Ten years ago, the University of California system, comprising ten campuses and three national labs, pledged to become carbon neutral by 2025. This year, they’ve decided to push off their carbon neutral date by 20 years, to 2045. The reason? Their own research found systemic problems with the quality of carbon credits and carbon markets. To become carbon neutral, the university would have had to offset 50% of their emissions with carbon credits, costing between $20-30M annually. But was it worth it if the carbon credits were of dubious quality and carbon neutrality was more a PR concept than a climate reality? Instead, the university decided they would do the longer and harder work of prioritizing cutting emissions themselves.
In the urgency to tackle climate change, the pendulum has swung into financialized pseudo-solutions that appear sophisticated, but are actually not climate solutions. It’s worth girding ourselves that the work of addressing climate change will be longer and harder than we originally thought. There is no promise it will move forward linearly. We should be far more concerned with less emissions in the long-term than net zero proclamations in the short-term, and far more interested in boring, enduring fixes than flashy quick ones. We need to become comfortable with a reality where we can’t easily declare victory, but we’re still making progress.