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Sorry. Prince Ea’s apology to future generations is nice, but carbon trading won’t stop climate change

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2015-04-22-095839_1128x1024_scrotUS rapper Prince Ea put out a video this week to mark Earth Day. It’s called “Dear Future Generations: Sorry”, and it’s gone viral, with more than 25 million views on Facebook.

In the video Prince Ea walks into a completely barren, flat landscape. He stands next to a few dried out tree trunks, and he recites his apology:

For future generations the Amazon rainforest is the Amazon desert. Trees have gone. Prince Ea tells us how amazing trees are:

I mean we literally breathe the air that they are creating.
They clean up our pollution, our carbon.
They store and purify water and give us medicine that cures our diseases, food that feeds us.

He has a go at Fox News for denying climate change and Sarah Palin for saying she loves the smell of fossil fuels.

Then he tells us we can change things:

You know what? Cut the beat.
I’m not sorry. This future I do not accept it.
Because an error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.
We can redirect this. How?

Prince Ea’s proposed solution is to “look at the root and not to the branches of government, not to the politicians run by corporations”. This generation has to take care of the planet.

We must globally warm our hearts and change the climate of our souls and realise that we are not apart from nature, we are a part of nature. And to betray nature is to betray us. To save nature is to save us.

The song finishes and we see Prince Ea sitting on a felled tree. And this is where everything unravels. He tells us that “for the past several weeks I’ve been here in Africa, the heart of Africa.” Of course, Prince Ea knows that Africa is a vast continent and not a country.

It turns out that Prince Ea has partnered with “Stand for Trees”, a project founded by Code REDD and USAID. Of course, Prince Ea knows that USAID provides money from the US government and Code REDD’s members and partners include corporations. But didn’t Prince Ea tell us to look at the root, and “not to the branches of government, not to the politicians run by corporations”?

Prince Ea tells us that,

By standing for trees, not only can you save the lives of trees, help forest communities and protect the rights of animals to live in their homes, but you will also balance the amount of pollution that you yourself give off, your everyday activities. Making you a part of the solution and not the problem.

According to Prince Ea, then, all we need to do is spend US$10 on a Stand for Trees Certificate. In a press release, Karin Burns, Executive Director of Code REDD, tells us that,

“It is time for us to stop waiting on others to address climate change and to take action ourselves. If we protect threatened forests by making them more valuable alive than dead, we have a chance to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change on our planet.”

The obvious problem with this argument is that to address climate change we need to stop emissions from fossil fuels. The best way to do this is to leave them underground. (This is one of the eight suggestions that 17 leading scientists and economists make in their Earth Statement, published on Earth Day. They also suggest protecting forests – but not offsetting the avoided emissions against continued burning of fossil fuels.)

There are many good reasons to protect forests, including their role in storing carbon. But trading the carbon stored in forests against continued emissions from fossil fuels does not reduce emissions from fossil fuels.

A recent paper published in Nature, shows that as the climate warms, the Amazon rainforest is losing its capacity to absorb carbon. Over the past decade the carbon absorbed by the Amazon has decreased by one third. This makes the need to reduce emissions from fossil fuels all the more urgent, and is why distractions like carbon trading are so dangerous.

Prince Ea’s video is a clever piece of advertising and fundraising for Stand for Trees’ REDD projects. But imagine if the projects were focussed on forest protection rather than generating carbon offsets. There would be no need for expensive consultants to fly to Kenya or the Democratic Republic of Congo to take careful measurements of the carbon stored in the trees and produce very long and boring reports. More of the money raised by Stand for Trees would be available to protect the forests, and more money could go to the communities living in and near the forests.

And while people could feel good about buying a Stand for Trees Certificate, they would not be under the illusion that the threat of climate change has gone away.
 

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24 Comments

  1. Hi Chris,

    The statement in the title of this article is badly formulated. It won’t STOP deforestatino alone but it will directly HELP.
    Deforestation continues to be one of the greatest carbon emitters of greenhouse gases (17% according to this report http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/global.html, and more according to others I’ve seen). That’s more than the entire transport or agriculture sectors.
    This directly negates various statements you’ve made, such as THE best way to stop emissions is to leave fossil fuels in the ground. That would be ONE way, and stopping deforestation is another.
    To say that avoiding deforestation does not combat carbon is disingenuous and unscientific. You have misused that Nature paper which obviously regards the Amazon as a whole, and does not directly affect REDD or protected areas. By your reasoning we might as well torch the entire Amazon and it would make no difference to CO2 levels instead.
    This is a triumph for Code REDD, the money WILL be used to benefit communities within the Amazon because Code REDD only support projects that apply CCB Standards (http://www.coderedd.org/about-code-redd/code-of-conduct/), and CCB Standards require a community benefit sharing policy as part of REDD projects. This means that a percentage of REDD revenues (a certificate bought from Code REDD, for instance) goes directly to communities.
    This is a perfect example of REDD working.
    Why don’t you start an anti-fossil fuels lobby instead Chris?

  2. @David S. – I’ll deal with your points one at a time:

    1. I suggest you re-read the headline: “Sorry. Prince Ea’s apology to future generations is nice, but carbon trading won’t stop climate change”. No mention of deforestation.

    2. The EPA website that you link to states that Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry account for 17% of 2004 global greenhouse gas emissions. If you look at this graph, you’ll see that since then emissions from forests are fairly stable, but emissions from burning fossil fuels have continued to rise:

    That’s from a 2009 paper by Guido van der Werf in Nature Geoscience.

    More recent research by Winrock International and Woods Hole Research Center concludes that “Tropical deforestation accounts for about 10 percent of the world’s heat-trapping emissions.”

    3. I don’t say that avoiding deforestation does not combat carbon. As I wrote in the article, “There are many good reasons to protect forests, including their role in storing carbon.” But when the carbon stored in forests is traded against continued emissions from burning fossil fuels, there is no reduction in emissions. The one cancels out the other assuming there is no fraud, that measurements are accurate, that the forest remains standing for the next 100 years, and that the loggers or oil palm companies don’t just move to another area and destroy the forest there.

    4. I do not believe we should torch the entire Amazon. But if the Amazon is not going to go up in smoke we urgently need to stop climate change.

    5. Some of the money raised by the US$10 certificates may go to the communities. My point is that a larger percentage would go to the communities if we excluded the costs of measuring and certifying the carbon.

    6. You describe this as “a perfect example of REDD working”. My point is that REDD as a carbon trading mechanism does not reduce emissions (see point 3) and therefore does not stop climate change.

    7. There already are various anti-fossil fuel campaigns – there’s the Guardian’s Keep it in the Ground campaign, Oil Change International, Oil Watch, 350.org, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and many more that are advocating keeping fossil fuels in the ground. The problem with REDD as a carbon trading mechanism is that it’s a dangerous distraction to keeping fossil fuels in the ground, and it provides a massive loophole that allows burning fossil fuels to continue.

  3. Chris, ok but what the “Sorry” video addresses is REDD and not carbon trading as such. Carbon trading is the kind of term that sets off alarm bells in everyone’s head and concerns the trading of countries’ emissions deficits and credits.
    It is very important to realise that the vast majority of REDD, and certainly what Code REDD – the producer of the video – deals in, is not carbon trading on the inter-governmental carbon market per se but works on the VOLUNTARY carbon market. So, little to do with cap-and-trade, for instance, which is the essence of carbon trading.
    Some points:
    2. Here’s a recent (2014) PwC report saying deforestation accounts for 24% of carbon emissions and 20% of greenhouse gases globally, so it’s all relative. I am happy to accept Winrock and WHRC’s 10% as it has little bearing on REDD’s importance (see other points below).
    Brazil is currently having a deforestation crisis. It’s peaking, and we need all the initiatives we can get, REDD is very important in this regard.
    Be the exact level of carbon emissions from deforestation as they may, REDD projects still compensate or break even, in your view, with 10 – 20%. I’m happy with that as far as the carbon aspect is concerned.
    This is because REDD’s carbon benefits are only one part, to my mind the least important part, of its benefits. REDD promotes a whole host of other benefits, which seem to me undeniable: Biodiversity, ecosystem services, preservation of indigenous land (see for example the Paiter Suruí REDD project, e.g. http://www.katoombagroup.org/incubator/project.php?id=210).
    4. I totally agree that we should address the other sources of carbon emissions directly such as transport and agricultural sector, but this does not negate REDD’s usefulness. See point 2.
    5. The income benefits to communities would not be there without carbon finance. A REDD project which I developed in Pará is predicted to have revenues of USD 3 million over 30 years. That’s USD 30,000 for communities to fund environmentally sustainable community economic activities which would not have existed without the REDD project.
    Take that and the “worst case” carbon scenario of REDD which is carbon broke even, and I’d say that’s REDD doing its job.
    This Code REDD will generate millions of USD for communities in the Amazon, directed towards environmentally sustainable development. It is excellent.

  4. @David S. – Point by point:

    1. Stand for Trees is a carbon trading scheme. Yes, it’s voluntary, but it is carbon trading. Here’s how Ecosystem Marketplace describes the video: “Ea implores his fans to ‘balance the amount of pollution that you yourself give off’ by purchasing offsets through the Stand for Trees program.” You can’t have carbon offsets without carbon trading.

    2. I’ve written to Christopher K Knight at pwc to ask him to provide a source for the statement that “Deforestation accounts for some 24% of carbon dioxide emissions and almost 20% of greenhouse gas emissions globally”.

    3. We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, not shuffle them around the place through crazily complex carbon trading mechanisms like REDD. We need to keep fossil fuels underground. See the Earth Statement: “Respecting the global carbon budget means leaving at least three quarters of all known fossil fuel reserves in the ground.”

    I agree that there are lots of benefits of preserving forests. But REDD as a carbon trading mechanism has a really big disadvantage in that it allows pollution from burning fossil fuels to continue.

    I am aware of the Paiter Suruí REDD project.

    4. As I pointed out in the original post, “trading the carbon stored in forests against continued emissions from fossil fuels does not reduce emissions from fossil fuels”.

    5. You write that, “The income benefits to communities would not be there without carbon finance.” That’s only because the project developers took the decision to finance the project by selling carbon offsets. My point is that if they had decided to finance the project by raising money, say, on the back of a video by Prince Ea, asking for US$10 for a “Stand for Trees Certificate” that had nothing to do with carbon, then more of the US$10 could go to the community.

    I’d love to hear more about the REDD project you developed in Pará. US$3 million revenues over 30 years doesn’t sound like very much (or is that US$3 million per year?). When did the project start? How much money has it raised so far? How much of this has gone to the communities? What price are you getting for REDD credits?

    The US$30,000 that you say is available for communities is only 1% of the US$3 million revenue. Where will the rest of the money go?

  5. Hi Chris, although I personally would love to give you full and open details of the project I work on, my boss wouldn’t agree to what would amount to negative publicity on this site, which the project can’t afford.
    But I’m willing to tell you a few things, I hope you’ll appreciate that they are off the record:
    1) the project reinvests the carbon credit revenue into developing sustainable business which creates jobs for communities in some of Brazil’s least developed areas;
    2) the 1% community benefit is a “donation”, but the vast majority of the project’s development work stems from point 1);
    3) carbon income which is not reinvested into sustainable business development covers the project developers costs and employees salaries. Imagine the opportunity cost of keeping forest intact rather than raising livestock or harvesting timber, let me tell you REDD is far less lucrative, perhaps 25%. That may serve to quell some of the hysteria around REDD too.
    4) (and this can be in response to your point 5) there ARE NO funding mechanisms available for keeping forest standing in this particular area and thus you can’t in reality just magic community income or community development projects out of nothing Chris. In this way REDD is additional, which is by the way one of REDD projects’ elegibility conditions: REDD projects cannot be developed where forest would have been conserved anyway.
    This is an important point, think about it before proposing alternative forest conservation initiatives to REDD.

  6. There are many good reasons to protect forests, including their role in storing carbon. But trading the carbon stored in forests against continued emissions from fossil fuels does not reduce emissions from fossil fuels.

    I agree with this quote from article above.

    The part that spoke to me about Prince Ea’s video was his heart felt apology to the future for what we have done, that includes excessive emissions. It is the heart that spoke to me. His emphasis is on trees. Reducing emissions remains the highest priority for reducing greenhouse gases. Protecting our forest is another way to reduce emissions of CO2. On review of the video, I have to recognize that he did imply that support for trees negates our fossil fuel use, showing an LA Freeway. I disagree with that. The forest of Malaysia are cut to grow palm oil, giving emissions comparable to Los Angeles fossil fuel use. Both are major contributors to climate change. So, reducing fossil fuel emissions is the highest priority. However, reducing emissions from clear cutting forest, burning firewood, rotting vegetables in landfills emitting methane are also important.

    In addition to holding carbon or sequestering new carbon, preserving trees creates a habitat to stimulates biodiversity at a time where climate change is a real threat to wipe out species totally. The ability to adapt is encouraged by available forest for plants and animals to migrate to when warming makes their old location not suitable. Also, survival of many species needs a large gene pool of each species to reduce the vulnerability in breeding from too few individuals of a species. So, creating forest sequesters carbon and creates habitat for bio diversity improving the already difficult opportunity for many species to survive.

    Some how there needs to be a way for the economy to support preserving the carbon storage of forest that exist and the creation of new forest to sequester carbon in our mission to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere already from past emissions. I am uncertain about the Stand for Trees program, or the links to USAID for that program. I certainly oppose genetically modified trees. However, I support his request “Whatever way you choose to stand for trees, do it.”

    Eli

  7. @Eli, interesting commentary. There is no need to doubt Stand for Trees’ quality legitimacy. I do not work for them by the way, but I do work for another company in the forest carbon sector.
    Stand for Trees is an initiative by Code REDD, which promotes and sells credits from REDD (carbon/ forest conservation projects) projects. They only sell the ones which represent best practices in the sector, as I mentioned all projects sold must apply CCB standards. http://www.climate-standards.org/ccb-standards/.
    In this sense their projects will not promote GM or other non-native plantation in any way! Far from it, they are designed to promote environmental and social sustainability, at their very core!!
    This Stand for Trees project is supported by US AID, their the international development arm of the US Government and the largest funding body in the environmental sector. Screening to obtain their funding is, as you may imagine, extremely rigorous, and again, represents best practices in the sector.
    Just because a program or initiative appears on this site is no reason to think it a scam or illegitimate! Don’t believe the hype!!! :)

  8. Very interesting article, but I must say that I enjoyed the discussion that followed even more. I’d love to go further into this and put in some more research, however time doesn’t permit me to do so at the moment so here it goes…

    Chris, Let me start by saying that I agree with you (and your sources) when you talk about fossil fuels being our biggest environmental issue and that carbon trading is by no means the best way to prevent climate change or offsetting current emissions. With that being said it seems to me that your biggest issue with the Stand for Trees’ project is the opportunity costs associated with it. Once again I have to agree with you here. $10 spent on a SFT’s certificate is $10 that could have been spent on one of the anti-fossil fuel organizations that you mention above, which I believe would have a larger positive impact on the environment in the long run.

    My only counter argument is that even a small positive impact is better than no impact or even a negative one. I can only assume that Prince Ea’s video led to an increase in sales of SFT certificates and if nothing else an increase in traffic to the SFT’s website which at least has people thinking about the topic of environmental protection. Unfortunately as the value of education decreases and the amount of blind consumption increases around the world (with exceptions of course) it seems like everything we do needs to be a sales pitch. It’s much easier to sell the idea of saving scenic green trees from chainsaws and bulldozers than it is to sell the idea of preserving raw oil buried hundreds of meters under the earth’s surface. My biggest concern right now is public awareness of the facts and reality of climate change. I’ll take any help we can get at the moment. There’s a large portion of or population that has yet to acknowledge the fact that global warming even exists and that really scares me. Until entire nations, and eventually the world, can come together to work on solving the environmental crisis, we will continue on a downward spiral which will lead us to a degraded planet for future generations. A few members of humanity doing everything they can will never amount to all of humanity doing just a little bit.

    (Like I said I wrote this with limited research and I am by no means an expert on the topic, but I am curious to see responses to my stance)

  9. I’ll keep this short. I agree with much of what this article says, but as I quickly scroll through the comments, I see zero mention of one of the greatest causes of climate change and environmental devastation – the food most of us eat. If we’re to be held personally accountable for the future of the planet, then I see it as a moral imperative that we consider the vast impact of our food choices. The movie Cowspiracy goes into great detail about the ecological nightmare that is animal agriculture. On any scale, it is unsustainable. And, yes, I’m a vegan – a flaming, passionate, self-righteous, holier-than-thou vegan ;) But, seriously, these facts can’t be ignored. http://www.cowspiracy.com

  10. I can’t really see anything wrong with preserving forests. Isn’t this what SFT is about?

    If there is another organization that you feel is more effective in preserving forests/rivers/oceans (same same, as it’s all connected) please let it be known.
    Thanks,
    Oli

  11. @Oli – Yes, protecting forests is a good idea.

    But Stand for Trees sells carbon credits from REDD projects. The problem with this is that (as the headline to this post clearly points out) carbon trading won’t stop climate change.

    REDD may reduce greenhouse gas emissions in one place, but by selling carbon credits, it allows greenhouse gas pollution to continue somewhwere else. The one cancels out the other.

    To address climate change we need to find ways of leaving fossil fuels in the ground, not find ever more complex ways of justifying continued business as usual. A while ago I wrote a piece about why I think trading forest carbon is a bad idea.

    If we don’t address climate change, the world’s rainforests are going to go up in smoke. The fires in Indonesia this year provide a good example of what this might look like.

    As I’m sure you know, there are lots of organisations out there working on protecting forests. Here’s a handful of organisations that I like – many focussed on the rights of indigenous peoples and communities (in no particular order):

    World Rainforest Movement, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, FERN, Forest Monitor, Centre for Environment and Development, Forest Peoples Programme, Civic Response, CIMI, HuMA, AMAN, TERRA, Rainforest Foundation, Robin Wood, Environmental Investigation Agency, Pro-Regenwald, Client Earth, Rainforest Rescue, Global Witness, Rainforest Action Network, Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, Sustainable Development Institute, Urgewald.

    (Obviously this isn’t an endorsement of everything these organisations do or may do in the future – apologies to any organisation I forgot about…)

  12. what the… you dont have to stop the climate bull shit you have to safe the trees thats what hes about!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. Very interesting debate indeed. Prince EA has great stimulation and should be abused for all good environment projects. He does it perfectly for getting attention of people to the topic and issue.

    Yet when I went to the website of Stand for Trees I immediatelly felt that US business approach to charity. Give me the money and I’ll make sure some part of it gets to the cause.

    Therefore Googling brought me here.

    Yet as stated in the comments, Prince has a strong personality and fantastic communication abilities. So I hope other organizations get that idea and use it in their own work.

    The Guardian project (Keep it in the ground) is typical journalism approach which is not really cool to get attention of people due to the subject. But the idea is cool for the effects it could have on economy and thus lowering the emition itself.

    What I am wondering though is if there is any project that would try to get people to commute less on daily basis (to work especially)? Because from my point of view, daily commuting is bad for:
    – environment
    – marriage (spending more time travelling then with your spouse)
    – work (you get stressed to work already)
    – efficieny (we literally have people spending time in cars instead of producing)

    So reducing the daily commute would really have so many benefits beyond environment that it should be promoted as a big project itself.

  14. Well, this article – as well as the comments – were very insightful and helpful. I came across it while researching whether “Stand For Trees” was a worthwhile cause to donate to. It is not. I love Prince Ea’s message in his videos (it was a different video I watched that prompted me to Google “Stand For Trees) and he seems very sincere and his delivery is excellent but I’m concerned that he is either not educated on the topic or doesn’t care because he’s getting paid. Regardless, I hope his videos bring attention to the subject of climate change but I also hope that people are wise enough to do their own research before making donations.

  15. Bottom line – if u really are at all concerned about your planet (which you should God damn be) then do something real. Don’t just throw money here n there to assuage your guilt.
    Permanent lifestyle changes of more n more people for wise use of resources like water, fuel, electricity, food, or even money or just about anything is going to be a infinitely more effective than a 10$ cert in fixing this problem.

  16. Right after I finished watching Ea’s video, I got the point that we should be taking care of trees and I feel motivated to do so in any (even though small) acts I could. I was motivated, and that’s it. I also remembered that he indirectly stated that joining Stand for Trees is voluntary, I mean, if you do not wish to join, then don’t, as Ea said at the end of his video “This is the option that I chose, whatever way you choose to stand for trees, do it.” I don’t know if you’re trying to play politics right here or what, but please, if you’re trying to tell us that carbon trading does not stop climate change, then do it right, do it in a way which people could learn and know what they need to do to stop climate change if what your headline stated was true. Then your article made me wonder, how could someone focus so much on the things about the government when you’re talking about a video of green movement. See the goodness in someone, for once. Be critical, but sometimes what’s not the focus is not the focus, then don’t discuss it. I think what Ea was saying in the video is simply about saving the tress for future generation, and a little bit about Stand for Trees. But, then again, what’s wrong with that?

  17. I didn’t want to input anything but… We should all re-read what Carol Vause (#16) says… If you really want to make a difference and actually save our godforesaken world, then we need to act! The day we stop talking just for shits and giggles, is the day when real change will occur. If you want to spend money, don’t donate. FIND SOLUTIONS. Spend money on SOLUTIONS and I agree that everyone should change their lifestyles… and way of life. I am not selfish, but for once I seriously don’t care for you because I WANT MY EARTH TO BE HEALTHY. So let us make the sacrifice please by doing the little things that ironically, are big. (for example, buy chickens and get your own eggs, invest in a biogas digester to make your own ‘fossil fuels’, be brave and walk to places, etc)Possibilities to “HELP” our world are more vast then we know, just think….

  18. I couldn’t agree more with you because we need to #keepitintheground and switching to renewables is the best way to do that. That is why we have to change our policies of electricity sale to homes and businesses to provide options to buy clean energy at a higher price. And create a carbon tax. This has to be done by politicians; if they don’t agree we can’t get any of that done, aside from investing in clean energy projects, but until here is an option for homes and businesses to purchase clean energy, the problem won’t be solved. Also we need politicians to invest in mass transit, something that will only be profitable if enough people use it and less is invested in roads. We have to look to the government and buying environmentally friendly things won’t cut it.

  19. So other than saving and keeping the forests and keeping fossil fuels in the ground. What else can be done to help stop climate change?

    Can we make a list?

    Here’s what I can think of:
    -Invent a new car that does not run on fossil fuels.
    -We need to plant more trees. Integrate trees with cities.
    -Move from fossil fuel burning to solar/wind/hydro energy.
    -Stop wasting clean water in general. Isn’t there only like less than 1% of fresh water on the world that people can drink? This is going to be a big big problem in the very near future.
    -We need to help restore animal habitats and animals that we have driven to extinction.

    I currently can’t think of anything else. Please add to the list!

    People need to be aware of what is possible and what we can come together and achieve. We need to dream big so we can succeed big :)

  20. We can dream big, yet act in small increments as a collective. The big elephant in the room appears to be our lifestyle, and our obsessive consumption of animals. If you really want to switch from “fossil fuels” we ought to stop feeding on them as well. There is no dirtier industry than livestock when it comes to issues of deforestation, water consumption/pollution, and health impacts on the population.

  21. YAS!! I fully agree. We must eat less meat or none at all! Watch Cowspiracy guys (not you specifically in case you already have) because it explains how no one talks about the damage animal agriculture does to our planet because the environmental organizations have ties to the animal agriculture industry.

  22. Africa also needs a big dose of birth control to slow the loss of its forests and species. More people take up more space and grab more resources, far and wide. That’s a topic few people are willing to tackle in popular videos, since it covers a fundamental problem with humanity.

  23. Chris, can you recommend any organizations that do focus on forest protection?