The most dangerous deception for climate protection at the moment is “Net Zero 2050.” All the climate culprits – Big Oil and corporate-friendly governments – have been quick to adopt this as the new climate target, but it has two fatal flaws. One is “net zero.” The other is “by 2050.” Both create a false sense of security. Net zero is not physically possible, nor do we have the luxury of three decades (by 2050). But the core message “net zero by 2050” is deliberately used to further delay realistic, effective climate action.
As climate scientist Peter Kalmus writes in The Guardian, “These two flaws provide cover for big oil and politicians who wish to preserve the status quo. Together they comprise a deadly prescription for inaction and catastrophically high levels of irreversible climate and ecological breakdown.” *(1)
For a start, the 2050 deadline seems comfortably distant, encouraging further postponement of climate action. “Who feels urgency over a deadline in 2050?” asks Kalmus. In contrast, the Green New Deal, presented by US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in early 2019, proposes a timeframe of just ten years. *(2) Because humanity has waited far too long, we don’t have much of a carbon budget left to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Secondly, a “net zero” lifestyle is simply not possible for a living mammalian species like humans. We have to eat. We have to move. We need to keep warm. For that, we need energy. And even “sustainable” or “green” energies (from the sun, wind, waves) have some carbon footprint (albeit much smaller than fossil fuels), and the production and later the deconstruction of facilities create partial contamination, habitat destruction and ecological damage. Humanity needs to challenge the mantra of infinite economic growth and develop a more sustainable and inclusive, caring economy.
But instead, the idea of “compensating” for the effects of an unbridled economy on the Earth system is very popular. This is because it promises that business as usual can continue, only with “compensation” for the damage through some kind of “promise of repair” elsewhere. This absurdity is the ecological equivalent of a licence to kill, if only the murderer sponsors a midwifery course or an infant vaccination programme elsewhere.
It is true that we need to think and act about carbon capture methods in view of the climate emergency and our greenhouse gas footprint, also because the greenhouse gases that have already been pumped into the atmosphere need to be removed. But to begin with, nature has always done that, if only we let it:
There is now widespread agreement that large-scale tree planting aka reforestation, as well as the regeneration of living soils, especially wetlands and peatlands, sequester enormous amounts of carbon and are the best lever for climate change mitigation. The best and most useful negative emission strategies we have are, of course: forest conservation, reforestation, regenerative agriculture and rewilding. But their implementation can only go hand in hand with a reorientation of the economy and our consciousness.
Regenerating forests and soils could even solve the entire climate crisis one day, but that will take decades, if not centuries, and we don’t have that much time left. Especially with the amounts of emissions we are still releasing. The only sensible solution is to phase out fossil fuels without further delay. As Kalmus says, “To lower the odds of civilizational collapse, society must shift into emergency mode.” And it must do so now.
According to climatologists like Manfred E. Mann, the trade of carbon certificates has great potential to initiate a change in the fossil economy worldwide. No one doubts that it is an imperfect instrument, but we are in dire straits.
But how a corrupt system distorts every idea to maintain its crooked goals is another matter. So far, carbon trading has not reduced emissions as much as hoped. What is happening is that companies and corporations have started buying forest or wetland areas on a grand scale with the “promise” of protecting their carbon sequestration potential. In return, they get the green light to continue polluting the atmosphere. This rapid increase in land purchases for “carbon offsets” has already begun to drive up land prices, leases and rents, undermining local communities and displacing small farmers and native people.
Scotland is one of the first frontlines in this globalised new money-making system, which is also contributing to widen the general gap between rich and poor even more. Peter Peacock, a former Highlands and Islands MP and experienced campaigner for land reform, recently put it this way: “The Highlands are once again being sold from under the feet of local people to external forces.” *(3) Indeed, in Scotland, bad memories of the Highland Clearances (some two hundred years ago) are coming back. And in Wales and elsewhere, too, large corporations are beginning to rip vast tracts of land out from under the feet of local people.
In the global South, it is even feared that this new wave of land grabbing will contribute to coming famines. But these far-reaching economic consequences of carbon trading are rarely discussed in the media.
Moreover, there are numerous ethical reasons why Net Zero and carbon trading are wrong. In her new book, True Economy – From Money Greed to an Economy of Care, Vandana Shiva summarises how carbon trading violates all ethical notions of of Earth jurisprudence: *(4)
“Firstly, fossil fuel pollution and the violation of the planetary boundaries violates the rights of Mother Earth, of Gaia. Carbon trade violates natures’s rights by denying integrity of the Earth’s ecological processes. The Earth does not exist for the billionaires so they can continue to exploit her to make limitless profits. The Earth is the basis of our lives and well-being. She creates the infrastructure for life through her complex, self-organised ecological processes to create, sustain and regenerate life. Carbon trade is a violation of of the rights of the Earth to her living carbon which is the basis of life.
“Secondly, the dead fossilised carbon and its pollution cannot be equated with living carbon in plants and soil. A “bad” cannot be exchanged with a “good.” The language of decarbonisation fails to recognise that ‘we are carbon based life forms’ (Andre Leu) . Life is living carbon. Equating living carbon with dead fossil carbon is a false equivalence.”
Delusions of grandeur: CCS and geoengineering
Without regard for ethics and social justice, Big Oil continues to deceive the public (see Part 1). “Net Zero” is based on an unrealistic technocratic dream called “Carbon Capture and Storage” (CCS). Yes, there is a famous carbon capture plant in Iceland that promises to extract carbon from the air, process it and store it underground. In Iceland, this can work to a limited extent, because there is plenty of volcanic heat energy that can be used for this, and suitable cavities in the underground rock strata. But even there, this method is very expensive and therefore not suitable for worldwide use.
There are around fifty smaller CCS plants worldwide, of which about twenty are in operation and the rest are at some stage of development. The goal is to capture carbon directly from coal-fired power plant emissions. This is supposed to lead to “clean coal,” a “solution” shamelessly promoted by the Polish coal industry at the COP24 climate conference in Poland. *(5) But even in the best case scenario, CCS can only capture 90 percent of carbon emissions. And trying to do this on a global scale and requiring coal-fired power plants to equip them with CCS plants would make coal even less profitable than it already is. So why not spend the money on renewable energies?
But CCS is not only used to promote the coal sector. All fossil fuel producers and their right-wing liberal think tanks (see Part 6) love techno-fixes like CCS. Any glimmer of hope of being able to tame carbon in the future is immediately used as an excuse to keep the fossil business-as-usual going. “Oh, they plan to clean up our dirt in the future? Well, let’s produce more dirt then! “Even when a proposed technology is clearly not a solution, the constant repetition of such fake news has a hypnotic effect. If you have enough influence over the media, which is clearly the case with Big Oil (see Part 7), it will take years before the public will realise the lies.
The carbon processing in CCS is hugely energy intensive, and injecting the carbon into the rock layers would release natural hydrocarbons in many places, so CCS could easily create more atmospheric carbon than is removed in the first place. *(6) The whole thing is a farce, and scientists have long dismissed it as a global solution. Yet Bill Gates promotes CCS, geoengineering techniques and other dreamy non-solutions in his 2021 book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. *(7)
Gates is right that carbon storage technology is effective in that it diverts public money from governments to the fossil fuel industry. By investing in such non-solutions, the fossil fuel industry can get even more subsidies and tax breaks. Here is a well-done Australian satire on this:
Honest Government Ad | Carbon Capture & Storage
Satirical video clip by The Juice Media about CCS and the abuse of subsidies
Warning: contains abusive language.
“Net Zero 2050” and the web of deceit
Since COP26 in Glasgow (November 2021), all major oil companies (e.g. Exxon, Shell, BP, Chevron) *(8) suddenly seem to agree and have nimbly announced “ambitions” (Exxon) or “targets” (Chevron) for “net zero 2050.” Do they really suddenly agree with climate protection as if the forty years of their climate change denial had never existed? Beautiful advertising brings consumers closer to the self-confident, deeply green(-washed) corporate identities. But behind these comforting facades, the billionaires skimming profits from fossil fuels are funding massive campaigns to boycott any progress on climate protection (more about this in Part 6).
But this web of deceit has become fragile. Only if there are sufficient distractions (Covid-19, monkey pox, Ukraine war) will no one find the time or the audience to question anything. Even many well-meaning climate activists and groups fall for the “Net Zero 2050” lie, which only further postpones real, meaningful climate action. And that’s exactly what Big Oil wants (see Part 1).
The answer is: Cut the crap, i.e. the “net” in “net zero.” And change the 2050 to 2035.
The fight to take back our planet
Part 1: The fossil fuel industry’s mind-bending strategies
Part 2: The fossil fuel industry’s mind-bending strategies (continued)
Part 3: An urgent warning about “Net Zero 2050”
Part 4: Dirty Oil: It’s not just about carbon!
Part 5: Fossil giants, free trade, and war
Part 6: How the Far Right network rules (not just) the climate debate
Part 7: The shocking extent of the Far Right influence network
Part 8: Climate crisis, corona and conspiracy theories
Part 9: How conspiracy theories only serve one master
Part 10: The “Great Reset” and totalitarianism vs the real green revolution
Fred Hageneder is author of the book “Healthy Planet – Global Meltdown or Global Healing.” https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/earth-spirit-healthy-planet