Thursday, October 30, 2008

Carbon Credits - A Winning Concept?

Carbon Credits. A nice idea. You invest in something "green" and "sustainable" to offset those activities in your life that are not so green or sustainable. As a concept, it is not bad. If it gets more money into the hands of people researching and developing truly "green" energy sources, it has to be good, right?

Here's my first issue with carbon credits...from where I sit, it appears that it really just allows people to continue to behave badly in terms of their lifestyle and subsequent carbon footprint. Rather than change their lifestyle, they can simply throw money at the problem. Ah, how American!

Here is my other issue with carbon credits...what do the "credits" go towards? I've run into two options recently, as examples.

First example: when you book a flight on one of the major travel websites (which I am not going to mention), you have the option of purchasing carbon credits to offset the environmental impact of your air travel. Just what are those credits? Where is your money going? I actually could not find out. This is worrisome because lots of carbon "schemes" are not a good solution! One of them involves trapping and sinking carbon dioxide into the ocean - another example of out of sight, out of mind. The issue is that more CO2 boosts the acidity of the ocean, and it does not take a lot of the stuff to leave a measurable change. Changing the acidity of the water changes how organisms extract the oxygen they need, how they are able to form shells for support, among other things. Ocean acidification is a big concern with global climate change - so why would we want to put more carbon dioxide into the ocean?

Another example: my bank offers a credit card that gives you carbon credits for every dollar spent instead of airline miles, or the other usual rewards. I had to admit, this was downright attractive. I looked into the group that was buying these credits for me with the dollars that I "donated" through my purchases. The money now goes towards small farms for generating wind energy (notice I said small), and methane-based energy production (that would be cow flatulence). Six months ago, when I checked the site and rejected the card as an option, the money went towards building sustainable agriculture practices that in my opinion were not at all sustainable. Now, I am happy to say I am reconsidering this card!

So, if you are conscientious about your carbon footprint, and using carbon credits to boost your actions, good for you! I say, just make sure those credits are really "credits", and not a feel-good scam. If you are using them as an excuse to continue to behave badly, I say stop patting yourself on the back (though I will still gladly take the money you are providing for the needed research).

Two carbon offset companies I like (there are others I am sure, but I was able to feel pretty good about these two):

Terra Pass (

Native Energy (

So, Terra Pass does include large scale wind farms that are not my favorite. The rest is small scale wind farms and methane capture from farms and landfills. You can even purchase offsets for a conference or some other event you are attending or organizing. Very cool.

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