Carbon Hunters

Is it possible, considering the many obstacles, to stop global warming, or at least reduce its harm? Anticipating the important United Nations Climate Change Conference starting December 7 in Copenhagen, CBC Doc Zone presents the World Premiere of a timely and intriguing new documentary by Vancouver filmmaker/journalist Miro Cernetig, called CARBON HUNTERS, that looks at one potential solution. That solution is called carbon trading and it’s unlike most others because it’s market-driven.

CARBON HUNTERS, airing on CBC Television on Thursday, November 26, 8 pm (8:30 NT) and repeated the following night, Friday, November 27 at 10 pm ET/PT on CBC News Network, delves into the controversial, little-understood, yet booming industry of carbon credit trading as a potentially workable mechanism towards solving what most people now acknowledge as the greatest crisis facing the planet: global warming.

This is a crisis with no easy solutions. Voters so far seem reluctant to accept carbon taxes so, while we wait for industry and governments to sign on to binding international agreements that will fix limits on air pollution, one possible solution is good to go right now: carbon trading. Sometimes called emissions trading, carbon offset, or cap-and-trade, carbon trading is attractive to many because it is a market-driven solution that puts a fixed price on pollution, allowing those who pollute to pay and those do not pollute to profit from their position.

Enter Vancouver entrepreneur Shawn Burns. They say every cloud has a silver lining. In Burns’ case, he thinks that cloud is global warming and that lining golden. Global warming just might make Burns a very very rich man. As CEO of Carbon Credit Corp., he and his partners hope to make millions, literally, out of thin air. He’s a ‘carbon hunter’ — a whole new breed of wheeler-dealer in a booming new industry: global traders who scour the planet looking for lucrative carbon credits. Burns and his partners package those credits and sell them to polluters, taking a cut from the sale.

The plan for trading carbon as a global commodity was hatched at the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Today, that carbon trading market is a ‘green rush’ that’s already worth $100 billion and climbing. But how does it actually work, and what does a carbon credit actually buy?

Filmmaker Miro Cernetig travels from BC to the Canadian prairie, and on to India, Philippines, Hollywood, Chicago, London and New York to find answers, linking seemingly disparate elements like the dung of sacred cows in India, the band Coldplay, Alberta wheat farmers, movie star Cameron Diaz, Filipino garbage scavengers, U.S. President Barack Obama, sea algae, the Assembly of First Nations in Canada, an English funeral director, the Amazon rain forest, and the Alberta Tar Sands.

Cernetig hears from supporters of this profit motive-driven solution, like influential Canadian Maurice Strong, who feels that carbon trading is “an essential element in the solution…and the most effective one that’s actually working at this moment,” and detractors, like Kevin Smith of the group Carbon Trade Watch and author of the book Carbon Neutral Myth – Offset Indulgences for your Climate Sins, who argues that the carbon trading business is all smoke and mirrors. As for Shawn Burns, he concludes, “Rather than just exploiting resources now we can make money protecting resources. I think you can make money and save the planet at the same time. And I think you should.”

And where does the average Canadian come into this? Cernetig talks to a Vancouver man who learned whether the tree he bought as a carbon credit to offset an airplane trip really made a difference.

“This is the first film that takes a global look at how you buy a carbon credit and what you get — or don’t get — when you do,” says Cernetig. “In our travels we’ve discovered the difficulties and ethical quandaries behind creating a new commodity — carbon credits — to deal with climate change.”

CARBON HUNTERS offers an intelligent and revealing look at a mysterious, bizarre and lucrative new industry.