The Green Man Says: Carbon Offsets

part of an ongoing series of columns I’ve written, reprinted from the TU Rambler.

November, 2009.
This week, I want to talk about a cool, new, hypocritical way to go “green”: carbon offsets!

Let’s say you are a successful businessman who flies 10,000 miles a year. Picking up a magazine (which all seem to be chock-full of “going green” articles these days), you read how air travel is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases. “Oh no!” you exclaim, suddenly concerned for the fate of the planet. “My actions are a cause of major, climate-changing pollution! What can I do about it?” At this point you really have two choices.

One: you could change your ways. This will probably inconvenience you a bit, but since the alternative is to continue turning the earth into a big polluted dustball, you should toughen up and learn to live with it.

Two: You can buy carbon offsets (because uncontrolled consumption and spending got us to where we are now, it must be the way to save us, too)! When you buy a carbon offset, you basically pay somebody else to do something that will make up for the pollution you are going to create. For example, instead of keeping your thermostat at 68° (which would prevent a whopping 1400 pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere) you can pay some firm to build a wind turbine that will produce enough clean energy to counteract the pollution you create by being too lazy to change your comfortable way of life.

Because the modern “go green” trend is based on guilt (people should feel bad for hurting the earth), carbon offsetting is essentially a twenty-first century version of selling Indulgences. For those of you who slept through Western Civ, this was a practice common in the medieval catholic church: pay the bishop (or, in this case, the carbon offset firm) the appointed amount, and your sins will be wiped away; leaving you free to return to your old ways with a clean conscience. This was a big part of the corruption which led to Luther’s Reformation, and that corruption (now cleverly disguised via “greenwashing”) is still around. Case in point: Al Gore (patron saint of modern environmentalists) owns his own carbon-credit business (ambiguous named “Generation Investment Management”). When Gore isn’t warning us about the dangers of ManBearPig, he’s making a big deal about offsetting his mansion’s energy costs. And since he does it through a company he owns, he essentially pays himself.

Here’s a novel idea: instead of passing the buck to someone else to clean up your (carbon footprint) mess, do some real good and make some changes in your life. Yeah, you might be inconvenienced, but that’s the kind of change that’s needed if we want to see a true green revolution.

 

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