Thursday, January 18, 2007

Carbon Offset standards to rise

This story caught my eye because there is a lot of rot talked about carbon offsetting. I am delighted that there is going to be a stricter standard because, for various practical reasons, it is not clear that offsetting today does an awful lot of good.

However I would first like to deal with the common objection in principle to offsetting, that frequently is heard from the environmentalist left: that offsetting is wrong because it allows people to carry on polluting rather than thinking about reducing their carbon footprint.

On the face of it, this position is merely inexplicable and incoherent. If you clean up after yourself, what is the problem? Pooper scoops are wrong because they encourage people to let their dogs poop in the park? I have argued before that carbon emission shouldn't be considered sinful, but even if they are, redemption is available. So the anti-offset lobby views carbon emissions as not just sinful but irredeemable. And why? It is your net emissions that do the damage. Soak up the carbon, or otherwise undo the harm, and you have undone the harm.

The next objection is this: offsets allow the rich to carry on polluting while the poor will have to do without. This is true of more or less every product on the market, not just offsets. You may not like it, I don't particularly like it, but lets not pretend that this is something wrong with the concept of offsetting. If the fact that not everybody can afford something makes that thing wrong, then everything we buy is wrong, including all public services. What nonsense. And to insist that it is a bad idea for some people to undo the harm they do, simply because not everybody could do the same? Worse than nonsense.

No, this objection to offsetting comes from a shift in values away from not damaging the environment and towards self-denial. If self-denial rocks your boat then go for it, but please don't mis-sell it to the rest of us.

However, principles aside, offsetting has its problems. How do you account for the carbon benefit of a renewable energy project? How do you account for tree-planting, particularly if it was going to happen anyway? How do you know the scheme is honest? Newsnight's ethical man blog carries lengthy tortuous comment-debate over how to account for the benefit, if any, of his green electricity tariff.

I've not done any offsetting yet. I was about to at one point, but the price demanded was so low, I concluded that it was probably impossible to buy extra carbon capture at that price. Of course had it been high enough I may have balked at the price. And in any case, I have a normal consumer's skepticism regarding the chances that a website asking for money is on the level. Standards needed.

1 comment:

aaron_baranoff said...

My version of carbon offsets (cheaper/faster/better)

According to one of the online carbon offset organizations my car uses the following…

Vehicle: 2000 Subaru Legacy Wagon AWD automatic transmission

Emissions: 9,586 lbs CO2 per year

Therefore I should pay $50/yr to offset my car (actually they .say that amount will offset 12,000 lbs CO2 per year).

They say my home is about 27171 lbs of CO2 per year and I should pay $140/yr (28,000 CO2 offset) to offset my home.

The same site says that that each incandescent bulb you replace with a CFL saves 120 lbs of CO2 per year.

Given that math to offset my home and car I need to offset 36757 lbs of CO2. This would be 307 CFLs so instead of spending $190 per year I could give away 307 CFLs to others. At $0.50 per bulb that I bought them for that is only $153.

I have given away 40 of my 307 so far. My offset has the benefit of helping those around me and the environment faster. They save money and the environment benefits.

Let me know what you think and check my math. My intention is not to say these groups are not doing well just that we can do better by starting in our own homes and helping those around us first.

Aaron (