US rapper Prince Ea put out a video this week to mark Earth Day. It’s called “Dear Future Generations: Sorry”, and it’s gone viral, with more than 25 million views on Facebook.
In the video Prince Ea walks into a completely barren, flat landscape. He stands next to a few dried out tree trunks, and he recites his apology:
For future generations the Amazon rainforest is the Amazon desert. Trees have gone. Prince Ea tells us how amazing trees are:
I mean we literally breathe the air that they are creating.
They clean up our pollution, our carbon.
They store and purify water and give us medicine that cures our diseases, food that feeds us.
He has a go at Fox News for denying climate change and Sarah Palin for saying she loves the smell of fossil fuels.
Then he tells us we can change things:
You know what? Cut the beat.
I’m not sorry. This future I do not accept it.
Because an error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.
We can redirect this. How?
Prince Ea’s proposed solution is to “look at the root and not to the branches of government, not to the politicians run by corporations”. This generation has to take care of the planet.
We must globally warm our hearts and change the climate of our souls and realise that we are not apart from nature, we are a part of nature. And to betray nature is to betray us. To save nature is to save us.
The song finishes and we see Prince Ea sitting on a felled tree. And this is where everything unravels. He tells us that “for the past several weeks I’ve been here in Africa, the heart of Africa.” Of course, Prince Ea knows that Africa is a vast continent and not a country.
It turns out that Prince Ea has partnered with “Stand for Trees”, a project founded by Code REDD and USAID. Of course, Prince Ea knows that USAID provides money from the US government and Code REDD’s members and partners include corporations. But didn’t Prince Ea tell us to look at the root, and “not to the branches of government, not to the politicians run by corporations”?
Prince Ea tells us that,
By standing for trees, not only can you save the lives of trees, help forest communities and protect the rights of animals to live in their homes, but you will also balance the amount of pollution that you yourself give off, your everyday activities. Making you a part of the solution and not the problem.
According to Prince Ea, then, all we need to do is spend US$10 on a Stand for Trees Certificate. In a press release, Karin Burns, Executive Director of Code REDD, tells us that,
“It is time for us to stop waiting on others to address climate change and to take action ourselves. If we protect threatened forests by making them more valuable alive than dead, we have a chance to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change on our planet.”
The obvious problem with this argument is that to address climate change we need to stop emissions from fossil fuels. The best way to do this is to leave them underground. (This is one of the eight suggestions that 17 leading scientists and economists make in their Earth Statement, published on Earth Day. They also suggest protecting forests – but not offsetting the avoided emissions against continued burning of fossil fuels.)
There are many good reasons to protect forests, including their role in storing carbon. But trading the carbon stored in forests against continued emissions from fossil fuels does not reduce emissions from fossil fuels.
A recent paper published in Nature, shows that as the climate warms, the Amazon rainforest is losing its capacity to absorb carbon. Over the past decade the carbon absorbed by the Amazon has decreased by one third. This makes the need to reduce emissions from fossil fuels all the more urgent, and is why distractions like carbon trading are so dangerous.
Prince Ea’s video is a clever piece of advertising and fundraising for Stand for Trees’ REDD projects. But imagine if the projects were focussed on forest protection rather than generating carbon offsets. There would be no need for expensive consultants to fly to Kenya or the Democratic Republic of Congo to take careful measurements of the carbon stored in the trees and produce very long and boring reports. More of the money raised by Stand for Trees would be available to protect the forests, and more money could go to the communities living in and near the forests.
And while people could feel good about buying a Stand for Trees Certificate, they would not be under the illusion that the threat of climate change has gone away.