“The worst of the carbon-offset programs resemble the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences back before the Reformation,” said Denis Hayes, the president of the Bullitt Foundation, an environmental grant-making group.
The New York Times asks a very good question that needs to be asked.
Carbon-Neutral Is Hip, but Is It Green?
In addition to the celebrities — Leo, Brad, George — politicians like John Edwards and Hillary Clinton are now running, at least part of the time, carbon-neutral campaigns. A lengthening list of big businesses — international banks, London’s taxi fleet, luxury airlines — also claim “carbon neutrality.” Silverjet, a plush new trans-Atlantic carrier, bills itself as the first fully carbon-neutral airline. It puts about $28 of each round-trip ticket into a fund for global projects that, in theory, squelch as much carbon dioxide as the airline generates — about 1.2 tons per passenger, the airline says.I come down on the gimmick side. Little more than a way for people to feel good about NOT doing what really needs to be done if we are serious about reducing dependency of fossil fuel and reducing CO2. For all the hype about alternative energy sources there are none that will come close to replacing our current consumption of fossil fuels. The only way to reduce CO2 emissions is to use less energy - a lot less energy. Now few people want to make that change and in fact without major infrastructure changes we can't. The entire carbon offset gimmick is one of the things that leads me to believe that nothing is going to happen to slow global warming or reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. It will happen in 50 to 100 years - when it's all gone - but not before in spite of all the warnings. I'm sure there were one or two individuals on Easter Island who warned people about cutting down all the trees. Few listened then and few are willing to make the short term sacrifices now.
Also, a largely unregulated carbon-cutting business has sprung up. In this market, consultants or companies estimate a person’s or company’s output of greenhouse gases. Then, these businesses sell “offsets,” which pay for projects elsewhere that void or sop up an equal amount of emissions — say, by planting trees or, as one new company proposes, fertilizing the ocean so algae can pull the gas out of the air. Recent counts by Business Week magazine and several environmental watchdog groups tally the trade in offsets at more than $100 million a year and growing blazingly fast.
But is the carbon-neutral movement just a gimmick?
On this, environmentalists aren’t neutral, and they don’t agree. Some believe it helps build support, but others argue that these purchases don’t accomplish anything meaningful — other than giving someone a slightly better feeling (or greener reputation) after buying a 6,000-square-foot house or passing the million-mile mark in a frequent-flier program. In fact, to many environmentalists, the carbon-neutral campaign is a sign of the times — easy on the sacrifice and big on the consumerism.