Zero the Carbon

A colleague at Flagpole pointed me to this, a partially, if unintentionally, hilarious article in the ATL newspaper about a shopping district billing itself as the nation’s first carbon-neutral zone. Excellent. A local firm is auditing the businesses for the their carbon footprint to tell them how much they should pay in off-sets to 1)feel better about it and 2) use the good feeling to advertise the district so that shoppers can feel better about spending money there. Rinse, repeat.

While this could be seen as the latest chapter in the annals of green marketing — another emission in all the talk about global warming — there’s actually substance behind the boast.

Is there ever. It’s paper-like, six inches by two-and-a-half.

The carbon-free zone is the result of a pilot project engineered by a local environmental company — an intricate transaction linking 18 merchants, a trading exchange in Chicago, a charitable foundation in Atlanta and thousands of acres of forest in rural Georgia.

Okay, so the landlord, seeing the genius of the plan, actually takes up paying for the audits if the tenants will pay their own offsets. Fair enough. But you see where this is going, right? No? Okay, try this.

Sandor[father-in-law of the auditing company founder] started the Chicago Climate Exchange, a market where carbon credits and offsets are traded like pork belly futures in the interest of fighting climate change through capitalism. Time magazine called him “the father of carbon trading.”

So… will off-sets allow us to just put our carbon-conscience on the credit card and otherwise continue with our as-you-were sets of priorities? It sort of answers itself. The reporter, before providing some glorious quotes from the business owners, does site the precedent of Papal Indulgences as a reasonably-related precursor. But… those quotes:

“The carbon thing wasn’t the issue. People were more concerned about the cost,” says Brian Jolly of Half-Moon Outfitters, a store on North Highland.

The price of the offsets ranged from $10 a year for Lulu Blue, a petite sweet shop, to $600 for Highland Tap, a steakhouse. Restaurants inevitably leave a larger carbon footprint with their sizable staffs and higher utility use.

“I’m the biggest polluter over here,” says the Tap’s general manager, Ron Haynes, who commutes 30 miles from Peachtree City [emphasis mine] and employs 35 people.

He’s still unsure whether his check bought anything more than a fuzzy feeling of virtue.

“It sort of made sense to me when they explained it,” he says. “But I do wonder what I’m doing to curb global warming. It feels like I’m just spending money to make up for the damage I’m doing to the environment. I guess it’s better than doing nothing.”

Is it? Inquiring minds want to know – not necessarily the answer to that question but, as comes up oftener and oftener these days, whether these are the only two choices. Especially when you have to live 30 miles from work.