This is part 2 of A Climate Counternarrative.
You can tell that plumes of carbon dioxide tied to canopy loss are the only ones that matter by auditing the deceitful carbon accounting.
The salient point to know about the carbon accounting framework is that it mirrors what goes on in a financial statement. Emission sources such as fossil fuels are like the expenses you’d book in a profit and loss statement. Carbon stocks such as forests are like balance sheet entries.
Would-be carbon income sources could not have been better designed to benefit the few at the top while crushing the many at the bottom. They’d include allowances (the cap in cap and trade), rewards for putting energy from sanctioned sources on the grid (like solar buyback programs), and carbon offsets (indulgences). Those are chiefly sold by large landowners, the conservancies who run their hunting estates, and fossil fuel giants.
Carbon stocks get little attention beyond the upsetting realities that green finance is fueling. Noteworthy ploys include the 30×30 plan, which is set to become the biggest land grab in history, and the ongoing efforts to turn nature into an asset class. Chris Lang’s REDD Monitor and indigenous rights defense outfits like the World Rainforest Movement chronicle the failed projects, the land grabs, the forced evictions, the human rights violations, and other harrowing realities that occur behind the scenes.
These distract attention away from the fact that carbon stocks work like subsidiaries would on a balance sheet. They sport a value that fluctuates over time while keeping what goes on inside them out of scrutiny. The vast majority of carbon emissions occur inside these black boxes.
This creates a double standard. Cherry picked sources like fossil fuels and cow burps get vilified as reducible flows. Other sources get flatly ignored by non-experts. Charts and visualizations intended for the public have fine print to exclude them, track carbon stock changes, or expressly discuss industrial emission sources. Experts track carbon stock changes instead as proxies. Those rely on long-term estimate models that mostly capture land use changes while silencing internal dynamics.
Biomass energy is a good window into how these models work and what this arrangement allows. Loggers practice rotational harvesting with no land use changes. Patches of old trees soak up carbon dioxide while patches of saplings release some in their first few years. Loggers claim that this balances out over time, and thus that their overall carbon stock is constant on average — give or take what they file under Land Use 4.A.1 “Forest land remaining forest land.”
This enables biomass energy producers to argue that burning wood pellets made using forestry waste produces no (extra) carbon emissions. To wit, forestry waste emits carbon dioxide while decomposing. There is no land use change, so these get counted in carbon stock models. Counting the emissions from burning that waste would be double counting. It follows that burning biomass is a low carbon energy source. The bean counting checks out. The framework does not.