Monday, December 04, 2006

Carbon Offsetting: The Case for the Defence

This is the second part of a piece on carbon offsetting - read the case for the prosecution here.

In terms of carbon offsetting deflecting from the real problem, the very act of measuring your own carbon footprint can be an eye-opening experience, adding to, rather than buying off your guilt. My initial reaction to the results is always to wonder how to reduce the excesses of my lifestyle.

Then, when you spend money on an offset, it is not only a contribution to projects that have carbon benefits, but also money not spent on high carbon activities like a flight to Prague for the weekend - a double benefit. The payment is effectively a voluntary carbon tax ringfenced to tackle climate change. It is almost impossible to understand why any environmentalist could criticise this.

The CarbonNeutral Company, target of criticisms of their early projects, has developed a 30 page CarbonNeutral Protocol which enshrines the measure, reduce, offset principle and requires rigorous documentation of the offsetting projects.

The carbon offsetting industry has certainly made mistakes in the past, but this doesn’t justify the sheer vitriol poured on it from certain quarters. Even the New Internationalist calms down sufficiently to admit “there is absolutely nothing wrong with funding renewables and even some well-designed and appropriate tree-planting projects. Just don’t equate them with a license to pollute.”

The sticking point seems to be the economic mechanism – the buying of carbon credits - which seems to offend the hairshirt brigade, whether or not it works. This ideological aversion to trading as a potential force for good is, in my opinion, extremely short-sighted. To deal with the impacts of consumerism, we have to fix consumerism, and offsetting is one way of doing that. Of course, carbon offsetting will not save the planet by itself, but it can certainly be part of the solution.


At 5:32 PM, Anonymous Ru said...

At last something positive about offsetting.As you correctly point out the offset industry is still in its infancy and infants make mistakes, fall over etc. Its how they learn. At we plant trees for ordinary airline passengers who are concerned to do something about their emissions. We are trying really hard to do it in an honest and clear way. A lot of people talk and write about the issues surrounding climate change. Every day I put trees in the ground that will be helping to keep our atmosphere healthy when you, me and the editors of the New Internationalist are long gone.
I model it in the following way.
We're all on the deck of the Titanic. We have either hit the iceberg already or are pretty close to doing it. There is no way off this ship and I am the guy that is tying deckchairs together to give people in the future some hope of survival. Defending what I do from attacks by the anti-offset brigade takes time and energy away from the critical task of getting more trees in the ground.
Please help more.

At 10:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the key issue revolves around the claim that x trees = x grams offset which is not the ASA ruling upheld more or less.

We should not promise absolute offsets as that is subject to debate...instead we should talk only about the reality that is provable i.e. plant trees, swap stoves and so on...then the weakness is removed and offsets are on solid ground...

make sense...

At 2:34 PM, Anonymous ru said...

Totally agree. It is the outrageous claims of some of the large offset groups (eg the claim that they can make your flight carbon neutral- an oxymoron if ever there was one)that are messing things up.
At Treeflights we dont go near the carbon calculation minefield in order to stay on the solid ground. Calcs are good for education, raising awareness etc. They have little scientific validity.


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