Sunday, April 29, 2007

More News on CO2 Offsets

I started this post a few days ago an then forgot about in my rush to write about other things. I was reminded of the article today as I read a Terrapass blog post on the apparently doom-bringing activity of cycling instead of driving. Karl Ulrich the UPenn professor that helped spawn the idea of Terrapass analyzed the potential carbon reduction factors of switching from transport by car to transport by bike. Seems that a deeper lifecycle analysis of the activity indicates that the increase in both food consumption (and all the energy that goes into food transportation) and life expectancy offsets (pardon the pun) the first order benefits of producing less carbon through cycling for transportation. I'll not rehash the entire post, go ahead ad read it and make your own opinions out of it. Seems the best we can do is go live in a cave a forage for food or just remove ourselves from the biosphere.

In any case, the article I saw in the NYTimes, Carbon-Neutral Is Hip, but Is It Green? , is what i wanted to mention. I love the graphic that accompanies the piece and the author goes on with a healthy bit of skepticism about carbon offsets. Here' a brief excerpt to whet your appetite:
But is the carbon-neutral movement just a gimmick?
On this, environmentalists aren’t neutral, and they don’t agree. Some believe it helps build support, but others argue that these purchases don’t accomplish anything meaningful — other than giving someone a slightly better feeling (or greener reputation) after buying a 6,000-square-foot house or passing the million-mile mark in a frequent-flier program. In fact, to many environmentalists, the carbon-neutral
campaign is a sign of the times — easy on the sacrifice and big on the consumerism.
As long as the use of fossil fuels keeps climbing — which is happening relentlessly around the world — the emission of greenhouse gases will keep rising. The average American, by several estimates, generates more than 20 tons of carbon dioxide or related gases a year; the average resident of the planet about 4.5 tons.
At this rate, environmentalists say, buying someone else’s squelched emissions is all but insignificant.
“The worst of the carbon-offset programs resemble the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences back before the Reformation,” said Denis Hayes, the president of the Bullitt Foundation, an environmental grant-making group. “Instead of reducing their carbon footprints, people take private jets and stretch limos, and then think they can buy an indulgence to forgive their sins.”
“This whole game is badly in need of a modern Martin Luther,” Mr. Hayes added.
The analogy between pre-Reformation Catholic Church indulgences and carbon offsets is right on. Though offsets are not the "silver bullet" everyone would like to see come along to solve all of our problems, it is on the right path. I see the good offset programs outliving the poorly run ones and the outright dishonest ones and flourishing in the long run. Of course, if this happens along with source reduction, we'll all be better off.


Joni Taylor said...

So basically, us cyclists' eat more and therefore are doing more harm than good? Seems like a great excuse for those who want to sit on the couch and get fat. How about the long term medical costs of an out of shape lazy person? I buy local or grow my own when I can..(-: Humans will usually take the easiest path from A to B. Pass the kool-aide!

Anonymous said...

J: Great point on health care costs! The analysis can always (usually) go deeper. It is good to see that people are thinking of the entire system.