Are Carbon Offsets Irrelevant? Maybe They Always Were...


Image credit: Land Rover Our Planet, used under Creative Commons license.

When I wrote about the new UK Carbon Reporting Framework which connects potential project funders with CO2-cutting initiatives, I noted that they were not calling it offsets. In fact, since the heady days of 2007 when protesters were occupying offset companies' offices, it seems the whole idea of "offsetting" your own carbon footprint has slipped down the green agenda somewhat.

I've always thought that offsets were a useful tool in the fight for a greener future, but it may be time for a fundamental rethink. Funding CO2 Cuts is Important
I should be clear. I have bought offsets as recently as last week, and continue to think that channeling money into clean technology, efficiency and conservation initiatives is a great way for individuals to make a difference—particularly as none of us are likely to eliminate our environmental footprint any time soon.

Offseting the Negative, or Promoting the Positive?
But, when emailing with a friend who used to work in the offset industry, he suggested that it's time the entire concept was rethought. Using the work of the Paradigm Project as an example, he argued that rather than pitching the service as "offsetting" negative impacts, might it be better to package them as supporting positive change and laying the groundwork for the emerging clean tech revolution that is underway?

It's an approach that makes a whole lot of sense.

Individual Footprints As the Wrong Metric
Even when offsets were at their height of popularity, I confess I often thought of them as a mechanism to push technologies and conservation practices towards important tipping points, rather than just to "offset" my own impact or pay a modern "indulgence" for my eco-sins. Besides the obviously more positive conceptual framework that this rethinking implies, it also moves us away from the environmental movement's obsession with individual responsibility and personal footprints.

While we can all do our part to reduce personal emissions and cut our environmental impact, the crises we face are global and systemic in nature. And systemic problems require system-wide solutions.

The Clean Tech Revolution is Happening. And Needs Our Help.
From funding the emerging solar industries in Africa to promoting clean cook stoves in China, there are plenty of opportunities to fund a saner, more sustainable approach to energy and the environment. If we happen to use our own flights, driving or energy consumption as an impetus to do so - so be it. But let's not limit ourselves to offsetting our negative impact.

Let's see if we can actually get positive.

More on Carbon Offsets and Clean Technology
Website Connects Project Funders With Clean Tech Initiatives. Just Don't Call It Offsets
Protesters Occupy Offset Companies' Offices
Pay-As-You-Go Solar Makes Energy Affordable in Rural Africa

Tags: Carbon Offsets | Energy Efficiency | Global Climate Change | Renewable Energy | United Kingdom

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