Sunday, April 24, 2011

Does PG&E's Climate Smart program help you make it "Earth Day" for 365 days a year?

My electricity provider is PG&E and last week they sent me an email suggesting that I can make it Earth Day for 365 days a year just by joining their Climate Smart program. A quick look over their website and what I see is a modern form of the medieval indulgences where one can pay a fee to the priest to offset the evil of ones sins. In this case their Climate Smart program is all about donating money (tax write-off, cool!) that PG&E will funnel into programs that supposedly mitigate the effects of burning fossil fuels.

As they say: "The energy used to power our homes can also emit greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere," and participation in the program "helps to balance out your home’s GHG emissions through environmental conservation, restoration and protection projects right here in California."

Maybe if there's a real effect from "environmental conservation, restoration and protection projects" then funneling money to them is a good idea. To me the sort of projects they're funding are the equivalent of bolting the barn door after the horses have already escaped.

That is, "environmental conservation, restoration and protection projects" supposedly removes harmful chemicals emitted by burning natural gas. But, wouldn't it be better to not burn natural gas in the first place?

In California we used to be able to select our electricity provider rather than be forced to buy power from the monopoly utility. But somewhere in the middle of the brownout energy crisis nearly 10 years ago (the one which forced Gray Davis out of the Governorship) we lost that ability to choose our electricity provider. As a result we can no longer choose companies like Green Mountain whose business was to operate solar or wind power plants.

What counts here is the actual projects they're funding. (See ClimateSmart Projects) They're a bevy of planting-trees-in-forests that are meant to provide carbon capture and services. Two more programs are methane capture at landfills and dairy operations. The last is diversion of refrigerators (and other appliances) from landfills to recycling operations.

Each of them have good environmental utility that I support. I do not want to diss the projects themselves.

Instead what I see is that there is no attempt at real fundamental change. These programs paper over the core issue, that PG&E's core business emits greenhouse gases. That to properly change the situation requires changing that fact.


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