Al Gore uses 20 times more energy than the national average at one of his three homes...but it's okay because he uses carbon offsets. There are a lot of directions I could go with this and I will definitely go there in later posts, but I find that the carbon offset market is worthy of its own post. Leave it to the current American culture to find a way to buy off guilt - assuming you feel guilty about carbon dioxide emmissions or even believe the hysteria of Global Warming...again, the subject of future posts. Go ahead and drive that SUV, heat your pool, fly in a private jet, give speeches all around the World about Global warming while being followed by a Secret Service entourage in big, black Suburbans because you can just buy carbon offset credits.
When questioned about his 221,000 kWh electricity consumption for 2006 Al Gore explained that he had installed solar panels and fluorescent light bulbs (didn't help much, evidently). Interestingly, Gore's office also responded by saying, "Gore has had a consistent position of purchasing carbon offsets to offset the family’s carbon footprint — a concept the right-wing fails to understand." Similarly, the 2007 Academy Awards boasted it had gone green in part by the use of carbon offsets from a company call TerraPass. No doubt Al Gore's shameful Oscar win and presentation at the Academy Awards influenced the far-from-green "green" makeover.
So how do these carbon offsets work? Do you deserve that warm fuzzy feeling in our stomach when you fork over your hard earned cash because you feel guilty that your Tempo might be melting an Arctic glacier? Fortunately, BusinessWeek did most of the research for me and you can read about it here: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/07_13/b4027057.htm
In case you don't have time to read the whole article, this paragraph summarizes it quite nicely, " All six other project developers selling offsets to TerraPass that BusinessWeek was able to contact said they were pleased with the extra cash. But five of the six said the offsets hadn't played a significant role in their decision to cut emissions. 'It's just icing on the cake,' says Barry Edwards, director of utilities and engineering at Catawba County, N.C., which installed a system in 1998 to turn landfill gas into electricity to power 944 homes. 'We would have done this project anyway.'"
Hmm...it seems some people got duped, but maybe I could call TerraPass and ask if I could get a couple thousand dollars for that Apple tree I planted five years ago. Of course, TerraPass isn't the only company capitalizing on checkbook environmentalists. A quick Google search and you can find information about several others: http://www.ecobusinesslinks.com/carbon_offset_wind_credits_carbon_reduction.htm
Am I the only one that thinks bank rolling projects that already exist doesn't really mean the purchaser offset any carbon? Furthermore, how can a company taking my money for carbon offsets reasonably predict the impact in tons of CO2 per dollar? If a new project is only partly funded by the company then how will I know how much carbon my dollar reduced? Even if a project is fully funded, did my dollar offset all future carbon reduction from the project, or will it be amortized over some undetermined period of time?
If I pay e-BlueHorizons $100 to offset my "carbon sins" does all of that $100 result in reforestation, or did my particular $100 fill up the gas tank on the truck that delivers the trees? What about the Carbon Neutral Company's "dedicate-a-tree" option where your money goes to planting trees? Did the trees already exist before I donated my money? What if I don't donate...will they kill the trees for which I didn't pay?
I think I'm going to start my own carbon offset company. If you send me $5 I'll hold my breath for 30 seconds. For a paltry $10 I'll write your initials on my lawn using fertilizer - the initials will grow better and use more CO2 than if you hadn't sent me the $10. Send me $100 and I'll dedicate one of my trees to your carbon sins. If you want the Platinum package, then send over $1,000 and I'll turn my car off at every stoplight on the way to work tomorrow. You have the power to help reduce the 2% of greenhouse gases that come from human activity...just fork over the dough!