Climate Progress In the Fort Worth Star Telegram

This offset business has given me my 15 minutes of fame. I was extensively quoted in a recent article on the subject, “Are green-minded folks getting their money’s worth?” But first, here’s a supporting view from the piece:

A spokesman for the Sierra Club says the group does not suggest members buy carbon offsets.

“I think it’s wonderful that people are thinking about their carbon footprint,” says Josh Dorner. “But the carbon-offsets market is completely unregulated, so it’s questionable whether it is really doing anything to reduce global warming. So what we recommend is that people take other steps in their life, such as driving a smaller car or unplugging appliances when they are not in use, that are verifiably productive.”

Here’s the part I’m quoted in:


So carbon offsets make their purchasers feel good, but are they a smart way to spend your money if you are concerned about the environment? More than a few observers say “it depends” or even an outright “no.”

Joseph Romm, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, and author of Hell and High Water: Global Warming — the Solution and the Politics and What We Should Do (William Morrow, $25), testified before Markey’s committee last week about his concerns about the nascent carbon-offsets industry.

“Because the federal government hasn’t taken mandatory action to reduce greenhouse gases, it’s natural that individuals would try to do something. But there’s no legal framework so that you can be certain that when you pay for an offset you actually get it,” Romm says.

“One forestry guy in offsets told me that all the projects that he knows about were going to happen away. In that case, your money is not going to change what was actually going to happen. Therefore, it fails what is called the ‘additionality’ criteria.”

Romm, who has solar panels on his house and drives a Prius, says that he believes there are good offsets — alternative-energy programs, in particular — but that the public isn’t aware of what those are.

“People’s favorite offset is trees, but if you talk to environmentalists involved in combating global warming, they don’t think trees as offsets are a very good bet. And yet we just read that the Vatican announced that they are going to offset all of their emissions with a forest in Hungary.”

And Romm says he believes that a program like the Planktos plan to seed water near the Galapagos with iron to encourage the growth of plankton, which in theory would draw carbon from the air, is particularly worrisome.

“The CEO is a very earnest guy who cares deeply about forests and life in the ocean, so I can’t fault him for that,” Romm says. “But we don’t know with any certainty that it would reduce emissions. We don’t know with any certainty that it wouldn’t do more harm than good.”