Are Carbon Offsets Fake Climate Absolution?

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The Washington Post is cocking a skeptical eye at companies that offer cheap absolution for climate sin in the form of carbon offsets. To wit:

The market for "voluntary carbon offsets" now encompasses dozens of sellers and thousands of buyers, including individuals and corporations.

But in some cases, these customers may be buying good feelings and little else.

A closer look reveals an unregulated market in which some improvements bought by customers are only estimated, extrapolated, hoped-for or nil. Some offsets support projects that would have gone forward anyway. Others deliver results difficult to measure.

"Unregulated" generally implies a need for government regulation. However, a better and quicker way to ensure that carbon offsets are actually legit would be for environmentalist lobby groups to develop their own "green" standards for such markets. Greenpeace or the Friends of the Earth could offer their carbon seals of approval for companies that are actually offsetting emissions of carbon. A good example of how such green standards already work is the Marine Stewardship Council, a private environmentalist organization that certifies the sustainability of fisheries. 

At the end of the article I actually think that the Sierra Club offers the best advice:

"We would recommend that, instead of taking that $100 and buying a carbon offset, that you take that $100 and invest in something" such as energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs or an insulating blanket for a home water heater, [Sierra Club] spokesman Joshua Dorner said.

Whole Post article here.

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  1. There’s never going to be a green standard for carbon offsets because carbon offsets are a fraud. At best they delay the carbon emissions for future generations.

    But if there’s anything the boomers like, it’s showing off their piety and pushing their problems to future generations.

  2. I was laptop shopping t’other day and noticed if I give Dell an extra buck or two when I buy, they’ll plant a tree for me. I guess that’s one way to try to get extra cash from customers: guilt.

  3. However, a better and quicker way to ensure that carbon offsets are actually legit would be for environmentalist lobby groups to develop their own “green” standards for such markets.

    Hey, I’m all for private certifications. Way WAY preferable to government regulation. Still, I wouldn’t put much stock in what Greenpeace or FotE came up with. All their recommendations are environmentally counterproductive.

    These organizations aren’t really interested in improving the environment. That’s just the pretext for their anti-civilization agenda. They don’t love trees so much as they hate people.

  4. The company Al Gore set up channels offset money into the construction of renewable-energy power plants. I understand it’s funding a hydro plant in Eastern Europe right now.

    Good post, Ron.

    Too bad about your following.

  5. It sounds like the tulip trade in Europe years ago.Except you could hold a tulip bulb.

  6. Funny how quickly the “we just want voluntary, private-sector solutions” stalking horse gets sold for glue the moment a voluntary, private-sector effort to address global warming is introduced.

    Carbon offsets are guilt-sinks for snobs. Hybrid cars are guilt-sinks for snobs. Buying food with a smaller carbon footprint is a guilt-sink for snobs.

  7. joe, i think one answer, outside of the boring partisan tennis match bullshit that constitutes 98% of political thought, is that in order to successfully employ moralistic language to a given audience, one has to be seen as a moral figure of authority. hence why someone like bush, who would give normal vertebrates a level 5 case of the douche chills, was regarded as some sort of latter day prophet by those inclined to support him. for whatever reason (his religion? his party? both?) he was seen as a moral authority. thankfully, he did a hell of a job fucking that bit up, though it was a little too late at that point.

    how does this tie into everything else? well, most of what is being sold on this particular green plate is done using moral language, which works very well for those who take such organizations and spokesentities (gore et al) as moral authorities. to everyone else it sounds a lot like the gays will rape your babies routine does to me.

    again this only applies to the % who don’t play the 24/7 team red team blue snnoooooooze-a-thon, so i’m probably talking about seven or eight people at this point.

  8. I was laptop shopping t’other day and noticed if I give Dell an extra buck or two when I buy, they’ll plant a tree for me.

    “Plant a tree” as in “pay a lumber company a penny or two to plant a tiny seedling in a clearcut area where they had to replant anyway?”

  9. Funny how quickly the “we just want voluntary, private-sector solutions” stalking horse gets sold for glue the moment a voluntary, private-sector effort to address global warming is introduced.

    Carbon offsets are guilt-sinks for snobs. Hybrid cars are guilt-sinks for snobs. Buying food with a smaller carbon footprint is a guilt-sink for snobs.

    Sorry, joe, we’re gonna have to (temporarily) take away your liberal Democratic secret decoder ring for the above comment.

  10. I think joe has a point, nonetheless.

  11. These carbon offsets are so bogus. The damage has already been done and planting some trees isn’t going to reverse it. These only serve as a way for the well-heeled to keep up their extravagant lifestyles without sacrificing anything for the environment they supposedly are so passionate about protecting while at the same time enabling them to lecture the common man about not doing enough.

  12. Lord knows paying money out of your own pocket isn’t “sacrificing anything of value.”

    Of course, if the exact same amount of money was being collected in higher taxes, the wailing and rending of garments would be heard around the world.

  13. “The company Al Gore set up channels offset money into the construction of renewable-energy power plants. I understand it’s funding a hydro plant in Eastern Europe right now.”

    Why build the power plant at all? They should find a way to hook up everything to Al Gore’s house. That hypocritical bastard already burns so much energy, it probably wouldn’t be that much of an increase in kilowatts used.

  14. Hey, look over there! Al Gore’s house!

    No, no, over THERE!

  15. “Lord knows paying money out of your own pocket isn’t “sacrificing anything of value.”

    Damn, he is spending a few thousand dollars out of the fifty million he made last year. He and his family are going to have to start wearing burlap. Interesting how that money he gave still does not reduce the amount of energy he uses at home or during his jaunts in his private jet. Man, what a profound sacrifice.

    “Hey, look over there! Al Gore’s house!

    No, no, over THERE!”

    You’re an idiot. An unfunny one at that, too.
    Instead of “defending” Al Gore, perhaps you should stick to apologizing for third-world autocrats; it is what you do best.

  16. The problem is you are not going to get Greenpeace or the Friends of the Earth to offer their carbon seals of approval for companies that are actually offsetting emissions of carbon, since their goal is for people to stop doing various things to begin with. Carbon offsets allow people to continue doing what they were doing before, just at a higher cost.

    Radical environmentalism, which is where this nonsense comes from, is not about less carbon but less capitalism.

  17. Carbon offsets are guilt-sinks for snobs. Hybrid cars are guilt-sinks for snobs. Buying food with a smaller carbon footprint is a guilt-sink for snobs.

    For the most part, those are. You’re buying a sense of moral well-being and accomplishment, whether or not it actually does something positive in terms of externalties.

    I buy and use CF bulbs throughout my house, not for anything else other than saving money on the electric bill. That it reduces externalties for everyone else is a nice by-product, but hardly my primary goal.

    Still, more (voluntary) power to ’em. I’ll take that over the guvmint man’s stick any day.

  18. It’s the quality of the thought I worry about. What does “the environment” mean, anyway? What possible content could the words “carbon offset scheme” have that means anything, when no one even knows what the temperature of the whole earth is, anyway? It’s a blankout, as Ayn Rand used to say.

  19. Hey, look over there! Al Gore’s house!

    No, no, over THERE!

    I can see it, joe.

    It’s the one with all the lights on, isn’t it?

    🙂 (Couldn’t resist.)

  20. Well, well, well. And when the tree falls down and decomposes, what happens to the carbon? Most of it is released into the environment. So ends the carbon “sink” – which should be called the “carbon emission delay scam of the 21st century.” There is no free lunch for environmentalists, either. They can cut carbon emissions if they like, but the only practical sustainable substitute for the electricity that might take off the table is nuclear power. Electric cars don’t emit carbon, but something has to be there to recharge them. Yeah, yeah, I know, fuel cells – but they aren’t carbon free either!

  21. “but the only practical sustainable substitute for the electricity that might take off the table is nuclear power”

    Wind to Hydrogen. Zero Carbon

  22. “Funny how quickly the ‘we just want voluntary, private-sector solutions’ stalking horse gets sold for glue the moment a voluntary, private-sector effort to address global warming is introduced.”

    I was thinking the same thing. Part of the issue is that people want to brag about giving $100 to an enviro cause, but the biggest hurdle is getting information to people who care, even if it’s half-assers like me who care but don’t want to reinvent the wheel.

  23. Now imgine the sound that would come out thuggie’s neck stump if people were charged the amount Gore pays in carbon offsets through a carbon tax. Would anyone like to pretend he’d sneer about what a tiny sacrifice it was?

    Interesting how that money he gave still does not reduce the amount of energy he uses at home or during his jaunts in his private jet. No, but it reduces the amount of carbon being emitted elsewhere, having the equivalent effect of not taking the jet at all. This is one of those incredibly easy concepts that one has to make a supreme effort not to grasp.

  24. Radical environmentalism, which is where this nonsense comes from, is not about less carbon but less capitalism.

    I’m sorry, I’m new to your religion. Is this the part where I kneel, or beat my chest three times, Father Mindreader?

    Paul,

    When the tree falls in 150 years, we will be off of the fossil-fuel economy, carbon levels will be lower, and the natural decomposition of those trees will not contributed to dangerously-elevated CO2 levels.

    They can cut carbon emissions if they like, but the only practical sustainable substitute for the electricity that might take off the table is nuclear power. Only is a bit strong, but regardless; a number of environmentalists have written about how global warming has altered their thinking about nuclear power.

    BTW, between hydro, solar, wind, geothermal, and carbon sequestration, there are numerous carbon-neutral technologies that could be used to generate electricity, fuel cells, or hydrogen other than nuke. Iceland, for example, is going to be completely fossil-fuel-free in ten years, and run their transportation system and buildings on hydrogen produced with geothermal power.

  25. “There are no known technological options that exist today. Energy sources that can produce 100 to 300 percent of present world power without greenhouse emissions do not exist; either operationally or as pilot plants. New technologies will require drastic technological breakthroughs. Carbon dioxide is a combustion product vital to how civilization is powered; it cannot be regulated away. But carbon dioxide stabilization would prevent developing nations from basing their energy supply on fossil fuels.”–Hoffert, et al., Science magazine, November 2000.

    Alternative sources of energy such as renewables are still not cost-effective and come with environmental costs of their own.

  26. A lot has changed since 2000, LuAnn.

    MIT’s Technology Magazine ran a special issue last year on the subject of how the technology to address global warming was here today.

    And in a happy coincidence, it arrived at my house on the very day that Ron Bailey put up a post about how the technology to address global warming didn’t exist.

  27. Funny how quickly the “we just want voluntary, private-sector solutions” stalking horse gets sold for glue the moment a voluntary, private-sector effort to address global warming is introduced.

    Well joe, that is because we want a private-sector solution that, you know, actually works!

    You want to reduce your CO2 emmissions in a way that actually works. Here are some voluntary free market tips:

    1. Don’t drive.
    2. Don’t eat meat.
    3. Don’t live in a single family home.
    4. Don’t live in the suburbs.

    See joe, simple and effective ways people can help fight global warming. You make these changes, and you are reducing your CO2 production by an order of magnitude. (Basicly, you go from being a North American to being a European, in turns of CO2 production).

    Carbon credits, at least how they are currently implemented, don’t work… it is just a way for rich people to consume way more than poor people, and then tell the poor people how ignorant and evil they are for not cutting their consumption. As a leftist, I would think you would empathise with our critism.

  28. joe-

    Now imgine the sound that would come out thuggie’s neck stump if people were charged the amount Gore pays in carbon offsets through a carbon tax.

    Now imagine how bad ‘global warming’ would be if all “people” currently had a ‘carbon footprint’ as large as AlGore’s…

  29. No, but it reduces the amount of carbon being emitted elsewhere, having the equivalent effect of not taking the jet at all. This is one of those incredibly easy concepts that one has to make a supreme effort not to grasp.

    Except that Gore could decide to not take his private jet, AND he could still reduce the amount of carbon being emitted elsewhere. In fact, he could reduce it elsewhere even more with the money he saves flying commercial!

    If all Gore expects poor people, who already don’t have a lot, to make sacrifices… if he wants to FORCE them to make sacrifices… but he can’t even make the sacrifice of switching from flying private jets to flying first class (still pretty snazzy)… if he can’t even jet pool with his private jet (jet pools really do exist, don’t laugh)… Then how can he expect poor people to make sacrifices!?

    Are so-called leftists so caught up in his cult of personality that they can’t understand the arguement?! Ralph Nadar flies coach and doesn’t piss away CO2, why isn’t *HE* the spokeperson for enviornmentalism?

  30. Rex,

    Well joe, that is because we want a private-sector solution that, you know, actually works!

    No, you don’t. You don’t have the slightest interest in solving this problem you’ve convinced yourself doesn’t exist.

    So don’t lecture me about what to do. I do plenty. Unfortunately, irresponsible slugs like yourself won’t stop shitting in your own nest.

    Carbon credits, at least how they are currently implemented, don’t work

    Really? Subsidizing one form of energy so it is competitive with others won’t result in a change in how much energy is produced and consumed from each source? I don’t think that’s true.

    If one actually wanted to make an honest statement about this, one could look into the actual details about different carbon trading schemes, as the NYT did, and report on what works and what doesn’t. But that’s just not your style. You don’t even have to know anything about the different strategies to declare them all useless, do you?

  31. Now imagine how bad ‘global warming’ would be if all “people” currently had a ‘carbon footprint’ as large as AlGore’s…

    His footprint now, or his footprint in two years, or his footprint in ten years?

    This is an issue of turning around a large ship. It’s going to take time. Demonstrating a path by which a prosperous American life can be led in a less harmful manner, and how the changes that need to be made need not be attended by deprivation, is an important part of turning that ship..

    I mean, look at how many ideologues on these threads have pledged allegiance to the idea that the only solution is to live in mud huts.

  32. And which of the technologies is going to provide the energy necessary presently provided by petroleum? Or, is the point to limit energy use–period?

    It’s pretty obvious currently that neither wind nor solar power has the capability, and ethanol presents other environmental problems of its own. The other remaining energy sources that could possibly provide vast amounts of energy are hydroelectic power, which is opposed on the grounds that it is mean to fish (!; nuclear energy, which is opposed on the grounds that there is no safe way to dispose of the residue (or whatever the correct terminology is); and biomass, which is opposed by the European Union on the grounds that it “threatens biodiversity and supplants food resources.” Well, there you go, then.

  33. Rex,

    See above.

  34. LuAnn,

    Greater deployment of alternative energies, combined with more energy efficiency.

    I’ll thank you not to tell me what’s pretty obvious. Once upon a time, it was pretty obvious that the only way to have economic growth was to continually increase the acreage of land under cultivation.

  35. Sorry. I wasn’t aware that using such terminology was considered an affront. I was attempting to have a civilized conversation and seeking answers rather than rhetoric. I’m not implying that your answers fit that definition.

  36. I found it profoundly humorous when Leonardo and Big Al were carping at the Oscars about how the show was carbon neutral. DUDE! How about carbon negative???? Why stop at zero???It’s just like the Leave No Trace mantra in the woods. How about leaving the place better than the way you found it?

  37. LuAnn,

    Sorry to snap at you.

  38. No, you don’t. You don’t have the slightest interest in solving this problem you’ve convinced yourself doesn’t exist.

    Really joe? I have made far greater lifestyle changes to reduce my CO2 emissions than you! What do you do, buy organic vegetables with a bunch of other yuppies at the the co-op? Drive a Prius like Leonardo DiCaprio? Who-wee, we got ourselves an E-vi-ro-mentalist here!

    So don’t lecture me about what to do. I do plenty. Unfortunately, irresponsible slugs like yourself won’t stop shitting in your own nest.

    You don’t do shit joe. I gave you 4 things to do… the 4 things that would eliminate the majority of your carbon footprint. You do those things before you start throwing around childish insults, OK? My CO2 footprint is lower than someone living in France or Sweden, let alone some suburban American chump who fancies themselves ‘green’.

  39. “My CO2 footprint is lower than someone living in France or Sweden, let alone some suburban American chump who fancies themselves ‘green’.”

    An interesting statement. The mean average CO2 footprint of an American is about twice that of the average West European. By footprint I mean also your share the social services (roads gubmint et al) which exist to support you.

    Anyway, on a practical level if we can all just find ways of becoming 5% more CO2 efficient every year, we could have this problem fixed in 20 years wihtou going broke …nor having to live in Mud-Huts?

    LuAnn.

    Up to date Wind Maps show that conventional 50-80 meter tall horizontal wind turbine energy has a potential to provide up to 7 times the current energy needs of the 48 states (practical is more like 1:1). This does not include unconventional, high altitude or well offshore wind farms.

    Advanced Geothermal ideas are in the works with a hypothetical generation level of 250,000 times current global needs.

    We only make use of a small fraction of the solar energy which reaches out populated areas. By this I mean optimized homes and buildings for solar heating and lighting.

    Wave energy world potential is estimated at 2 Terrwatts

    In conventional fuel burning, most of the fuel energy burned is allowed to escape.

    There is so much potential in these alternative sources that there is no reason for we in the U.S. to continue to subsidsidize conventional fossil fuels to the tune of 15 or billions of dollars every year.

  40. p.s.
    my bad said ‘Two Terrawatts’ meant ‘two Petawatts’.

    And it’s odd that noone has yet mentioned Center for Resource Solutions which verifies TerraPass’s carbon offsets (which don’t involve trees btw). http://www.terrapass.com/projects/verification.html

  41. That link is the first I’ve heard of the “Center for Resource Solutions.” Their website is a little thin on methodology, and I’m not going to just take the word of some random “national non-profit.”

    Show me some hard, repeatable data, not some “certification” from some nebulous report from some random “Measurement & Verification Services Analyst”.

  42. 1. Don’t drive.
    2. Don’t eat meat.
    3. Don’t live in a single family home.
    4. Don’t live in the suburbs.

    5. Don’t reproduce.

  43. By footprint I mean also your share the social services (roads gubmint et al) which exist to support you.

    I’m all for reducing the carbon footprint by reducing the size of government, but every scheme the panickers come up with to reduce individual carbon footprints is offset by an increased carbon footprint of the regulatory system that must be in place to enforce it.

  44. Scooby,
    AFAICT, CRS has ‘stakeholders’ who periodically conduct ‘reviews’ of their practices. Keep in mind that having audit companies audit other audit companies who audit other audit companies gets absurd. CRS is an audit outfit. Seriously concerned parties should figure out how to become ‘stakeholders’.

    Russ 2000,
    I have long suggested at H&R that instead of a ‘Carbon Tax’ and forced cap’n’Trade, that just our Governemtns be required to either minimize and/or offset their carbon output to be effectively carbon neutral; well that and ending all corporate welfare subsidies. That takes care of the wasteful regulations (and fossil fuel subsidies), as well as promote a minimum critical mass of experties among builders and suppliers etc. This seems to me to be the simplist ‘libertarian’ approach. All else should be consumer responisibility.

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