Trying to grok carbon offsets

Post ImageThere’s been a lot of talk about carbon offsets in the news lately, and a whole crop of companies have sprung up to cater to the environmentally-conscious westerner. One such company, Zerofootprint, is Canadian was profiled today at TechCrunch:

Their chief goal, says the company, is to raise awareness among individuals and groups that everything we consume has some impact on the environment. The company is fighting global warming in two ways: encourage carbon reduction, and sell offsets for the remainder.

You can pretty much ignore the first goal. It sounds great, but there’s absolutely no way to measure whether or not they have encouraged reduction. Zerofootprint could fire off a few press releases a month that suggest they having a positive impact, but there’s no way to know. That makes them primarily a vendor of carbon offsets.

The anti-TechCrunch, uncov, also wrote about the company today:

These hosers have even set up their own market for these offsets, outside of the official exchanges. So okay, Zerofootprint is the one selling you these carbon offsets, and they’re also the ones validating that the offset in carbon actually takes place. This doesn’t sit right.

No, it doesn’t sit right.

In fact, the whole concept of carbon offsetting just doesn’t sit right with me. Environmentalist and writer George Monbiot explains the problems with carbon offsets very well in his article titled Selling Indulgences. He compares purchasing carbon offsets to the 15th and 16th century practice of selling absolutions:

Just as in the 15th and 16th centuries you could sleep with your sister and kill and lie without fear of eternal damnation, today you can live exactly as you please as long as you give your ducats to one of the companies selling indulgences. It is pernicious and destructive nonsense.

I have absolutely no doubt that humankind will figure out a way to survive global warming. I’m also fairly certain that carbon offsetting is not the solution. In fact, I think purchasing carbon offsets could actually make things worse because doing so enables us to ignore the root causes. We need to do more than just make ourselves feel better.


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