On May 15th, the President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, officially opened the Iceland Carbon Fund’s website at a prestigious gathering with great fanfare and media attention. The founding partners of the fund are the NGOs the Icelandic Forestry Association and the Icelandic Environment Association, while the Government of Iceland, Reykjavík Energy, and Kaupþing Bank supply the financial assistance.
The aim of the Iceland Carbon Fund is to finance forestry in Iceland in order to dispel the effects of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. Plants and vegetation bind CO2 through photosynthesis, turning the carbon (C) into plant mass, while releasing the oxygen (O2). The combination of continuing deforestation, and the ever-increasing release of CO2, mostly from transportation, is among the main contributors to global warming, so forestry seems to be an obvious path to pursue in the battle against greenhouse gases. In that context, the Iceland Carbon Fund is obviously a noble idea.
Let me make one thing clear from the start. I fully believe that the Iceland Carbon Fund was created with the best of intentions and that the people behind it believed they were doing a genuinely good thing. And the idea per se, to bind CO2 through forestry, is a genuinely good idea.
Still, something has gone horribly wrong.
The fund offers individuals, companies and organizations the opportunity to ‘neutralise’ their yearly CO2 emission from transportation by paying for the planting of a sufficient number of trees to reverse the effects of the CO2 they produce. To that end, the Government of Iceland has ‘neutralised’ all their flights to foreign shores this year. And yes, that is probably a shitload of trees, in case you were wondering. Myself? Well, I would need to pay the Iceland Carbon Fund around 5000 ISK to plant 35 trees to CO2 neutralise the family’s trusted Opel Zafira.
And how is this a bad thing you may ask? Well, think of it in this context. In the past, the church sold absolution. If you committed a very small sin, you would buy the budget package and be absolved from your sin, but for a really big sin, say rape and pillage, you were obviously required to contribute more. See the similarities?
In their defence, it must be said that on the Iceland Carbon Fund’s website it is stated that this should not be regarded as an absolution of sins. They point out that the most effective way of meeting the challenge of global warming is not to neutralise CO2 emission, but to seek ways to reduce CO2 emission. But, as I stated before, it is not really the Icelandic Carbon Fund that is causing me concern.
It has hardly been two weeks since the project got off its feet, and already car dealerships are running ad campaigns claiming that every car they sell is environmentally friendly, since the dealership will pay for neutralising, nay, absolving, your new car’s CO2 emission… for the first year. This sounds all too much like the delusional gambler who always intends to pay off his gambling debts with the next big win.
Now we are being bombarded with messages from companies that have miraculously become “CO2 neutral.” Suddenly, every product you may want to buy is ‘green,’ because somewhere, someone is planting trees instead and now there is no real need for you to change your pattern of consumption. In the hands of the market, being green is not question of survival; it is a question of pushing a product.
In reality, forestry is a band-aid fix that does nothing to eliminate the real problem, which is the un-sustainable mode of living that we have chosen. We need to reduce greenhouse gases by actually driving less, not by driving more. Forestry should be our way of bringing down CO2 emission, and there is certainly enough to go around, not neutralising added CO2 emission. Myself, I bought a bike and stopped driving to work.
Sending out the message that it is even possible to somehow stay ‘neutral,’ when it comes to global warming is wrong. We should not entertain the idea of staying on the sidelines when it comes to this fight. As of now, we all belong in the ring.
To bring the discussion to a close, I applaud every true effort to protect the environment, but being truly green takes more than slapping a bumper sticker at the back of your car.