As we've already mentioned several times before on this site, though we think carbon offsetting can be a positive first step in working to reduce one's carbon footprint, by no means do we consider it an end-all solution. This also seems to be the conclusion drawn by Katherine Ellison in a thoughtful Salon piece in which she describes her own personal journey into the carbon offsetting industry.
Though her article centers primarily around her investigation of the unregulated "voluntary carbon credit market" and, in particular, her dissatisfaction with a plan offered by PG&E; (full disclosure: they have been a TreeHugger sponsor in the past), her local utility (according to her, the money wasn't being put to good use), she spends some time describing several other interesting new initiatives. One of these is Cool Earth, a British philanthropy, that sells protection of Amazon rainforest in Brazil and Ecuador for approximately $150 an acre to customers who sign up online. A great aspect of this project is its transparency: since Cool Earth plan on placing microchips in the trees, you will be able to closely monitor the acres you buy on Google Earth. Other projects sponsored by four carbon-credit groups, including My Climate, Atmosfair, Climate Friendly and Native Energy, allow for a range of options: selling credits for solar energy, biomass and water recycling projects in Africa and Asia.
Steve Schneider, a professor at Stanford University and an expert on climate issues, expressed his ambivalence over the ability of such projects to accomplish much, stating that they basically amount to volunteerism because they don't actually curb greenhouse gas emissions. "Volunteerism doesn't work," he said. "I've said this about 85,000 times. It's about as effective as voluntary speed limits. No cops, no judges: road carnage. No rules, no fines: greenhouse gases. We're going to triple or quadruple the CO2 in the atmosphere with no policy. I don't believe offsets are just a distraction. But we'll have failed if that's all we do."
As he puts it, he's only a fan of carbon offsets in the sense that they act as a "consciousness rating" device. Several nongovernmental groups, like Friends of the Earth, have come out against carbon offsetting altogether, criticizing it for acting as a "smoke-screen" to put off urgent legislation and the actions needed to reduce emissions and find new alternative energy solutions.
So what's a TreeHugger on the edge of looking into purchasing carbon offsets to do (besides consulting our extensive archive on the subject, of course)? Katherine ends her piece by offering some constructive advice:
"After I pay off that washing machine, I'm saving up for double-paned windows, which I can monitor from my living room. I may even buy an acre of the Amazon. Although Cool Earth still looks like a big leap of faith, the situation is urgent, and my kids might find monitoring their piece of the tropics more educational than Runescape. But that's pure eco-philanthropy. My climate offset strategy will be to budget the $4-$5 a month I would have sent to PG&E; to support federal electoral reform. If we can uproot the petroleum lobby, perhaps we can replant Washington with politicians truly committed to legislating our way out of our global-warming fix."
Via ::Salon: Shopping for carbon credits (news website)