Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Carbon-dioxide offsets: Lots of hype and hucksterism, light on reality?

The more we learn about carbon offsets, the more they appear to be little more than feel-good hucksterism.

“An Inconvenient Truth” is a good example of that, especially feel-good hucksterism purchased for pennies on the dollar:

The Oscar-winning film “An Inconvenient Truth” touted itself as the world's first carbon-neutral documentary.

The producers said that every ounce of carbon emitted during production — from jet travel, electricity for filming and gasoline for cars and trucks — was counterbalanced by reducing emissions somewhere else in the world. It only made sense that a film about the perils of global warming wouldn’t contribute to the problem.

Co-producer Lesley Chilcott used an online calculator to estimate that shooting the film used 41.4 tons of carbon dioxide and paid a middleman, a company called Native Energy, $12 a ton, or $496.80, to broker a deal to cut greenhouse gases elsewhere. The film's distributors later made a similar payment to neutralize carbon dioxide from the marketing of the movie.

This is Reason No. 1 that it’s little good than hucksterism, and why many conservatives (and not a few real environmentalists) are suspicious of Al Gore, Hollywood crusaders, etc.

It’s more than ridiculous, it’s bullshit to think that you could buy off the CO2 output of a major movie for less than $500.

Almost as ridiculous as this:
For less than $100 a year, even a Hummer can be pollution-free — at least on paper.

Carbon offsets look so hucksterish that I wouldn’t be surprised to see Preznit Shrub getting in on the game soon enough.

Here’s another issue: nobody knows whether, let alone how much, carbon offsets actually promote greenhouse gas reductions.
Offset companies often have vague requirements to determine if their potential investments would actually lead to additional reductions.

Native Energy says it looks for projects that need offset revenue to survive -- a difficult standard, since the projects are expensive and the offset payments are relatively small. But even if a project can stand on its own, it can still qualify for the money if it is novel or simply “not business as usual,” according to the company's website.

That definition has allowed Native Energy and other offset companies to claim the carbon reductions from projects in which they have played minor roles.

Plus, not mentioned in this article, we have the backdrop of the European market overselling offsets last year.

Nor does the article get into how the price for carbon offsets was set where it was in the first place. The problem is, the current price is so low it offers easy guilt relief without making people really think about how much CO2 they put out, nor about how much its cost may be.
Offsets are so convenient that they may foster a false sense that global warming can be easily solved when the hard and expensive work remains undone.

Read the whole article — five web pages of it — to get the details.