Rhodia SA manufactures hundreds of tons a day of adipic acid, an ingredient in nylon, at its factory [in Korea]. But the real money is in what it doesn't make. The payday, which could amount to more than $1 billion over seven years, comes from destroying nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, an unwanted byproduct and potent greenhouse gas. It's Rhodia's single most profitable business world-wide. Last year, destroying nitrous oxide here and at a similar plant in Brazil generated €189 million ($300.5 million) in sales of pollution "credits." . . .The [French-owned] Rhodia factory is slated to bring in more money, under the U.N.-administered program, than all the clean-air projects currently registered on the continent of Africa.
This story should lay to rest any doubts that carbon offsets must be treated with the utmost skepticism by lawmakers. It reprises a similar debacle I reported here, involving refrigerant manufactures who were "paid" under Kyoto to create more greenhouse gases so that they could destroy them and call it a carbon offset. The Rhodia case is all the more troubling because the culprit is a French company that should be running green anyway and because Kyoto's regulators were supposed to have learned how to prevent this by now. In short, buyer beware as the United States shops for its own legislative solution to climate change.
So why are these glaring cases of profiteering being glossed over in Washington? As I note in our July/August issue, the biggest carbon offset companies have partnered with some of the world's biggest polluters in an attempt to sculpt the details of a U.S. climate bill. (Lieberman-Warner would have allowed companies to meet up to 30 percent of their emission reductions with offsets). Hardly anybody is talking about this. The offset lobby still enjoys the kind of positive PR that its industrial partners can only dream of. It's a joke, but they're the ones who'll laugh to the bank.
It's the mother lode of all potty jokes: In November, San Francisco voters will decide whether to rechristen the city's Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant as the George. W Bush Sewage Plant.
So great is the pun potential--Cleaning up Bush's mess! Memorializing the president of the affluent with effluent!--that Keith Olberman covered the issue with the help of a comedian and newspapers are dropping stinkers too (LA Times: "San Franciscans' Planned 'Tribute' to Bush Stirs Some Muck"). The website of the initiative's sponsor, the Presidential Memorial Commission of San Francisco, says, "No other president in American history has accomplished so much in such a short time." So much, well, you know.
In the spring the members of the Presidential Memorial Commission began circulating a petition in support of the measure, often in city parks, while wearing Uncle Sam outfits and blaring patriotic music from a boom box. Yesterday the San Francisco Department of Elections certified that they'd turned in enough valid signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot, opening a new chapter in the time-honored tradition of wacky San Francisco ballot measures.
Not everybody in the city supports the idea. Officials at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission say the plant is an award winning facility. (A more fitting memorial would be the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin, which in February spilled 2.7 million gallons of poop water into San Francisco Bay). San Francisco, after all, cleans up its own shit just fine.
This week at the G8 summit in Japan, George W. Bush wrapped up a meeting on climate change with the words: "Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter."
"He then punched the air while grinning widely," the Telegraphreports, "as the rest of those present including Gordon Brown and Nicholas Sarkozy looked on in shock."
Bush's Napoleon Dynamite moment might have been an effort to laugh off an earlier gaffe: A White House press packet at the G8 had described Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as one of "the most controversial leaders in the history of a country known for government corruption and vice." After furor erupted in Rome (Corriere Della Seracalled it "a faux pas of unprecedented proportions"), the White House explained, candidly, that an official had simply lifted the passage from the Internet without reading it.
What to make of Bush's humor? Separating out the gaffes and the Bush Jokes, it seems divided between an ascendant strain of ironic-self-mockery and a still-going-strong Wayne & Garth aesthetic. From a recent event with German Chancellor Angela Merkel:
Noting that contributing to global warming would be "ironic, not to mention wrong," the producers of An Inconvenient Truth announced in June 2006 that they had given $496.80 to NativeEnergy, a well-regarded carbon-offset company. The firm, in turn, said the movie was providing "critical revenues" to several renewable-energy projects, including a Pennsylvania dairy farm that planned to capture and burn the methane emitted by its cow manure. Such efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, said one of the film's producers, "would likely not happen without these kinds of investments."
Canadian health authorities announced today that they would launch a "comprehensive" review of cancer rates in Fort Chipewyan, a small town 70 miles downstream of Canada's massive tar sands mines. In 2006, local doctor John O'Connor reported unusually high rates of cancer and other diseases in the town, where many locals subsist on fish and wild game. A few months later, when authorities filed a complaint against O'Connor for "raising undue alarm," they kicked off an epic dispute between the government and industry on one side and O'Connor, locals, and environmentalists on the other.
At the heart of the debate is whether Canada can continue to mine the tar sands, which now serve as the single largest source of U.S. foreign oil, without destroying its environment and poisoning its citizens. The impact of the tar sands on global warming is clear, but the health concerns of Native American groups may ultimately do more to curtail the sands--the world's largest strip mines. In the weeks since Mother Jonespublished a comprehensive story on O'Connor's fight, environmental pressure on the government has mounted. In late April hundreds of ducks were poisoned in a tar sands tailings pond, prompting renewed protests and a government pledge to investigate. The latest move by health authorities shows that the environmental health threats of the Canadian tar sands remain, to say the least, a sticky issue.