Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Companies, Cities, and Carbon

This is terrible journalism:
While [donating $1 billion to protect forests] is certainly notable, Bezos’s commitment to protecting the environment serves as a stark reminder that much of his legacy and largely untaxed fortune was built by companies that have staggering carbon footprints. Amazon’s carbon emissions have grown every year since 2018, and last year alone, when global carbon emissions fell roughly 7 percent, Amazon’s carbon emissions grew 19 percent.

Economic activity is (for the time being) carbon-intensive. Amazon constitutes a huge and (especially during the pandemic) growing portion of the US economy. There's nothing said here to suggest that Amazon is unusually inefficient (from an environmental perspective); the author is really just complaining that Amazon is a large and growing part of the economy. (Horrors! They even had the gall to keep the economy going during the pandemic, when other companies did the green thing and shut down, bless their empty coffers...)

Obviously there are all kinds of climate policies that should've been passed long ago that would help to reduce the carbon intensity of the economy (carbon taxes, more investment in green energy & research, etc.). Our lack of those needed policies is the fault of politicians, voters, and the companies that lobbied against them. Blaming other companies that are simply involved in ordinary economic activity, by contrast, makes little sense.

I think we all realize it'd be silly to blame, say, New York City for having a large carbon footprint. Sure, it contains a lot of people, and so inevitably has a large carbon footprint in absolute terms. But if NYC didn't exist those people would just live somewhere else -- and possibly somewhere much less carbon-efficient than a dense city can be. But isn't blaming ordinary large companies for their carbon footprints misguided in much the same way? No evidence tends to be offered to suggest that they're any worse proportionally than their smaller competitors, so it really seems like they're just being blamed for being large and successful (something that we could also say of NYC).

1 comment:

  1. While I agree that the lack of comment Amazon's comparative share of the economy relative to its economic impact (and how that's changed in recent time) is notable (and bad), I don't know that that really undermines their general point. Re: your last paragraph, I don't think its unreasonable to hold larger groups to higher standards - precisely because of their size and potential impact they deserve to be held to a higher standard. Additionally, given some general assumptions about economies of scale, we'd expect large organizations to be better able/more efficient in adopting green solutions. Finally, regarding the appeal to policy/political solutions, I think the appeal to private organizations maybe just reflects a general sense of alienation from the government.


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