The Washington Post has a story today on the trouble private sector companies are having at settling on a standardized system for measuring their products carbon footprints. Brian Vastag reports:
A recent study of carbon emissions generated by Brazilian beef cattle illustrates the difficulties in calculating carbon footprints. Estimated emissions vary greatly depending on how many environmental ripples are included in the equations. And deciding that is a matter of choice, not math.
When buying beef, though, there’s no easy way to tell whether the animal lived on old pasture land or new. So the study authors calculated an average for all Brazilian beef after accounting for deforestation. That figure is 44 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram of beef.
Three different calculations, three different answers, all valid.
“You can calculate correctly and arrive at different figures,” said study author Sverker Molander, a professor of environmental studies at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden.
Lack of agreement about what to include in those calculations, said Skank and other experts, is slowing the development of international standards.
The impossibility of accurately measuring the carbon emissions from basic economic activity is exactly why the economists who came up with the idea of cap and trade for real forms of pollution have said it would never work for combating global warming. As New Zealand Climate Science Coalition chairman Bryan Leyland told Scoop:
To my knowledge, carbon trading is the only commodity trading where it is impossible to establish with reasonable accuracy how much is being bought and sold, where the commodity that is traded is invisible and can perform no useful purpose for the purchaser, and where both parties benefit if the quantities traded have been exaggerated. … It is, therefore, an open invitation to fraud and that is exactly what is happening all over the world.