I'm probably going to take some flak on this one. It seems I can't do anything anymore without the opportunity to "offset" my "carbon impact." Signing up for a race? For a $1.50 more, I can offset the carbon impact of my participation in said race. I can now subscribe to wind generated power for my home for $15/month. But this does not make one iota difference in my payment to National Grid. It is essentially a voluntary "green tax" in addition to my regular electric bill with a promise from organizations that I completely fail to understand how the equivalent of my electricity usage will be wind generated somewhere in the country. What if one million people subscribed this year? Would tens of thousands of wind generators spontaneously spout across the nation like mushrooms on cow pies after a thunderstorm? It takes years and years for this capability to grow. Vermont, claiming to be one of the greenest states in the union, repeatedly denies permits for wind farms. Now I hear how green the democratic convention is going to be in Denver. The whole think is going to miraculously be offset somehow.
One way carbon credit proponents say emissions are offset is by planting trees. Where are all these trees being planted? Who's planting them? Will they be there 100 years from now or will they get harvested? It takes decades for a tree to begin harvesting significant carbon from the atmosphere.
So when we buy carbon credits or pay for offsets, where does all this money go? Somebody out there is undoubtedly getting rich off this. This brings back some things I remembered from medieval history: the practice of indulgences by the Catholic church. I found this from Washington State University that summed it up nicely:
"Church officials argued that clergy were doing more good works then they needed to; they had, you might say, more than good works in their spiritual accounts than they had sins to pay for. Why not sell them? So selling the good works of the church was precisely what the church did. With the approval of the pope, individual bishops could sell indulgences which more or less paid off any temporal punishment or good works that the individual believer had accumulated in the previous year. It substituted the good works of the Catholic clergy for the good works required of the individual believer. Proof of this substitution was in the indulgence itself, which was a piece of paper, like a piece of money or a check, that certified that the good works of the clergy had paid off the "good works debt" of the individual believer."
This sure smells like what is going on right now. The similarity is even spooky. There's a different type of fear mongering going on with folks capitalizing on it. You might call this the Green Church. Now don't get me wrong, our environment is a delicate thing, and there is no doubt human impact is changing our environment. We can be doing a better job now. But this whole carbon credit thing lacks transparency and reeks of fraud. If paying offsets makes your conscience feel better, by all means do it. But I will hold off until somebody can explain the complete money path to me, how quickly my "offset" is instantiated, and how buying "green" electricity today puts more solar or wind power on the grid today, not 20 years from now. For now, I will continue to live frugally, as I always have, with its inherent reduced impact on the environment.