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Carbon Offsets

By - January 13, 2007

I’ve become interested in the whole carbon credit thing, and wonder if any of you are as well. My research shows a few sites which allow you to pay off your guilt for your globe-warming ways, but I wonder, are these sites for real? Do they matter to anyone but the guilty conscience of the person who is paying them off? Is any one better than the others? Any readers out there use these services, and do you recommend them?

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15 thoughts on “Carbon Offsets

  1. whistleneck jones says:

    Forget possibly fraudulent carbon credits- just stop using airplanes. I cringe when I see environmentally conscious people who still insist on flying.

    You might as well drive a Hummer!

  2. Knox says:

    Please post more when you have more information on this. I investigated these a little while ago and saw it didn’t cost very much to allegedly offset a year’s worth of driving. Something like $50, but less than $100. If it’s that little to fix the problem, let’s as a nation just spend the money to do it. I suspect these sites are more to offset guilt than carbon.

  3. Orderer says:

    Yes, it all mostly looks like snake-oil remedies. Increasing pollution and then paying to reduce it seems to be stupid, at first glance.

  4. whistleneck jones says:

    And how about those Whole Foods “Wind Power” cards?

  5. Brent says:

    There are reputable sites out there. Just make sure the site that you select opens their kimono and offers a third party audit of their offsets. These third party audits ensure that they are not expiring the same credits multiple times. It’s an evolving industry so you’ll find as many opinions as there are ways to offset.

    I suggest taking a look at the Environmental Defense website (http://www.fightglobalwarming.com/page.cfm?tagID=308) for the main things to keep an eye on when selecting an offsetter. The two I recommend below, however, both clear the hurdle.

    The primary argument (amongst many) is over what method is most beneficial – adding new renewable energy to the grid (additionality) or directly reducing current emissions. Demand side vs. supply side. My take is you need both, but select an offsetter that subscribes to your belief.

    Two companies in particular I would recommend.

    TerraPass is one. They are a for-profit org and thus cost a little more to offset per metric tonne of carbon, but you can select where your offset money goes (they have three main methods). TP is highly reputable and the folks who work there are incredibly bright. They offer both supply side and demand side offsets.

    Carbonfund.org is the other. As the .org suggests they are a non-profit which brings a big economic benefit to you. Not only are they about half the cost per metric tonne, but your offsetting costs can bring you a tax deduction. A smaller operation, but they also have a third-party (an offshoot of the NRDC I believe) audit available.

    You can’t go wrong with either, I believe.

    In the end, you should reduce your emissions as much as possible. What you can’t reduce, offset. This isn’t meant to give everyone a license to pollute guilt-free. But, doing something is better than nothing.

  6. eas says:

    I’m really dubious about carbon credits. There have already been inflationary problems with pollution trading markets in Europe because the governments responsible for issuing the credits have been making too many available. As a result, the value dropped dramatically, which doesn’t exactly create incentives to reduce pollution.

    I’m also dubious about buying carbon credits that are offset by things like rainforest. Estimates of carbon sequestration per acre are still up in the air, and when there is real money on the line, I think there is a lot of incentive to fudge them.

    If you are inclined to try and save the world through consumption, I’d probably do things that directly create stable demand for carbon-neutral (or negative) power sources, like paying your electric utility a bit more so it will buy more wind and solar power. Right now these markets are impacted by govt subsidies, which come and go. Helping broaden the subsidy sources will reduce volatility and increace the incentive for investment, which is necessary to bring further economies of scale.

  7. Alexander says:

    John, you should also try Climatepartner
    Regards, Alex

  8. Dr. Pete says:

    Interesting article on carbon offsets in the CS Monitor the other day. The basic take-home message (IMO): it’s a young, unregulated industry and there are kinks to work out, but it’s not a bad idea.

    I tend to be environmentally sympathetic but get a bit frustrated at environmentalists who take an all-or-none approach (usually, with little or no information to back it up). I think that just the fact that people are thinking about carbon offsets and looking for alternatives and small steps is a big move in the right direction. We could all stand to be more educated on the topic and think a little harder about out choices.

  9. Brian says:

    I think Carbon offsetting is a bad idea, largely because we need to make radical changes to our way of life in order to stop the world getting much hotter. What is needed is a BIG project. Something on the scale of World War Two. Something that redirects most of the effort of our society to fighting the threat. We can do it (I have a lot of faith in human ingenuity) but it needs to be done with that kind of priority.

    Carbon offsetting is too small, it hides the fact that we need to think big. Researching new forms of transport, building wind and solar farms on a huge scale, giving Marshall Plan-like sums of money to poorer countries to help them convert their power and transport infrastructures. It often allows people to think they have “done their bit” and ignore the wider issues.

    If you must get involved in offsetting avoid anything that is connected with planting trees or growing biodiesel-producing crops in developing countries. Biodiesel projects because they often result in the burning of forests to make way for oil crops, forests for a number of reasons. Can you be sure trees planted to offset carbon will not be cut down in a few years? What about the agriculture that is happening on land earmarked for new forests? Where will it go- to land cleared by cutting down existing trees? And is the land free of trees for a natural reason, such as poor soil or a lack of water, thus dooming your trees to die and rot?

    This article is well worth a read.

  10. Justin Watt says:

    Interesting timing, I just posted about this after discovering that I can have Dell “plant a tree” for me to offset the carbon emissions related to the purchase of a new computer: Carbon-neutral computer power?

  11. jamespearce says:

    Why only offset the amount you supposedly used? Why not twice that? Or four times that? Or as much as you can afford?

    Tim Harford, in the marvellous “The Undercover Economist”, is asked by the organisers of an environmental conference how he got there – so they can calculate how much carbon he had used to attend, and can then offset it.

    “By anthracite-fuelled steam boat from Australia”, he replies.

  12. Take a look at http://greener.com
    searching for “carbon offset comparison” gives a number of links that lead to comparisons between carbon offsetting schemes and details on how the carbon offsetting is done.
    Full disclosure: http://greener.com is a side project of mine.
    Its a vertical search engine for “green stuff”.

  13. Trogdor says:

    Research?! Facts?! Come now, Global Warming(tm) is all about *emotion* and *guilt* … there’s no room for so-called “facts” in there (unless they’re also very truthy, of course!)

  14. Todd Woody says:

    A recent report reviewed various carbon credit services – http://blogs.business2.com/greenwombat/2006/12/report_its_buye.html . For more Green Wombat posts on carbon credits go to http://blogs.business2.com/greenwombat/carbon_credits/index.html .

  15. kevin smith says:

    I thought you might be interested in this new report that is available online

    The Carbon Neutral Myth – Offset Indulgences for your Climate Sins is available online at:
    http://www.tni.org

    “Carbon offsets are the modern day indulgences, sold to an increasingly carbon conscious public to absolve their climate sins. Scratch the surface, however, and a disturbing picture emerges, where creative accountancy and elaborate shell games cover up the impossibility of verifying genuine climate change benefits, and where communities in the South often have little choice as offset projects are inflicted on them.

    This report argues that offsets place disproportionate emphasis on individual lifestyles and carbon footprints, distracting attention from the wider, systemic changes and collective political action that needs to be taken to tackle climate change. Promoting more effective and empowering approaches involves moving away from the marketing gimmicks, celebrity endorsements, technological quick fixes, and the North/South exploitation that the carbon offsets industry embodies.”