There was a recent announcement that a UK printer is taking delivery of the first “Carbon Balanced” printing press, manfucatured by KBA. This isn’t very surprising because there is a lot of talk about carbon footprint, carbon offsets, and carbon everything else as people become more concerned with climate change and the socio-economic force it has as a political item.
It’s very surprising because printers are pretty pragmatic people, who aren’t usually given to spending money without a pretty darned clear understanding of the return on their invesment. While it’s easy to sell the idea of carbon balancing on the basis of principle, I expected the actual pricing to be a lot harder. I’m not surprised that a UK printer cares about climate change, I’m surprised he was willing to pay for the carbon balancing. Although the article doesn’t say what amount was paid for the carbon balancing, or even what it consists of.
As the political forces generated by threatening climate change drive people to value carbon footprints we will see a new currency emerge – carbon. the problem I see with this is that we’re not actually measuring the amount of carbon involved, instead the whole thing is based on calculations of how much carbon is believed to be emitted. These calculations are not always very simple. In calculating the carbon footprint of the beer I just drank, do I include the can? It’s recyclable, but what if I don’t recycle it? How about the salty popcorn that drove me to want the beer in the first place? Should its carbon footprint include the carbon from the beer that was clearly an inevitable result? Will the International Association of Carbon-Emiting Corporations come to the same quantity of carbon emitted for a given product as Americans Scared Shitless Of Climate Change, or the International Coalition of Carbon Trading Companies? Who decides what the right amount is?
An ounce of gold is an ounce of gold, and an ounce is clearly understood. That’s what enables the gold market to function.
Is a ton of emitted carbon as clearly understood? I don’t think so. So how is this market going to function?
I think initially the politcal value of balancing carbon footprints will be high enough, and the pricing of the balancing low enough, that it won’t be enough money to cause serious problems. The question is if carbon footprints will stay hot enough (pun intended) long enough for their value to get high enough to fight over. Eventually you and I are likely to pay extra for every product purely for carbon offsets. Before we get to that point, I think we’d better understand how this new currency will be established.