The case against carbon offsets gets stronger

The New York Times looks into carbon offsets — paying someone to plant a tree or something so you can say your SUV (or new corporate HQ, or presidential campaign )is carbon-neutral — and finds that not even their defenders think they’re so great.

“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 pro case doesn’t even seriously contend that offsets fully compensate for most carbon emissions, particularly given how quickly you can burn a tank of gas versus how long it takes a dozen trees to grow. Its strongest argument is that buying carbon offsets builds awareness and, heck, at least it’s doing something, right?

I have some sympathy for this, but the point is that offsets don’t get us where we need to be.

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