Human-driven climate change resulting from carbon emissions threatens major environmental disturbance. However, the problems we face are the environmental costs of the changing climate, not the presence of CO2 molecules as such. This essay argues that present climate action strategies dangerously fail to appreciate the environmental, socioeconomic and climate context of carbon. Reducing action on climate to the management of carbon emissions, while favored by governments and businesses, threatens to create a myriad of wider environmental and social problems. This has been exacerbated by the subsequent transformation, made possible by this carbon reductionism, of carbon into a commodity. Consideration of context is effectively prevented, even if one tries to factor in environmental values, because tradable carbon credits depend on treating carbon in the abstract as a commodity. Contesting the decontextualization of carbon requires researchers to explain the importance of environmental context, to develop potential models for the transition to a “climate clean” global economy, and to explore the political levers for such structural change.

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