Rigour at the expense of inspiration

Martin Wright, editor of Green Futures magazine, writing yesterday at the BBC’s Green Room:

[…] stung by the accusations of flakiness, the government has announced that it is going to impose a new “gold standard” to make offset projects’ carbon accounting more rigorous.

Which is all well and good – but the first indications were that “rigorous” would be interpreted as something along the lines of the rather bureaucratic system adopted by the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism.

It would be a shame indeed if projects such as these were stigmatised as somehow second class or smeared out of fashion by a media backlash

In practice, this means your “gold” offset would fund one-millionth of the cost of cleaning up one of hundreds of Chinese coal power stations.

It might be logical, but it’s hardly seductive.

The word now is that the government is having a rethink – and quite right, too. There’s a need for rigour, sure, but it would be a shame if that came at the price of inspiration.

The sort of inspiration which comes from knowing that you’ve helped a woman in Nepal get a biogas cook-stove, freeing her from walking three hours a day to fetch firewood from dwindling forests, and then spending the rest of her waking hours in a kitchen filled with enough woodsmoke to give her and her kids chronic lung disease for life.

The inspiration that comes from hearing how you’ve enabled a Bangla family swap their dirty, dim kerosene lamp for clean solar light.

Or from learning that you’ve helped install a simple treadle pump which allows poor Indian farmers to grow crops throughout the dry season – so avoiding the need to uproot their families, taking their kids out of school, in search of sporadic work as day-labourers on building sites in cities far from home.

These are the sort of projects, funded by small-scale, voluntary offsets, which can make a tangible difference both to carbon levels, and the quality of life of some of the world’s poorest people – none of whom give a damn whether they’ve precisely balanced your emissions or not.

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