1/05/2008

Carbon Credits - the next big .NET Business Opportunity?

I believe that people would be alive today if there were a death penalty. - Nancy Reagan

When I first heard the Al Gore crowd talk about carbon credits as a solution to our purported climate problems, the first thought I had was to create a carbon credit trading web site and make a lot of money. Then I thought about it some more and I got a sense that something didn't compute.

When supposed leaders, both scientific and political, believe that buying and selling what they call carbon credits will help solve the global warming problem (if it actually is a problem), then it is time to stop and question the whole shebang.

Here’s the deal, in case you are curious. Let's say that Al Gore, with his private jets, mansions, etc., is afraid that people might call him a hypocrite for telling them to stop burning so much fuel while he is jetting around burning humongous amounts of it. He can assuage his conscience by taking a small sum of his money and buying what are called carbon credits that are supposedly equal to the value of the carbon his activity is emitting. He goes to what is called a carbon credit broker or trader, who, after taking out his (up to 10%) commission, pays the money to someone who promises not to consume the fossil fuel energy the rich consumer (our Nobel Laureate, Mr. Gore) has already consumed. Got it? Well, look, it is all really quite clear. As long as you can find someone else who will promise not to burn up 4 gazillion BTUs that you intend to keep on burning, you are helping save the world from melting down, right?

What? You say you don’t see how carbon credits slow global warming?

OK, I’ll try to explain it differently. Say you are a rich Texas businessman. You have a coal burning electric plant that is just about shot. You need to build a new one. So, you call up the carbon credit bankers and you tell them you want to help stop global warming. You are willing to close down your plant for the good of humanity. You do not mention your future plans. You think closing down your outmoded plant should be worth say, $5 million worth of carbon credits and that’s fine with them since they make their money by generating these carbon credits for sale. Besides, they don't stop to ask you too many questions.

The carbon credit traders find a billionaire who is feeling guilty because he is burning up $5 million worth of carbon credits every week or so in his factories. He writes a check for $5 million in hopes that it will go to a worthy cause, and hoping that God will see how environmentally sinless he is even though he will keep on burning up $5 million worth of carbon next week just like always. (Billionaires used to give money to churches and non-profit foundations to atone for their sins.)

Our Texas businessman smiles that broad Texas smile, accepts the money in great piety, tips his Stetson hat, and then drives off in his 10mpg Hummer to build a new plant that doesn't necessarily have any more pollution controls than the old one had.

You may think I’m satirizing, but that’s pretty much the way it works, as far as I can figure. There is a possibility that sometimes carbon credits will be paid to someone who actually does something real to keep energy consumption from rising, but there is really never any net loss of energy consumed, and in all likelihood, because humans will cheat every chance they get and there is no watchdog authority over all this scammy business, there will likely still be a net increase in energy consumption on balance.

The World Bank is currently the largest public broker of carbon purchases, with over 1,000 million dollars in its portfolio of carbon credits. Internal documents on the origins of the Bank's Prototype Carbon Fund (PCF) show that it was created as a way of making a profit. The Bank makes up to 10 per cent commission, mainly on the carbon credits it purchases for the fund it is managing. Sounds noble on the face of it, but with the World Bank's track record of accountability over the last 20 years, I wouldn't get too excited.

What the public fails to grasp amidst all this "Al Gore" style alarmism is that the global warming claims neither constitute support for alarm nor do they establish man’s responsibility for the small amount of warming that has actually occurred over the last century or so.

It isn’t just that the alarmists are trumpeting climate model results that we know must be wrong. It is that they are predicting catastrophes that couldn’t happen even if the models were right, in order to justify costly policies to try to prevent global warming. The average person conflates alarmism with science -- the result is a mishmash of misunderstanding.

I have a tip for you carbon credit gurus: Here in Central Florida, we just suffered through two days of below freezing weather. We are having a hard enough time supplying you with vegetables and citrus in the weather we have now. So, why don't you just take your global warming and your carbon credits, and take a long walk off a short pier? Or at least, have the courtesy to blow some of that hot air in our direction.