Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A blinding grasp of the obvious, ofsets "not a get out of jail card."

Carbon offset schemes not working, says holiday firm

Consumer carbon offset schemes do not lead people to change their behaviour, the first holiday firm to run such a scheme has argued.

Responsible Travel said they were a "distraction" from climate change's real urgency and is ending its scheme.

Such schemes involve individuals paying a premium for the emissions generated by certain choices, such as flying.

The International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance says offsetting has an impact, but governments must do more.

Carbon offset schemes also cover things like choosing to drive a car or choices around the way homes are heated.

'Assuage your guilt'

Money raised under the schemes is used to pay for carbon reduction projects in developing countries, such as installing solar power or capturing methane gas released by farm animals.

Some environmentalists argue that while these schemes bring some benefit, offsetting has not changed people's behaviour enough and emissions covered by such schemes should be avoided in the first place.

Justin Francis, founder of Responsible Travel, said: "It's perceived as this magic pill, this get out of jail free card if you like, that means you don't need to change your behaviour.

"You can go on flying just as much as you were before, you can run your hotel the way you were before, but through this magic pill somehow you can assuage your guilt.

"We need to be reducing the amount we pollute and I think carbon offsetting is a distraction from that."

Andy Atkins, director of Friends of the Earth, agreed that introducing offsetting alone allowed individuals and companies to continue with business as usual.

He said: "We understand why people wanted to offset in the belief that it was reducing their emissions, but it isn't working and we have to recognise now that the science says we have to cut our emissions really, at home.

"That means governments and individuals doing everything they can to reduce their genuine carbon impact and offsetting doesn't do that."


The only sure way of making people curtail deleterious behaviors is to make them pay through the nose for it. This means a carbon tax with teeth and no offsets, no trade provisions, all stick--no carrot.

The best example in behavior modification is cigarettes. By making coffin nails hideously expensive, states like California have sharply reduced the number of smokers and made people who smoke curtail their habit. A pack of cowboy killers sells for around five bucks, thus a pack a day habit cost the nicotine fiend $150.00 a month in the Golden State.

Since our carbon habit is much worse than our nicotine habit we should learn from our experience with curbing tobacco use. The parallels are strikingly similar including the carcinogenic effects of gasoline. And just like the foul weed we are not about to give up on our SUVs until the level of economic pain raises.

Of course we need to find out a way to counteract a regressive carbon tax so that the least among us do not carry an excess burden. A rebate scheme is necessary. Still such palliative measures hide numerous devils in the details. You know that well-healed special interests will attempt to bend the monies into their undeserving pockets. Still the only sure way to curb carbon emissions is to make people pay for their greenhouse emissions and make the accounting steep.
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