Advanced Search

Please click here to take a brief survey

Carbon Neutral by 2020
Craig Neilson, 24 Mar 08
Resource Photo Buy Now

When I show people this book, the title alone is often enough to launch them into a uncontrollable tirade about how it's not possible.

But carbon neutrality is quite straight forward, and something very possible indeed.

The three steps -

1. Account for your carbon footprint
2. Reduce your carbon footprint
3. Purchase off-sets that bring you to zero.

Carbon Neutral by 2020, How New Zealanders can tackle climate change is a collection of sixteen essays by leading experts about how their specific industries can achieve this seemingly lofty goal.

Each essay is a road-map for one sector - how to get there on time. It's a silver bullet for the normal reaction - the one that presumes impossibility - to read "Thinking outside the car: How we can achieve carbon neutral transport", "Responsible Investing", "Carbon neutral living in the typical New Zealand house" and "Schools in a carbon neutral world" together.

I've met Dr. Nikki Harre, who co-edited the book with Dr. Quentin D. Atkinson. Like the book, she was approachable, well informed and clear about the message:

Being carbon neutral doesn't mean going backwards on anything, it's a method of moving the whole planet forward.

This book does more than just present solutions to the problem of climate change. It also presents visions for a better society, one that is cleaner and fairer and encourages people to be their best. The authors have tried to be realistic in their visions - they understand that you cannot unpick all the deeply interwoven practices and ways of thinking that have got us into this predicament in one fell swoop. But they also understand that you have to take a few risks and have faith that people are willing to give up some of their dubious luxuries for the sake of a healthier world.

What Carbon Neutral by 2020 doesn't present is the concept of an enforced global movement or liken the required course of action to the re-configuration of society during war. Each chapter assumes, for the most part, that existing framework will remain the same as it is today - an expectation that I find very realistic. It's also heartening - that a carbon neutral country can be achieved by 2020 and be quite recognisable as a futuristic city.

The only conclusion I don't agree with in this book is "stay put" - in relation to where you live. While most people live in suburbs - no thanks. There are much better places to live than the place you probably live now. At Worldchanging we often talk about residential solutions such as green building, urbanisation and density. Realistic predictions say that by 2030, about half of the buildings in America will have been built after 2000. New Zealand can match that - and we can build it all green - and find our carbon neutral lives much richer for it. There will be a process of moving in to these new homes - dense, comfortable, walkable and near the other places we go - and that process will make homeowners and the planet better off in the short run and the long run. My advice - find a good place to live and move there. Then stay put.

The New Zealand Government has committed six departments to becoming carbon neutral by 2012, with all other departments "on the path" to carbon neutrality by that date. We've written about other New Zealand carbon neutral operations here before, including a power company and an airport.

It's possible for the rest of New Zealand to follow, and become carbon neutral by 2020. Possible.

But I'll be honest. If we don't make it, I'll be ok with the idea of 2030.

This book is a must-have for New Zealand Worldchanging readers, and will doubtless make an inspiring and informative read for change-makers worldwide. Amazon looks to have quickly sold out, but the book is available from Craig Potton Publishers and Unireps.


Schools in a carbon neutral world
A new paradigm for home renovation
Carbon neutral living in the typical New Zealand house
Thinking outside the car: how we can achieve carbon neutral transport
Reducing the carbon burden from Auckland's transport system
How Hobson Mall became climate and people friendly
Computing away climate change
Deep organics
Back to the drawing board: sustainable design
The role of ethics in climate change strategies
Responsible investing
The sustainable business challenge
Carbon neutrality and the law
Political activism and carbon neutrality

Bookmark and Share


This is a monumental cultural task. Climate change is part of the perfect storm of energy, culture, and population...

Posted by: Mike on 31 Mar 08

It is great to see this column spreading the message!

Posted by: Carbon Neutral on 31 Mar 08

I've bought a copy of the book and read all but the last three chapters/articles so far. There is quite a lot of waffle in with the good stuff. The worthwhile parts imho are Niki Harre/'The psychological challenge of climate change' (from the intro), Brenda & Robert Vale/'Carbon Neutral living in the typical NZ house, and Brendan Hoare & Keith Thomas/'Deep Organics'.

Bizarrely the book doesn't appear to even touch on agriculture -- which surely is NZ's biggest (and most politically difficult) emissions challenge.

Posted by: Matthew Bartlett on 1 Apr 08

The three steps listed above are 100% accurate. Unfortunately, it's a bit like suggesting that we can end violence by the following two simple steps:

1. Identify who is committing violent acts
2. Get them to stop

This is not to disparage this attempt to identify a solution to our problem, but rather to illustrate that any viable solution must include how its "simple steps" will overcome very complex opposition, such as how to overcome the objection that reducing carbon emissions will restrain economic growth in the near term...

Posted by: Jeff Vail on 1 Apr 08

Craig, this is indeed as you say, "very possible" but I'm with Jeff here. It's far from "quite straight forward".

"Account[ing] for your carbon footprint" is fine, but measuring everything or placing appropriate boundaries isn't as simple as a statement. It's very very (very!) difficult. Getting as close to the economic source of emissions for measurement is a helpful starting philosophy (a'la the NZ carbon tax proposed a few years ago), but even then...

With housing for example, sure, we can operate them at zero, but building them at zero will unfortunately require a significant departure from the "existing framework" (as you put it) for the construction industry.

I've not read the book, and I'm as optimistic as the next guy, but for me trivialising inherently technical aspects of carbon neutral aspirations isn't the best play...

Posted by: Mike Frew on 1 Apr 08

I like 1 & 2:

1. Account for your carbon footprint
2. Reduce your carbon footprint

But the third suggestion of offsetting any remaining emissions is problematic. Offsetting absolves the imperative to further shrink your carbon footprint, but it isn't clear if it actually does cancel out your emissions.

Posted by: Chris Anderson on 3 Apr 08

There is great information on the preparation of greenhouse gas emissions GHG inventories at the GHG Protocol

The FOURTH step that you have missed is "marketing" the promotion of your carbon neutrality status.

Being carbon neutral is linked to the wider issue of business sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

Posted by: Gordon Shaw on 3 Apr 08

There is a good conversation to be had whenever someone says "that's impossible" in the face of some bold declaration. In fact, one of the great values of a bold declaration is that it brings all of the challenges to the surface. Prior to the declaration, they were in the closet. The best thing to do when someone tells you something is impossible is to ask them why and listen carefully. They are adding to your catalogue of all of the obstacles that will need to be overcome to make the dream a reality. They can actually make a real contribution to you. They are helping you draft the blueprint for how to get it done.Just look at all the rich information coming out of the comments here.

Posted by: Dan Pallotta on 5 Apr 08

I agree completely with the need to massively reduce emissions soon, but am not sure it'll all happen in such an orderly, rational fashion.

For example, I cannot see the United States replacing the majority of its buildings anytime soon - certainly not by building hi-tech green buildings - as it may well turn out to be fairly broke in the years to come. I suspect they'll be going for cheap stuff, and only on a small scale. I doubt what we're seeing right now is a temporary lull in the US economy, but rather the end of an era - while the finance sector is in dire trouble, few mainstream commentators dare mention that most of the US economy has no response to peak oil. Water shortages and climate change will also continue to worsen and will seriously affect what the US can afford to do. Finally, they're in massive debt, and it's only getting worse every day they hang round in Iraq, pretending to own the world.

It's starting to look like world oil production may have plateaued, and once the decline starts, economies worldwide will probably all be feeling the squeeze. It's not just oil getting expensive, but also coal. This in turn drives up steel prices , which increases the price for new building. Peak Oil means food shortages, as so much of agriculture relies directly on oil (and natural gas). While many countries may get desperate and go for stupid solutions involving coal, tar sands, oil shale, etc., I reckon we're all likely to cut back on international holidaying, so peak oil may have some benign impacts on efforts to deal with climate change.

Posted by: Pratimoksha on 6 Apr 08



MESSAGE (optional):

Search Worldchanging

Worldchanging Newsletter Get good news for a change —
Click here to sign up!


Website Design by Eben Design | Logo Design by Egg Hosting | Hosted by Amazon AWS | Problems with the site? Send email to tech /at/
Architecture for Humanity - all rights reserved except where otherwise indicated.

Find_us_on_facebook_badge.gif twitter-logo.jpg