New Internationalist

Please do not sponsor this tree

Issue 391

This may seem a strange plea for environmentalists to make, but they do so sincerely. Not because sponsoring a tree is in and of itself a terrible thing to do – what activists are really concerned about is that people sponsor trees and windmills and light bulbs for the wrong reasons. The marketing hype from carbon ‘offset’ companies tries to get us to part with our money for what appears to be a noble cause. They appeal to the charitable impulses of their clientele or the image conscious drives of the corporate sector.

Their sales pitch is reminiscent of the controversial child sponsorship schemes of the early 1980s, when some charities’ campaigns suggested that all one needed to do to prevent hunger and disease was ‘sponsor a child’ and everything would be OK. Don’t worry about analysing the real reasons for child poverty in the South and what really needs to be done to solve it, (or what the real reasons for climate change are and what really needs to be done to solve it). Don’t look at the economic policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, unfair trade, corporate plunder of the world’s resources, Northern over-consumption and global inequality. No, just sponsor this child in Guatemala (this lighting project in Kazakhstan) and ease your conscience.

The carbon offset industry not only relies on this fundamental disconnect – it nurtures it. We need to kick the fossil-fuel habit, and that won’t happen if people and corporations are led to believe that it is OK to pollute because we can ‘offset’ those emissions. Just as the child sponsorship schemes of the past failed to see the bigger picture and address the root causes of the problem, so too does the offset industry.

We all need to take responsibility for our emissions and take action in whatever way we can. It is important to invest in renewables and socially and environmentally responsible tree planting. Just don’t use that activity as a license or ‘right’ to pollute.

Please do not sponsor this tree!

‘I’m concerned about carbon trading and climate justice because it’s clear to us that Africans and the Third World countries in the South are going to pay to keep the rich countries of the North in their affluent ways.’ - Desmond D’Sa, Chair of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), South Africa.

‘The speeches that come out of the G8 on poverty, climate change and the issue of the carbon market are hypocritical. Because what causes poverty and environmental damage is the current development model, the logic of production and the consumer logic of capitalist society.’ - Marilda Telles Maracci, Alert Against the Green Desert Network, Brazil.

‘I don’t think that carbon trading is a way for us to solve climate problems which is one of the most serious problems we face at the moment. We can’t just try to trade our way out of this. We all have to take this a lot more seriously and start thinking about how our economies are structured, how our lives are structured. It’s not just about each individual trying to save energy alone. It’s about us all working together to live in a completely different way.’ - Vanessa Black, community activist, South Africa.

‘So while everyone’s talking about how to reduce carbon emissions, what is not being talked about is basically the oil industry and the fossil fuel industry spending upwards of $300 billion dollars a year looking for new fossil fuel reserves – when we cannot afford to burn the reserves we already have found. This is happening in far remote places on the Earth and having huge consequences on the people and fragile ecosystems. Meanwhile, 300 billion dollars a year is money that should be going into promoting solutions to climate change. Also looking at alternatives, efficiency, basically ways we are going to cope with our changing planet.’ - Atossa Soltani, founder of Amazon Watch, Brazil.

‘Environmental injustice is a reality in Britain, with industrial pollution impacting on the lives of the fenceline communities. The negative impact of climate change is already a reality across the globe. Why is business therefore being allowed to buy its way out of its local, national and global responsibility?’ - Norman Philip, community activist, Scotland.

‘History has seen attempts to commodify land, food, labour, forests, water, genes and ideas. Carbon trading follows in the footsteps of this history and turns the earth’s carbon-cycling capacity into property to be bought or sold in a global market. “Giving carbon a price” will not prove to be any more effective, democratic, or conducive to human welfare than giving genes, forests, biodiversity or clean rivers a price.’ - ‘Durban Declaration’, issued by the Durban Network for Climate Justice, an international network of grassroots groups, NGOs and community organizations working to address the root causes of climate change..

‘We’re creating a sort of “climate apartheid”, wherein the poorest and darkest-skinned pay the highest price – with their health, land, and, in some cases, their lives – for the continued carbon profligacy of the rich.’ - Soumitra Ghosh, National Forum of Forest Peoples and Forest Workers, India.

‘Seductive voices are telling us that we can continue to fly as much as we do and not harm the environment by using carbon offsets. Those arguments just do not stand up. All they do is shield us from the harsh reality. The ‘jump-in-a-plane for a weekend break’ culture that has grown up in the rich world is doing environmental and social harm. We need to ditch carbon offsets and face up to that harsh reality.’ - John Stewart, Heathrow Airport Campaign Against Noise/Clear Skies, England.

‘Powerful interests have hijacked the climate debate, and are forcing a corporate, free market approach to the earth’s peril.’ - Tom Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network, US.

Some of these quotes have been taken from filmed testimonies available on the Raised Voices website. For the full testimonies please visit>

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This article was originally published in issue 391

New Internationalist Magazine issue 391
Issue 391

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