Are carbon offsets a good idea ?

Last summer I wrote about how the WWF wanted partakers to the Beijing Olympics to offset their emissions as they traveled. I didn’t think about offsets anymore until today.

But several things including a lengthy reflection, a post in the Business of Green blog and a comic strip from Climate Change Action drove me to write again on this topic.

My opinion hasn’t changed. People should decrease by themselves their greenhouse gases emissions. But offsets could be part of the solution for companies.

Here is the article by the IHT Business of Green blog :

These days you can readily buy carbon credits from websites to “offset” your greenhouse gas emissions at home or from a flight. This trade has grown quickly but it has attracted sharp criticism because the companies offering the credits are largely unregulated and sometimes poorly monitored.

Some people also question whether it is ethically acceptable to allow people to continue polluting at home in exchange for paying people in other parts of the world to clean up.

There is a much larger version of this system operated by the United Nations that is called the Clean Development Mechanism. (Note : I wrote about it last week, see this post) Under this system, giant companies can pay for projects in the developing world where emissions are being reduced instead of cutting their emissions at home.

One of the reasons these projects also have attracted criticism is because some – building hydro-power for example – might have gone forward even without the extra money. Others complain that the UN mechanism is a license for the rich world to pollute.

UN officials now are proposing reforms. In the future, project developers may have to do more to show that emissions cuts were a direct result of the UN funding, according to Reuters, which reported the proposals on Wednesday.

Those steps and others could help to keep alive the Clean Development Mechanism. The steps also are particularly important for big polluting businesses in Europe like power and steel, which are counting on using the abundant carbon credits generated abroad to help meet European requirements to cut pollution.

What is less certain is whether offsetting will ever be regarded as a sound approach to tackling climate change by its critics.

Then here comes this strip from Climate Change Action :

Thirdly, Jean Marc Jancovici – a French consultant in environmental and energy issues whose books [Fr] and website started my interest on those topics – published earlier this year a long article [Fr] on offsets and their actual efficiency.

He concludes by stating his doubt of whether offsets could help in decreasing global greenhouse gases emissions. The main thing for his opinion is that we don’t have much time to drastically change our lifestyles…

I couldn’t agree more with him. Indeed let us change our lifestyles based on waste and inefficiency. These changes will save us money, our environment and our common future.

And you, what is your opinion on carbon offsets ?

2 thoughts on “Are carbon offsets a good idea ?”

  1. Carbon offsets are like an alcoholic paying someone else not to drink and then feeling better for it. Or cheating on your spouse, then paying someone else not to cheat to make up for it, as in the service offered by cheat neutral.

    I’ve talked about the various schemes a bit here. Basically, tree-planting is the only thing which actually absorbs emissions, though how fast and how effectively is another matter, and there’s no doubt that we could never plant enough trees to absorb our current 50 billion tonnes or so of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions annually. However, it’s good for other reasons, as I discuss here.

    Many carbon offset schemes are inhumane. For example, as described here, one carbon offset scheme takes diesel pumps off Indian farmers and replaces them with treadle pumps. So some poor dark-skinned kid has to tread all day to pump water so that some light-skinned idiot can fly without guilt. That means that kid doesn’t go to school, and will remain on the farm and have lots of children living in poverty, instead of going to the city, having few children, and sending money back to the village to improve lives there. So the treadle pump which seems to cheap turns out to have a very high cost.

    I have a nightmare “eco” vision of the future in which a privileged elite lives in gated “eco” communities or even whole cities, and is surrounded by a mass of people living in impoverished misery, providing the elites with their “eco” lifestyle.

    If I want to stop being an alcoholic, harming my own life and others with alcohol, then I must simply stop drinking. If we want to stop being destroyers of our environment, harming the world with our carbon emissions, we simply must stop burning so much stuff.

    Or if we are to burn it, it must be for a good purpose. Just as money can be well-spent or wasted, so too with resources. That an impoverished Indian family living as subsistence farmers use a diesel pump to move water, so that they can produce more food, sell the surplus and pay for a kid to go to school and improve everyone’s lives, that’s a defensible burning of fossil fuels. For the miserable few hundred litres of diesel over the lifetime of the pump, that’s a lot of benefit. Whereas one Western idiot’s plane flight to Barbados? Not so much benefit.

  2. Thanks for your comment Kiashu. Your comment gives further credit to my opinion that we have as individuals have to decrease, to cut our carbon emissions.

    But my opinion is that Clean Development Mechanisms, as planned by the UN could be part of the solution for companies that already have cut their emissions and want to partake in providing a cleaner development to poor continents and countries.

    I don’t have much time right now to discuss about it, ( I am on the road for at least ten days ), but would be glad to discuss much longer with you afterwards.

    Meanwhile, take care :

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