Thursday, March 22, 2007

Carbon Offsets: Con job?

Three familiar phrases come to mind when it comes to global warming activist Al Gore. One is "Practice what you preach." The other is "If you can't walk the walk, then don't talk the talk." Last is: "By their fruits you shall know them."

This is in reference to the news report of Gore's Tennessee home being outrageously energy consumptive at a time when he's criticizing the rest of us for wasting energy. When offered the chance to live up to his ideals as an example for others, Gore refused at the time that this story ran. There's a word for such a person, and the first syllable rhymes with hippo and the second syllable rhymes with grit.

But this blog entry isn't so much about Gore as it is about the concept of "carbon offsets". Gore explained that his actions in the cause of global warming offset what he doesn't do to make his home energy efficient. However, doesn't it ever occur to him that his dire words of warning would ring much stronger if he also made his home energy efficient?

The credibility gap is the size of the Grand Canyon, because if global warming is genuinely the threat that Gore makes it out to be, then he'd be doing his best to live up to the very standards that he expects the rest of us to live. In other words, if he's not concerned enough about global warming to make his own home energy efficient, then why should the rest of us be concerned about global warming?

But then there's the concept of carbon offsets. Basically, if you're the type that is environmentally concerned but lack the ability to make the necessary changes to your lifestyle to help the environment (we would normally call this "being too lazy to do the work", but that would be calling it what it is, and we just can't have that), then your tortured conscience can find solace in carbon offsets. Basically, if you do things like fund programs to plant trees, recycle used oil or other such environmentally friendly actions, then you "erase your carbon footprints."

Doesn't that sound lovely? Boy, I feel good just thinking about that. I wonder if hugging a tree counts as carbon offsetting? Hugging makes the tree feel better about itself, right? And happy, friendly trees no doubt make for a better environment for us all. But I'm digressing here...

Anyway, carbon offsets are basically a metaphorical broom for the metaphorical footprints that you leave behind with your environmentally hazardous behavior (shame on you!). In theory, they sound like a great idea, but in practice, the abuse of it is way too easy. A given major polluter could "offset" his pollution by environmental donations while he kept on polluting unabated. So I ask, what's the incentive for the polluter to change his ways?

This sounds more like a scheme for environmental groups to obtain funding for their cause while allowing polluters to give the appearance that they're doing something about their polluting when they are not. The phrase "selling out" comes to mind for some reason. So does the word "enabling". So who benefits from this little arrangement? The environmental groups get their money, and the polluters get a shiny star to wear while they keep polluting. In the meantime, the environment suffers.

So if Al Gore and other environmental groups want the rest of us to get on board with environmentalism, perhaps they need to get on board first.

No comments: