Sunday, September 09, 2007

Green Guilt and The Selling of Eco-Indulgences

From the LA Times article last week "Can You Buy a Greener Conscience?":

The race to save the planet from global warming has spawned a budding industry of middlemen selling environmental salvation at bargain prices.

The companies take millions of dollars collected from their customers and funnel them into carbon-cutting projects, such as tree farms in Ecuador, windmills in Minnesota and no-till fields in Iowa.

In return, customers get to claim the reductions, known as voluntary carbon offsets, as their own. For less than $100 a year, even a Hummer can be pollution-free -- at least on paper.

Driven by guilt, public relations or genuine concern over global warming, tens of thousands of people have purchased offsets to zero out their carbon impact on the planet.

Beneath the feel-good simplicity of buying your way to carbon neutrality is a growing concern that the idea is more hype than solution.

In this related commentary "Carbon Offsets: Eco-Extortion, Green Guilt, and the Selling of Indulgences," Frank Pastore writes:

The selling of “voluntary carbon offsets”—eco-indulgences—is a $55 million per year industry, involving over three dozen companies worldwide. Total sales are anticipated to double both this year and next, and entrepreneurs are clamoring all over themselves for a piece of the action.

And it’s all a scam.

Yes, the money is very real, but the alleged benefits to the environment are fake.

Paying someone to plant a tree to “offset” the carbon footprint of your SUV is just plain silly. Yet there are thousands of people spending real money on these kind of indulgences every day.

Why? The answer is that it’s part green guilt, part eco-extortion, and part just plain novelty.

MP: Both articles point out this part of the scam: Native Energy and other companies selling eco-indulgences often contribute only 1% of the total cost of windmill projects and alternative energy plants, yet they claim and sell 100% of the carbon reductions.


At 9/09/2007 10:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,

Please see the farm family's letter to the editor of the LA Times, as well as NativeEnergy's response and letter to the editor -- clickable on our home page

At 9/09/2007 11:37 AM, Blogger james said...


I would have to disagree with your perspective on this matter. You know what, people dump monies in to charities all the time that you and I a may not agree with. There are many charities out there that are mismanaged and poorly structured or "top heavy". However, let us not make perfection the enemy of progress. There is nothing wrong with charity whether it is regarding the environment, the children, wales, whatever.

The fact that this cause is on your radar is proof that there are many people out there that believe carbon credits are something worth considering. There are social and environmental issues in our world that need to be contended with one way or another, let us not continue to place our heads back in to the sand and hope that our governments will tend to these issues. Let us, instead recognize the need for a more direct and serviceable citizenship, on any level, in any arena.

At 9/09/2007 3:05 PM, Blogger happyjuggler0 said...

I think the more appropriate calculus is what percentage of "green good things" would've happened anyway in the absence of such payments from offsets.

In the case of wind farms, I'd be shocked if the answer was lower than 99%. Net offsets: less than one percent.

In the case of tree planting, I guess it all depends, but I'm guessing it is still extremely high. Instead of planting a tree in front of my house, I call an offset broker and claim I'll plant a tree if I get offset money. In reality I'd have planted it anyway for free. Net offsets: zero.

Same goes for a business claiming it will plant trees in exchange for offset money. The real question is what would've happened to the land otherwise. If it would've gon to planting something anyway, such as a tree farm or even a farm, then the concept is bogus.

My best estimate for the gains from buying offsets is you get $0.0001 for every $1.00 of carbon offsets you buy.

james, it very much matters if this works or not as advertised. This could become big business and be nothing but a big empty gesture with zero effective emissions reduction. On the other hand, if in the absence of thatillusion, people might have altered their behaviour and instead of buying an SUV they might have bought a high MPG hybrid instead, helping by the way to bring that technology down the cost curve. See the difference?

Personally I think the US attorney general ought to consider prosecuting these sleazy carbon brokers for fraud.

At 10/06/2007 6:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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