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Why ‘Net Zero’ is Greenwash

While not being a climate scientist, I do have a relatively good understanding of language and semantics, so the elementary problem with campaigning for ‘Net Zero’ became apparent to me ages ago: The word ‘net’ is an accounting term, representing the exclusion of something from a particular sum.


Profit or loss on a transaction. For example, in the sale of an asset, one calculates the net by taking the sale price and subtracting the outlay for buying or producing the asset. If the net is positive, one has made a profit; if it is negative, one has suffered a loss.

– Farlex Financial Dictionary 2012

Net accounting is one of the principal ways in which the rich have been able to horde their wealth and power for so long, employing an army of accountants to cook their books, offsetting ‘externalities’ (like pollution, human and animal suffering etc).

In terms of climate change mitigation, ‘Net Zero’ has meant more ‘carbon trading’ and ‘carbon offsetting’ schemes, aka: rich countries exporting their emissions and pollution to poorer countries, aka: CO2lonialism. Since the concept of ‘Net Zero’ was introduced to the discussion on mitigating climate change, carbon emissions have been increasing at a faster rate, arguably because corporate-governmental power has been emboldened to treat CO2 reduction as yet another dodgy casino to gamble at.

Explaining this problem to climate activists who are earnestly campaigning for ‘Net Zero’ emissions has been interminably frustrating. I’ve been trying to explain it for years with varying degrees of success, so it was a tremendous relief to see this tweet from Greenpeace yesterday:

We don’t want “net zero” emissions. We want ABSOLUTE zero emissions. Anything else is smoke and mirrors.”

The tweet links to this article published by three climate scientists earlier this year.

Climate scientists: concept of net zero is a dangerous trap

Instead of confronting our doubts, we scientists decided to construct ever more elaborate fantasy worlds in which we would be safe. The price to pay for our cowardice: having to keep our mouths shut about the ever growing absurdity of the required planetary-scale carbon dioxide removal”.

James Dyke, Robert Watson, Wolfgang Knorr, writing in The Conversation, April 2021

It’s worth reading the whole thing but the TL:DR headlines go beyond the semantics into the detail of the problem. Since it was introduced, ‘Net Zero’ carbon accounting has paved the way for governments and corporations to actually increase the rate of emissions and to accelerate deforestation by deploying theoretical ‘Carbon Capture and Storage’ (CCS) technologies which do not yet exist into their dodgy carbon accounting. The theoretical concept of CCS paved the way for the insanity that is ‘Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage’ (BECCS), which basically means burning ‘biomass’ instead of coal. Biomass meaning crops like sugarcane (for bioethanol), palm oil and wood. Wood, also known as trees. Trees being an actually existing ancient CCS technology that actually works…

So, through the genius of Net Zero Carbon Accounting, the politicians and CEOs are clearcutting forests, (a CCS technology that keeps earth’s atmosphere breathable) in the name of CCS technology that doesn’t yet exist outside of a theoretical framework. Put simply, using ‘biomass’ as fuel is simply one of the single worst ideas humanity has ever conceived of, let alone implemented, let alone implemented at scale.

But hold on to your hats, because there are even worse so-called ‘mitigation’ ideas just upstream.

The bottom line is that if humanity continues cooking the books with dodgy ‘Carbon Accounting’ schemes under the auspices of ‘Net Zero’, humanity is headed for planetary scale geoengineering experiments. Pumping millions, possibly billions of tons of sulfuric acid and other chemical shitstorms into the stratosphere in an effort to reflect the heat and light of the sun. Humanity has been experimenting with weather modification and geoengineering for at least a couple of centuries but never at the potentially cataclysmic scale currently under consideration.

Kudos to the climate scientists, academics and politicians who are finding the courage to sound the alarm. If your corner of the movement have been tricked into campaigning for the accountants’ ‘Net Zero’ greenwash, now would be an excellent time to switch gears towards campaigning for Actual, Absolute Zero.

It’s all too little too late of course but better late than never, I suppose.

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