Wearing cowboy boots and riding in a jeep, Richard Tipper, 42, an environmental scientist from Edinburgh, braved Zapatista bandits and tropical rainstorms last week to check how Coldplay’s latest releases are doing in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.
Trees, not CDs. The rock band, led by the singer Chris Martin [pictured], are the latest pop stars to “carbon neutralise” their music by paying for enough saplings to absorb the carbon dioxide produced by their latest album and tour. They have paid £105,000 to buy the carbon rights to 50,000 trees.
Coldplay are one of many rock bands that have bought up forestry rights around the world. Their cloud forest in Chiapas is intended to pay for the CO2 from their X&Y album and tour. They already have 10,000 mango trees in their name in India from a previous album and tour.It was the Rolling Stones who introduced the idea of replenishing a whole tour’s CO2 emissions with tree power when they staged their 40th anniversary 40 Licks tour.
Ronnie Wood, their guitarist, even has a wood of his own in Scotland and more trees, along with Dido, in Mozambique.
Mexico’s other tree people include Pink Floyd, Atomic Kitten and the singer Beth Orton as well as the film star Leonardo DiCaprio and Formula One motor racing.
Tipper, a director of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management (ECCM), which monitors the rock star plantations, said: “When we started this, we would go to hill farmers and explain what we wanted to do and they would ask, ‘Are you mad?’ “But if Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow were to land here by helicopter tomorrow I could point out the trees that Coldplay have paid for. They are not marked as such but the contract with each farmer shows who has paid for them.”
The latest tree people in Britain include K T Tunstall, the singer songwriter who has bought the rights to 3,500 trees near Peebles in her native Scotland, and David Gray, who has 10,000 trees in his name in the Midlands.
Even the Sex Pistols have a Filth and Fury forest of 500 trees in Essex named after a documentary about the punk rock group.
However, there has been a falling out among the tree huggers. Conservationists say that the good intentions of the rock stars may be in vain because the CO2 is absorbed only for the life of the tree. When it dies, the gas is released back into the atmosphere.
Future Forests, the marketing company that persuaded the rock stars to jump on its bandwagon, has changed its name to The CarbonNeutral Company. It has also parted company with its founder Dan Morrell, a former music industry publicist, citing “energy differences”. The new company says it has largely forsaken trees in favour of schemes involving renewable sources of energy from sun, wind or water.
Most rock stars assumed they would be buying trees, but critics of the scheme say all they were doing was purchasing the carbon rights to trees that were being planted anyway. Mike Mason, director of Climate Care which last week launched a transportable machine to turn timber into cheap fuel pellets in Bulgaria, said: “When Mick Jagger’s trees die in 50 years’ time, they will release the CO2 they have been storing at a time when the situation is likely to be more critical.”
Graham Simmonds, chief executive of Trees for Cities which has projects to plant trees in Leeds and Bristol, said: “Pop stars think they are paying to get trees planted. Really what they are doing is paying for a marketing company to go out and buy carbon rights on trees that other people are planting.
“The firm seemed to be offering a magical solution but they are a private company and their purpose is to make money.”
Trees for Cities has used freedom of information laws to discover how much Future Forests was paying for the carbon rights to Forestry Commission land in England and to Highlands and Islands Enterprise plantations in Scotland. It says the firm paid between £300 and £350 per hectare but the true cost of planting and maintaining the trees was between £7,000 and £10,000.
ECCM said that at £10.50 a ton Coldplay had paid over the odds for their tree rights. Other schemes were priced as low as £3 a ton.
A spokesman for the Rolling Stones said the group had now moved on from such schemes: “I thought the music industry had got wise to this.”
Jim Peacock of the CarbonNeutral Company said: “Buying carbon rights helps our planting partners to add additional trees. We have helped to secure the planting of 2.5m saplings worldwide.”
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