Something New in Holiday Presents -- $quot;The Gift of Zero Carbon$quot;
By Gar Smith
January 2, 2007

With US carbon emissions soaring higher than Santa's reindeer, the EPA tells us which US companies have been naughty or nice.

St. Nick deploys his Green Pen to note which US corporations have been nice to the Earth this past year.
If Santa had any environmental sense, he wouldn't wriggle down a single chimney this holiday season. With climate change turning the North Pole to slush, St. Nick might be tempted to stuff every chimney on Earth with a big, fat cork.

Once again, we have an Inconvenient Truth bumping up against incontrovertible facts. On one hand, scientists warn that dramatic cuts in CO2 emissions are needed by mid-century to minimize a devastating climate shirt. On the other hand, scientists report that CO2 emissions have increased 25% since 1990. In 2005, carbon emissions rose three percent. The US Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) estimates that 2005 carbon emissions increased by 200 million metric tons, bringing that year's total to nearly 8 billion metric tons.

In October, Britain's Chief Economist Nicolas Stern warned that the industrial world must cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by 2050 to prevent a worldwide economic depression triggered by extreme drought, floods and hurricanes.

The Kyoto Protocol was a good first step at reducing the production of greenhouse gases. Unfortunately, a truely viable solution called for a big leap rather than a small step. The US, the world's biggest polluter, didn't even take that step. Arguing that cutting pollution would cut into industrial profits, the US turned its back on Kyoto and walked boldly into the past.

The Kyoto agreement called for the world to reduce its carbon emissions to five percent less than 1990 levels by 2012. Instead, carbon emissions have continued to pile up. In 2004, greenhouse gas emissions increased five percent over 2003 levels. "If we're really going to reduce emissions, it's going to take a lot more effort than is implied in the Kyoto Protocol," cautions Gregg Marland, a senior staff scientist at CDIAC.

Neither China nor India are obliged to cut greenhouse gases under the Kyoto Protocol and China is on track to become Earth's biggest CO2-emitter in the next few years. Ironically, the US bears significant responsibility for China's rise to the head of the Carbon League. US corporations have out-sourced manufacturing to coal-powered China to cut costs. But, as Marland points out, when you are "importing lots of energy-intensive goods from eastern Europe or from Asia, the emissions are ending up in somebody else's account." It may look like China is producing more pollution but, Marland argues, much of that additional smoke is "due to the economic activity of North America and Europe." Out-sourcing jobs also means out-sourcing pollution.

But there is some good news. While the White House may blanch at calls for a Greener Economy, the cry is being heard -- and heeded -- by growing numbers of US businesses. On December 4, some of America's biggest corporations answered the US Environmental Protection Administration's challenge to invest in green energy. Forty-two Fortune 500 firms responded to the EPA's Green Power Challenge by agreeing to double their purchases of renewable energy -- wind, solar and biomass.

This "carbon-neutral" home demonstrates some techniques that can be used to reduce your carbon-footprint.
Apple, Yahoo, Nike, Wells Fargo, Whole Foods, Starbucks, Johnson & Johnson, Monsanto, UPS, FedEx, Sprint, Office Depot, Oracle, Intel, Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard were among those pitching in to purchase more than 5 billion kWh of green energy in 2007 -- enough energy to power 400,000 US homes for a year. These purchase agreements are expected to cut the companies' carbon output to the degree that it would be equal to taking 680,000 cars off the road for a year.

The corporate green-energy choices might come as a surprise to some solar enthusiasts. A review of the EPA's records reveals that only two firms (FedEx and UPS) selected solar-power projects. The largest block of companies (13) opted for wind-power systems. A total of 34 companies committed to combinations of wind, solar and biomass. Two corporations -- General Motors and Nike -- invested in biogas alternatives.

While the range of corporations responding to the Green Power Challenge was heartening, there were some prominent no-shows. Neither ExxonMobil nor Wal-Mart responded. They are, respectively, the No. 1 and No. 2 leaders in the list of Fortune 500 firms.

But you don't have to be a Fortune 500 contender to weigh in on the carbon-reduction scale. The Carbon Fund ( has announced an unusual gift item for holiday shoppers: "Wondering what to give your friends for the holidays?" asks Carbon Fund CEO Laura Scher, "How about a lump of coal?"

Here's the deal: You send a tax-deductible check for $55 to the Carbon Fund in the name of a friend and the money is invested in projects supporting renewable energy, energy efficiency and tree-planting. The Carbon Fund figures $55 is what it costs to offset the CO2 produced by the average American's driving, flying and home-heating needs in a year.

Working Assets (the progressive phone company that donates profits to grassroots environmental groups) liked the idea so much that it sent its own pitch to customers. Kick in $99 or more to the Carbon Fund and Working Assets promises to "offset an additional five tons of CO2, which is the equivalent of taking a mid-sized car off the road for a year."

So if you were thinking of mailing a lump of coal to ExxonMobil or Wal-Mart, here's a less cumbersome idea. Buy a Carbon Fund certificate in the company's name and send a copy to corporate headquarters. As Scher reasons, when you "give the gift of zero carbon, [you can] warm a heart and cool the globe."

And, who knows, you might even melt the corporate hearts of the Carbon-Grinches at ExxonMobil and Wal-Mart.

Gar Smith is Editor Emeritus of Earth Island Journal, editor of and co-founder of Environmentalists Againts War.

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