The Insidious Allure of “Carbon-Neutral”

I follow pro cycling (still, despite all the doping scandals and the predictable steamroller racing of teams like Ineos, Jumbo-Visma, etc.), which is how I was advised that one cycling team is saving the world:

InstaFund Racing will race around the world on a carbon-neutral budget

That was itself preceded by this salvation proclamation:

Meet the team tackling cycling’s garbage problem and eliminating single-use plastics

It’s another reminder that the cover-up is worse than the crime, especially when the cover story lets us convince ourselves that we’ve solved an existential problem we haven’t even begun to tackle.

For quite a few years, pro cycling has been racing on carbon fiber frames. They’re lightweight and stiff. They’re also not at all “carbon-neutral,” and they basically last forever. Carbon fiber does not break down. It’s barely recyclable. It is reliant on carbon polymers sourced from…wait for it…petroleum.

It’s basically meaningless for a cycling team to stop using plastic wrappers on the athletes’ power bars, if they’re still going through dozens of carbon fiber frame sets, wheels, and handlebars each season.

Likewise, cycling teams fly around the world to compete. All the theoretical carbon offsets in the world won’t truly asborb the many tons of CO2 that flying releases into the atmosphere.

Why do we keep letting ourselves get away with this lie?

It’s far from the only one we allow ourselves. We have all these terms designed to make us feel good about certain choices. “Sustainable” is another one that makes me grate my teeth. With a mass extinction underway and human settlements encroaching deeper and deeper into any and all ecosystems, we can’t claim the mantle of sustainable. Sustainable would mean we’ve created quantitative targets for balance between human activities and the natural processes on which human life ultimately still rests.

Have we done that?

Nope. We just keep coming up with terms that let us continue to pretend to care, when we really don’t. If we admit that, we can do something about it. If we keep selling ourselves a lie, then we’ll keep doing what we’re doing and wondering how it came to pass that we became scavengers dying a slow death in a global desert.

I'm just a humble Italian duke happy to be living in the New World.