ANDREW C. REVKIN
There is a lot going on in the carbon markets. I met Ricardo Bayon, author of “Voluntary Carbon Markets”, a few weeks ago and had a good conversation about carbon credits (see Recommended Reading for a link to Ricardo’s book). Bottom line is Not All Carbon Offsets Are Created Equal.
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.
Some environmental campaigners defend this marketplace as a legitimate, if imperfect, way to support an environmental ethic and political movement, even if the numbers don’t all add up…
“Consumers are always going to gravitate toward a more parsimonious solution that requires less behavioral change,” he said. “We know that new products or ideas are more likely to be adopted if they don’t require us to alter our routines very much.”
But he said there was danger ahead, “if we become trained to substitute dollars for deeds — kind of an ‘I gave at the office’ prescription for the environment.”
“There isn’t a single American household above the poverty line that couldn’t cut their CO2 at least 25 percent in six months through a straightforward series of fairly simple and terrifically cost-effective measures,” he said.