Information Systems for Environmental Sustainability

IT, Resource Productivity, Environmental Preservation, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Global “Carbon Net”?

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Picarro makes GHG measurement system for capturing real-time emissions in local areas, like cities. Whether such measurements are accurate and help policy makers, are not already gathered in other ways, and support a robust business model are fair questions for debate. 

It’s the framing of such a possible “Carbon Net” in relation to carbon management systems used in organizations that is interesting.

Writes Michael Woel, CEO of Picarro:

There will surely be some element of quotas, cap-and-trade, or emissions offsets. The developed world will likely subsidize developing nations. But one element entirely missing from the discussion is this critical piece of information. Namely, how will the nations of the world effectively measure emissions?

That’s a good question. How to do so accurately and cost-effectively.

At present, scientists can precisely measure the levels of greenhouse gases in the global atmosphere. They can also measure the emissions coming out of a single smokestack.

True on both counts.

However, in between those two extreme ends of the spectrum scientists have little insight into what is actually in the air. What is the in air coming off of San Francisco or New Delhi? Nobody really knows. California or New York State? Again, nobody knows.

I’m not so sure about this claim. There are some examples of estimating such figures, admittedly rough, such as CUD. Hypothetically, if an estimate has a narrow confidence interval, perhaps it’s good enough from a cost-benefit perspective? 

Software programs (generally called carbon inventory or carbon accounting tools) can make a guess at it by estimating inputs, and are useful for managing carbon footprints.

True: and the estimation accuracy varies by emission type, scope, etc.

But such methods are not entirely reliable and are easy to manipulate.

Now this is an interesting claim. Reliability using certain types of systems (e.g., Excel-based) may be an issue, but some of the modern CMS systems are much more reliable. I’d like to see some examples of “easy to manipulate.” Regulation, such as the new EPA rule, may counteract such manipulation, even if it were possible.

Top scientists are increasingly critical of these approaches and worried that, if taken as the final word, the numbers coming out of carbon inventory programs will mislead the world on the actual composition of the atmosphere.

I would really like to hear about who these scientists are and what exact claims they are making. While I could foresee such scientific research, I’m not aware of any. CMS tend to be so new that it’s barely on the scholarly radar.

And with global emissions trading at $500 billion last year, evidence proving these emissions schemes are not working could create a massive market crash rivaling the Sub-Prime catastrophe.

This sounds like fear mongering. Emissions trading schemes will not function well if the underlying numbers are not verifiable and reliable, in a GAAP sense. This is why entrepreneurs like Tom Siebel are interested in this space.


Author: nigelpm

Associate Professor of Information Systems, Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan - Helping organizations to navigate digital transformation.

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