The Inconvenient Truth About Carbon Offsets

The Economist look at Al Gore’s claim that he’s effectively “carbon neutral” and determines that it’s all a sham:

Most carbon offsets seem to work on one of a few principles: they plant trees, invest in renewable energy sources, or pay someone in a developing country to use some less-polluting technology, like a CFL.

It turns out that a lot of websites have already devoted quite a lot of space to discussing why these plans don’t work particularly well. Calculating one’s carbon output, and the carbon savings from various offsets, is very tricky and may be manipulated by unscrupulous offset firms. Trees take quite a long time to get to the stage where they are actually absorbing all that carbon—and tend to die shortly thereafter, releasing all that carbon back into the atmosphere, there to wreak havoc. By legitimating carbon usage, offset companies may actually be increasing it.

But surprisingly few make what, to me, seems like a more basic point: energy is a tradable market good. It is not as if there is some fixed demand for energy, so that by using less carbon-emitting energy, you actually decrease the amount of carbon emitted.

Gore’s not even close to “carbon-neutral.” It’s not physically possible to consume as much as he does and plant enough trees to make a difference. It’s all a way of deflecting the very well warranted charges of hypocrisy being leveled against him.

Here’s an example of someone who is living in an environmentally responsible manner:

The 4,000-square-foot house is a model of environmental rectitude. Geothermal heat pumps located in a central closet circulate water through pipes buried 300 feet deep in the ground where the temperature is a constant 67 degrees; the water heats the house in the winter and cools it in the summer. Systems such as the one in this “eco-friendly” dwelling use about 25% of the electricity that traditional heating and cooling systems utilize. A 25,000-gallon underground cistern collects rainwater gathered from roof runs; wastewater from sinks, toilets and showers goes into underground purifying tanks and is also funneled into the cistern. The water from the cistern is used to irrigate the landscaping surrounding the four-bedroom home. Plants and flowers native to the high prairie area blend the structure into the surrounding ecosystem.

Whose house is being referred to? None other than President Bush’s Crawford, TX ranch, which was designed to fit into the native ecosystem and use as little resources as possible.

Gore, the environmentalist crusader is less personally responsible in terms of ecological impact than the man that environmentalists hate with the fire of a thousand suns. That ought to give Mr. Gore some pause.

Ultimately, if someone wants to take the position of demanding that everyone cut down, they’d better not do it from their palatial estates and their private jets. If being environmentally conscious means anything, it has to start from those who are are touting it.

4 thoughts on “The Inconvenient Truth About Carbon Offsets

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  2. Gore helped found Generation Investment Management LLP, through which he and others pay for offsets. The firm invests the money in solar, wind and other projects that reduce energy consumption around the globe…

    As co-founder and chairman of the firm Gore presumably draws an income or will make money as its investments prosper. In other words, he “buys” his “carbon offsets” from himself, through a transaction designed to boost his own investments and return a profit to himself. To be blunt, Gore doesn’t buy “carbon offsets” through Generation Investment Management – he buys stocks.

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