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The business of eco-valuation

  • by JW

… or: “carbon offsetting as an excuse for carrying on bad behaviour.”


How can we get to ‘zero carbon”?

Devon going carbon neutral


Would placing a value on all our carbon assets help get to that ‘zero’?

Natural capital: our natural resources


Can you in fact put a monetary value on nature?

Futures Forum: Environmental Economics

Futures Forum: Sidmouth Arboretum: The Value of Trees

Futures Forum: TEEB: The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Futures Forum: “Environment is a key part in the fabric of economy”

Futures Forum: Valuing Nature >>> What does nature do for us? >>> “managing and valuing ecosystem services”


In other words, can we create some sort of system to offset one set of carbon against another?

Carbon offsetting and carbon credits


That is, can we continue to build with concrete, for example, and ‘offset’ that with planting trees?

Radio 4’s Costing the Earth looks at an anniversary this week:


Is this something I should be doing?

A decade ago, many people saw carbon offsetting as an excuse for carrying on bad behaviour. Need to fly? I can still fly … look at me – I’m not so bad after all. And the critics lined up to shoot it down. So what has changed, asks Tom Heap, and is it something we should all be doing?

Is this something I should be doing? |


The concept is controversial:


Futures Forum: Climate change: the great carbon offsetting scam

Futures Forum: Climate change: the absurdities of carbon offsetting >>> or, producing pollution in order to sell it >>> or, creating national parks by evicting indigenous tribes

Futures Forum: The Red Arrows and carbon emissions

Futures Forum: Climate change: Carbon negative

Futures Forum: Climate change: and carbon pricing >>> emissions trading isn’t working

Futures Forum: Biodiversity offsetting “quietly dropped”


It does indeed get tricky, as this week’s Baffler magazine points out from New York:


An Asset Grows in Brooklyn

Conforming ecology to capitalist logic

John Kazior,

A BATCH OF SCRAWNY BLACK CHERRY TREES (#2425, #2419, #2428) at the southeast corner of New York’s Prospect Park are not pulling their weight. Much as we all might enjoy the classic American black cherry tree for its bittersweet berries, the medicinal qualities of its bark, or the aesthetic delight of its white blooms, it may be difficult to justify these individual arboreal assets when they offer less than $40 in annual property benefits. The water they’re saving is basically negligible—especially when compared to their close neighbor #2442, an industrious slippery elm that is saving literally thousands of gallons more than these three trees combined. Worst of all, the slacking Rosaceae are sucking up less than $0.35 worth of greenhouse gases every year. These underperforming juveniles might be tolerated in some unnamed backwoods off in some unexamined wilderness—if there are any left—but this is Prospect Park we’re talking about, “Brooklyn’s Backyard,” where the green space is less about chlorophyll and more about property value.

Trees may be good for public health, air and water quality, psychological well-being, facilitating biodiversity, and of course guzzling carbon—which is particularly useful in the context of the runaway train of global warming. But for the market, which neither feels temperature nor requires clean water and air to survive, the living tree is only legible as a source of value when it can be rendered in the form of money. And so blooms, in our noxious age of green capitalism and “sustainable development,” the business of eco-valuation: a tech-inflected spin on the longstanding regression of ecosystems to fit market logic.

Which is presumably why New York’s Prospect Park Alliance, a nonprofit organization that monitors and maintains the park, decided to partner with Davey Resource Group, Inc., to utilize their TreeKeeper software to tabulate the “value” of its green assets. Containing data on over half of the park’s thirty thousand trees, TreeKeeper serves as an arboreal ledger of the over $2 million in value they produce annually. Only the most recent of New York’s ongoing efforts to quantify and exploit the “eco” dollars out of every living cedar, oak, ash, birch, and pine, the effort is the product of $113,000 in Urban Forestry grants from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Unveiled in 2018, the interactive catalog assesses a tree for the “water benefits,” “greenhouse gas benefits,” “air quality benefits,” “energy benefits,” and “property benefits” it apparently pumps out, which equate to a total dollar amount of yearly “eco-benefits.” The hardest working trees are given the high honor of being labelled “Gold Medal Trees,” indicating that they annually generate about $300–$450 worth of eco-benefits.

In divining dollars out of the water, air, energy, and carbon benefits of public park trees, the living tree takes on another life completely separate from its leaves and branches, roots and trunk: a life commodified, a life that can finally be accounted for. Even as this conversion makes the long worthless trees now worthwhile, for whom does the Siberian elm toil? Who eco-benefits from the $404.09 it “produces” per annum? TreeKeeper’s interface, and the design of similar programs like i-Tree, provides insight into the bleak functions and intended users of the tree tracking tool.

In 2016, New York City released the results of its year-long effort to record every tree lining its some eight thousand miles of streets. This scrupulous census, relying on nearly twelve thousand hours of volunteer labor, formed the basis of the city’s Street Tree Map, an interactive catalog of 692,892 trees and counting that collectively “produce” $104,991,168.49 worth of eco-benefits every year, a considerable “concrete return” on investment, as their site boasts. Utilizing i-Tree, handy software designed by the USDA Forest Service, helps private corporations and developers use the city’s public trees to “offset” the environmental misdeeds they have carried out elsewhere in the name of erecting glass-walled repositories for capital.

The way New York’s and now many other city’s living trees are being used to offset the ongoing environmental crimes of private interests has led architects Daniel Fernández Pascual and Alon Schwabe to more appropriately label New York’s self-proclaimed “urban forest” an “offset forest,” following the practice of carbon offsetting: buying, selling, and trading carbon emissions by planting trees or carbon sequestering. In other words, it is the commodification of living beings for the sake of ecologically antagonistic business. New York City’s trees have now “acquired the mission to trade environmental destruction with environmental preservation. At the same time, their newly assigned role expropriates all kinds of inhabitants of the city from their environment, as the main aim of the trees is to become a public asset for developers.”

The duo notes that this new form of green capital is owed in part to George H.W. Bush’s “no net loss of wetlands” policy. Put into place in 1989, it allowed for the continued destruction of wetlands and other landscapes so long as an “equivalent” portion of the landscape was restored somewhere else. While this policy set a new standard for legally eviscerating ancient ecosystems here in the United States, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol further legitimized offsetting practices globally by enabling wealthy nations to keep on polluting so long as they invested in green projects in “developing” nations. While the protocol mandated the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, it also formally assigned a monetary value to these emissions through the creation of an International Emissions Trading market, whereby nations who fail to meet their reduction targets can “buy” “offset credits” from nations who exceeded their commitments.

An Asset Grows in Brooklyn |


photo: Datei:ProspectPark Brooklyn Nethermead.jpg – Wikipedia