Offset THIS!

Carbon offsets are super-buzzy these days as green gets less gross and more (I just can't say groovy, I'm sorry) hot. Everybody's doing it (well, those who can afford it) — paying to have the carbon they produce, often via air travel, offset by something that reduces carbon by an equal amount. In more concrete terms, the money goes to purchase windmills or plant trees... To me, it sounds a little bit green, and a little bit like throwing money at a problem to assuage your guilt. Stanford research fellow and author Peter Schweizer wondered, why stop at carbon? Pollution's a big problem, but it's not the only thing we do wrong. Me, I'm a speeder. That's bad. So according to Schweizer, to offset my sins maybe I should be giving money to schools to help pay for crossing guards or to communities for speed bumps or cameras. I'm also a pretty serious sugar-addict... but I think my dentist is more than compensated for that. What do you need to offset, and how would you do it?

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Great topic. I must admit to being a bit dubious of the whole 'offset' thing. It seems like to easy a dodge to not actually do anything. Thanks for the program.

Sent by Eric | 3:41 PM | 9-27-2007

If I could give up an ounce of fat for every ounce of chocolate I ate, the only thing that would make me happier is if I could patent the process.

Sent by Amanda | 3:44 PM | 9-27-2007

I think this is another symptom of a society in which individuals refuse to accept responsibility for their actions.

Sent by Ben Currens | 3:45 PM | 9-27-2007

people magazine is a guilty pleasure ... I got Mother Earth News thinking I was "offseting," really I think I'm just wasting more paper. Ah well.

Sent by Misty | 3:48 PM | 9-27-2007

I thought it about it some more and the offsets remind me of the indulgences the Catholic Church sold in the middle ages. Salvation for a fee.

Sent by Eric | 3:50 PM | 9-27-2007

My hobby is making jewlery, but I feel guilty spending time doing something as frivilous and unnecessary as jewelry. And it's expensive to buy the stones and materials, which I am sure are mined in environmentally unfriendly ways, and which probably involved the terrible work conditions of 8 year-olds in impoverished places around the world. I do try to buy free-trade beads and materials, but most of what's available isn't free trade. So, I try to make myself better by donating most of my creations to charities for silent auctions and other fundraisers. I know the initial harm to the environment and workers is still there, but I figure at least I'm also contributing to a good cause.

Sent by Liahna | 3:51 PM | 9-27-2007

I live in Portland OR and saw this vanity plate on a Prius yesterday- "MyPart"
Oh well at least that person is satisfied with her effort on our behalf!

Sent by Tim | 3:52 PM | 9-27-2007

Thinking about guilt is moving me to a small direct action. I've got guilt over what is going on in Jena; even though I've never personally done anything I've stood by as others have.

The next time a certain acquaintance of mine makes a disparaging racial comment (he will, it's only a matter of time) I'm going to tell him that his comment offends me and the ideals of a nation in which all are created equal.

Sent by Steve | 3:53 PM | 9-27-2007

how is this any different than the catholic church selling indulgences?

Sent by lisa | 3:56 PM | 9-27-2007

I own an ASPHALT PAVING COMPANY in San Jose, California. We established a program we call Pave-An-Acre Save-An-Acre, where we donated a portion of our profits to save Rainforest land in Brazil, by paying the landowners to convert their land into permanent park status instead of clearing. Through this we established the Jaguar Ecological Preserve in the Pantanal Wetlands in Brazil. Some customers get very excited about this, but most folks just want to fix the potholes in their parking lot.

Thanks for the show!

Sent by Megan in San Jose | 3:58 PM | 9-27-2007

I just heard a comment about letter-writing, &the lament that w/the dearth of it, historians won't have as much to look at; What about email (&even other e-communication)?

Sent by mb | 3:59 PM | 9-27-2007

Your guest speaks about Corporate CEOs and movie stars talking about offsets being hypocritical:

Reminded me of an interview when the Director of "Evan Almighty" was being interviewed speaking how they had strived to offset the actors arriving in jets. he did not once think about the 3 stages built for the movie made by an unreal amount of lumber probably kiln dried not to mention the amount of trees needed to produce that amount of lumber.

There was nothing on the planet this whole cast to de to offset this vast waste of lumber.

Sent by Michael Albanese | 3:59 PM | 9-27-2007

Thanks Eric for the reference to Indulgences in the Middle Ages Catholic Church....I was thinking about that too, but could not for the life of me, remember what they were called....indulgences. Yeah, very similar concept

Sent by Zoe | 4:07 PM | 9-27-2007

Wanted to say I thoroughly enjoyed this broadcast. Very funny and thinking oriented.

Also wanted to bring up that moral ambiguity has been a tradition in Asia for several thousand years. This comes in many form but the first one that comes to mind is the shop keeper or rich family that may have religious inclination but not the will to effort. In this regard, they will either take in a holy man or even build a temple.
To this end, I don't pray...I pay someone to pray for me. Teehee.

I'm all for offsetting. It does indeed bring one to an ethical gray area, wherein the intent becomes more important than how it's brought about.

:)

Thet
Beijing

Sent by Thet | 9:06 PM | 9-27-2007

Re: tofu offsets.
Remember "Friends"? Vegetarian Phoebe was craving meat during her pregnancy. Solution: meat-eating Joey went veggie for the duration, allowing Phoebe to chow down to her tummy's content.

Sent by MarcParis | 5:17 AM | 9-28-2007

I have written about this idea many times. The first thing you have to do is reduce your carbon footprint. Once you have reduced you can think about offsetting.

Terra Pass did a study of their consumer and found that most people that purchased offsets were extremely green and offset what they could not reduce. The myth of the average offsetter as Catholic indulgences is just wrong. People also pick poor projects, tree planting is an awful project.

Planting trees is usually a bad offset project, please stay clear of these projects. For trees to be truly effective they need to live anywhere from 50-99 years. The offset provider needs to guarantee that the tree won???t die from forest fire, bugs, draught or a myriad of other reasons. The Lawrence Livermore Laboratory did climate studies showing that trees planted above Florida can actually cause global warming. International trees planting projects are often at the edge of forests, where farmers are illegally working the land. If the farmers are displaced, they will more then likely clear a new area of the forest and plant crops there. There are 1,000 more reasons I could list why trees make a bad carbon offset project.

Matt
carbonneutraldigest.com

Sent by matt | 7:51 AM | 9-28-2007

Your guest spends a lot of time declaring that offsetting to be fashionable is somehow dishonest or tainted. BUT if we are going to change our perspective on environment then it can only be done by including as much of the population as possible. If making a hybrid fashionable makes shallow people buy hybrids then it seems to me that we're including not only hard core green people but also people who really don't care about the environment. In the end... isn't the goal achieved?

-Joe Szymczak

Sent by Joe Szymczak | 10:54 AM | 9-28-2007

I thought of another offset to add to the list and the absurdity of the whole concept by proposing a "homicide offset" in which you'd be free to kill anyone as long as you donate a few of your own sperms or eggs.

Sent by JF Lanvers | 8:57 AM | 9-29-2007

I think your guest is unfair to make blanket statements about Prius owners. First, my motivation for purchase of a hybrid was the disturbing film "Who Killed the Electric Car?" and my outrage at the conspiracirial nature of politics and industry to thwart efforts to make alternative vehicles available. Secondly, my purchase of the Prius was not, as he suggested, based on its attention-grabbing design. Rather, all consumer guides tout the Prius as the best, most proficient hybrid on the market. Why would I purchase a Honda which has not been out for long when I can get the most energy-efficient, proven model?

Please don't stereotype consumers and make indefensible statements, professor. They become their own sort of insult-offsets, banked for future use.

Sent by June | 9:19 AM | 9-30-2007

My in-laws have been staying with me for a month, and have just announced their plans to extend their stay for another two months. I would like to send them home, and to offset this behavior, pay for a plane ticket for someone else's in-laws to descend upon them for the remainder of autumn. That's fair, right?

Sent by js | 4:53 PM | 9-30-2007

The whole idea of "carbon offsetting" is a complete misnomer. The idea of outsourcing moral responsibilities is moot. I.e. One drives their gas-guzzling SUV, but will make a donation to a forestry organisation to plant trees to create oxygen. What is the purpose of driving a vehicle that spends all the oxygen "created" by the trees planted? In the end, the ultimate net result of these actions cancel each other out, and they might as well have done nothing at all.

Sent by RI | 11:57 AM | 10-1-2007

An off set is a justification. It is similar to self rightious finger pointing. No one takes any blame or responsibility for their actions.
To make a difference- Change your life style. It is a long and tenuous process. Local, unbleached, carless etc.

The problem is that everyone has to change.

Sent by Charles Jelsema | 10:47 AM | 10-3-2007

I listened to the program where Peter Schweizer of the Hoover Institute presented his ideas about alternative offsets.

During the show Mr. Schweizer returned again and again to the pitfall of carbon offsets in that the very rich can buy carbon offsets without giving up their private jets and get to feel good about themselves undeservedly.

If the main objective is to keep the very rich with private jets from feeling good about themselves, then perhaps eliminating carbon offsets is worth consideration, although I remain unpersuaded that carbon offset elimination would indeed achieve that aim.

However, if the objective is to create real alternatives to fossil fuel use markets where consumers can choose to spend money on technologies and energy procurement that are clean and sustainable then carbon offsets, even acknowledging the shortcomings of this emerging practice, might be worth keeping around and developing, rather than scratch just yet.

As a current teacher raised on food stamps and low income lunch programs, I have bitterness towards the very rich to spare, but it seems the challenge for thinking and concerned citizens is to keep our eyes on the prize. In other words, let's enjoy a cynical chuckle at Mr. Schweizer's shtick, but recognize the harmful implication of his message which is, that since emerging alternatives to fossil fuel are imperfect, we'll all be better off, less duped, and keep the very rich from feeling good about themselves undeservedly, if we stick to fossil fuel energy delivery. Then, let's throw Mr. Schweizer's shtick in the recycle bin and get on with the real business of creating sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels.

Sincerely,

Erika Monahan

Sent by Erika Monahan | 2:19 PM | 1-15-2008

The conclusions drawn from the Livermore study go way beyond what they actually measured;

For a more accurate analysis visit:

http://ecopreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2008/02/12/does-reforestation-contribute-to-global-warming-a-second-look-at-the-livermore-study/

Sent by Eco Interactive | 11:11 AM | 2-17-2008

Support comes from: