Offsets are Off Target

Carbon offsets have been oversold, as made clear in a number of recent articles.

In The Nation‘s words, “Don’t Bet on Offsets“.

Better yet, “Beware the Carbon Offsetting Cowboys“.

What can we learn? That “not all offset claims are equal.

3 Responses to Offsets are Off Target

  1. chase says:

    These articles appear to criticize some fast-and-loose practices in an unregulated, unaccountable industry. Nothing new there; who would have expected otherwise?

    I am increasingly hearing ordinarily thoughtful greens disparaging the concept of carbon offsets as a result of skepticism about TeraPass and others. I am mystified. What is not to like about a concept that inspires energy users to subsidize green projects to balance their consumption? I mean, really, let’s be smart about this.

    The real problem is that existing carbon offset retailers lack legitimacy, particularly in the US. Anyone can take your money and forgive your sins. The hard part is to use the money effectively. But opportunities to reduce carbon abound, and a healthy offset market can supply the resources we need to deliver on their potential.

    Actually, the more significant problem may be that carbon offsets are priced for the market, and not for the real cost of carbon. By my calculations, Terapass and others are charging the equivalent of a dime to offset a gallon of gasoline. In contrast, the 2008 EU fines for exceeding carbon caps are the equivalent of about $1.50 per gallon.

    In short, buying carbon offsets in the US today does not do enough to offset your consumption as advertised. But there is nothing wrong with the concept of carbon offsets. We just need a better implementation.

    Sneeringly simplistic articles like these are an example of what bothers me so much about today’s media. I see plenty of it on the right and in the corporate media, but it is sad to see it infecting alternative media and progressive media.

  2. Joe says:

    I don’t think these articles are simplistic in general. The offset issue is certainly a tricky one, but the fact that the media’s addressing it at all is a good thing.

  3. TreeBanker says:

    Everyone that’s considering offsetting their carbon emissions should contemplate the subtle difference between buying offsets (noun) while hoping the offset retailer does something significant with those funds, and actually offsetting (verb) their emissions with a system that suits their social and economic interests.

    As widely accepted standards are adopted, carbon offset funds will be directed meaningful and effective projects.

    We’ve developed an offsetting system that addresses all of the issues surrounding voluntary carbon offsets AND allows our clients to earn a profit from their offsetting (verb).

    As the media attention effectively weeds out the unscroupulous players. It will just as effectively direct attention to the sincere businesses.