The Race to Net Zero

National Regenerative Agriculture Day is a united national movement to heal the heart of the food chain.”

This year the focus of NRAD was to take a deep dive into “What the bleep is NET-ZERO?”

It is widely accepted now that regenerative agriculture methods are a means to heal the land and waterways damaged by intensive agriculture practices. NRAD aims at educating and restoring balance back to the soils, environments and food chains.

I was lucky enough to have an article published as part of this unpacking of net zero and really explore the concept – so much so I wrote numerous articles on the topic one of which I have shared below:


Unfortunately the NRAD website is under construction so here is the original article:

The Race to Net Zero

You’re in a race you didn’t know you entered. A race you certainly didn’t choose to enter. The starting gun went off, but you didn’t hear it. You we’re told it was a marathon. Now you know it’s a sprint. But not just any sprint. It’s one of those ridiculous three-legged races whereby you are only as fast as the person bound to your leg. You have no idea if this person wants to win, or if they’re content with second or even third place. But you want to win. You want to win like your life depends on it. You want to win like your children’s lives depends on it. But your teammate thinks this is hilarious, they’re too busy playing the clown to take the race in earnest – it’s all just fun and games, right? They tell you to stop taking things so seriously. There will be other meets – and who cares if you win? It’s just a race…

By now you’ve probably guessed that the tale above is a metaphor. The “you” is in fact me; the “race” is the race against climate change however, the race title has recently been changed to Net Zero; and the twit tied to my leg is a policy maker or big business executive – it doesn’t matter who exactly, they’re typically all the same – and I prefer not to use blanket statements, but in this this case I feel with every fibre of my being for it to be true.

By occupation I am an Environmental Scientist with experience in sustainability and renewable energy – mostly in community engagement and communications. Through my educational and professional experience, I have been conditioned and, conditioned myself to believe that if we don’t win the race, it will end like a computer game – with a blank screen.

This is probably the third nay, the fourth “publishable” version of this article I have written. The first ones didn’t make it past either myself, or the editors. This article was supposed to pose the question “net zero: climate change panacea or are we being greenwashed?”. I wrote the previous articles with a professional lens, echoing the information and the facts I have digested over the years, rewording them and spitting them out again. They were informative but also very vanilla (my words not theirs). I stressed the need to cut emissions and that it was akin to a ticking time bomb. There was an underlying tone of contempt for the Morrison Government for their complete lack of training in the lead up to the race and woeful attempt at even finishing it – in other words the Australian Government’s plan towards net zero emissions is pitiful and their commitment too little, too late. *

Having worked for local governments and not for profit organisations dedicated to the net zero cause – I get it. I understand the meaning and symbolism behind net zero. We need something to strive towards, a goal, something that feels tangible. Before net zero we had the 1.5°C limit, before that we had ‘keep carbon under 400 ppm’ and before that we had ‘phase out of CFCs to close the hole in the ozone’ and so on. I’m in my mid 30’s and it seems in my lifetime there has always been an environmental goal to work towards. Having a goal or a target makes sense from a political and business point of view because that’s how these institutions operate.  

Carbon8 themselves even have a goal – increasing soil carbon from the current 1% to 8% – as do many grassroots groups working on the ground to create a better world.  

Likewise, not for profit organisations Beyond Zero Emissions and The Climate Council will also argue net zero emission is a viable target to work towards and that in doing so we can not only avoid the most catastrophic climate scenarios, but we can restore some of the damage we have already done to the earth. Both of these groups discuss extensively on what we need to do to achieve net zero. By halting our extractive culture effective immediately, we can achieve a state of equilibrium with our earth systems, reminiscent of a time before the industrial revolution. 

However, I can also see a fundamental flaw with so many of the current net zero targets. Many of these targets are based on a linear model. The ‘one in, one out’ view in terms of greenhouse gas emissions overlooks the intricate complexities of how our natural ecosystems function. These systems cannot be recreated by human mechanisms and this interpretation utterly underestimates the timescale at which ecosystems store carbon. Moreover, they neglect to recognise other greenhouse gases that are released due to human activity.

Net zero isn’t the only arena a linear model is being implemented. Look at the omniregent approach to the current global health crisis that has consumed us for the past two years whereby the only way out is to give every single person the same healthcare plan, regardless of their individuality. Or our approach to general population health – creating more manmade solutions to a problem rather than addressing its root cause through food health, equity, education and accessibility. Is the art of white or greenwashing a theme of our current world leaders or is it born from our current culture, a culture of information overload, mistrust and globalisation?   

And if not net zero then what? Do we carry on business as usual? As so articulately put by the Onceler in the Lorax, do we keep on biggering and biggering because a Thneed is something we all need? Or do we bury our head in the sand and hope for the best, or worse yet count the days to impending doom? If not Net Zero then what? Do we come up with another buzz word, catchall solution to our problems, of which policy makers and big business can take by the reigns and manipulate into some form of greenwashing – landing us in the exact same location we started in? If not net zero, then what…

Within the net zero models there is also a strong narrative around demonising carbon. We often talk about our carbon footprint, decarbonising, carbon credits and so on. But if carbon is one of the building blocks of life – why have we demonised it? If you and I need carbon to live and are literally made up of almost 20 percent carbon – why have we made it the bad guy? The Carbon8 Fund is based around returning carbon to the soil – WE NEED CARBON. Are these just semantics or is it important for us to also regard carbon as part of the intricate web of life? Do those of us in the environmental scientific community need to take some responsibility for vilifying carbon and presenting as such to our communities?

After article draft number three, the chief editor left me a voice message and said in more or less words “I need you to dig deep. What if the world is not how we see it?” (NB this is an absolute paraphrase of a five-minute long voicemail). What? What does that even mean? Are you trying to say that there is no race? Why am I still running? I need to emphasise here – this advice was coming from a person who I wholeheartedly admire and look up to. And so, I spent the next two days trying to see the forest for trees and as you can probably imagine, feeling on the verge of an existential crisis trying to work out if I’m in the Olympics or if I’m just running on a treadmill.

As I reflected on these words, I recalled the quote I have tacked to my bathroom wall by Anais Nin,

“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”

So, if we need carbon, and we are all part of a greater system, then what if everything is evolving and unfolding as it should? We look to planting trees as a panacea to our environmental woes and a vital part of balancing the net zero scales, but it is believed about 370 million years ago the evolution of trees contributed to the mass extinction of marine life. Ironic I know. We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are. And what are we? We are individuals capable of loving.

Like a record on repeat, we’ve spoken about:

The What – Net Zero (via reduced emissions and emissions drawdown)

The Why – avoid catastrophic climate change and all that comes with it

The When – this decade

The Where – across the globe but especially high polluting developed nations and,

The Who – all of us collectively

But we continue to overlook the How. We’ve been presented with all the facts; we know what we need to do – we’ve been talking about this for over 50 years, at least since the 1972 Stockholm Conference and yet if feels like we’re going around in circles. We continue to talk about the What without the How.

So, how do we mobilise the entire globe to enable the who, what, when, where and why? The answer is simple. We stop running and we love.

Love, localisation and community is the antidote to information overload, mistrust and globalisation.  

Just think… what would happen if we stopped running and looked up at a spider making a web as the sun rolls in over the horizon? What if we stopped running, took our shoes off and walked across the grass – connecting our energy to that of the earth? What if we lay our heads down and listen to the dawn chorus? What if we all did this? What if every world leader, every politician, every CEO was assigned to do this as part of their roles in representing the masses? Would we all be more in tune with Gaia and be able to listen to her wants and needs? If we all felt intrinsically connected to the earth and loved her deeply, would we still need a net zero target or any target for that matter?      

In her book “How to talk to people about climate change in a way that makes a difference”, Rebecca Huntly underpinning emotion that makes a difference is love. Beyond that I have no more answers to the How we solve the climate crisis, whose root cause I believe is underpinned by our worldwide disconnection to mother nature, our food and each other.

What if there is no race to net zero? What if all we have is today? 

*Sidebar: if you haven’t read the previous articles published by Carbon8 for NRAD2022 then you should – Amy Anam Cara Brangwyn has so eloquently answered so many of our questions about net zero and exposed fetid truth about greenwashing that surrounds it. 

Further reading


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