well of course, that’s the fucking easy part! In most countries, electricity generation provides approximately 20% of total energy use. The other 80% is always fossil fuels.

There is no shaming in this critique. Copenhagen’s goal is extremely admirable and should be replicated immediately by every city in the world.

But the carbon accounting listed above accounts for less than half of all carbon emissions that make the city run. There is no accounting for the emissions in building materials and construction, embodied emissions, infrastructure maintenance, all consumer products, most food, air transportation to and from the city, etc, etc.

And anyway, we must get to BELOW ZERO, not “carbon neutral.” Even if we were to succeed in becoming “carbon neutral” as a civilization, all it would mean is that we would stop the atmospheric CO2 concentration from rising. But there are already too many negative impacts from the CURRENT CO2 level. Therefore, we must be working on REDUCING CO2 levels. And this story absolutely shows that Copenhagen is not doing that. At best, they are helping to slow the increase. That ain’t enough.

Thus, it is misleading reporting to state that Copenhagen will be a carbon neutral city in 6 years. And it is deceptive to not investigate ALL the city’s emissions. This is irresponsible because it gives people the impression that becoming zero carbon/negative carbon really wont be that hard. That it won’t mean much change in their lives. But it will, it will. Far better for stories like these to report on the great strides, but also allow for an honest accounting of ALL carbon emissions associated with the city and what zero carbon will mean to it.

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