Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Should I Buy These Carbon Offsets?

I'm going to be flying around Australia and New Zealand this December and January to give a bunch of philosophy talks. A bunch of the airlines down there offer carbon offsets. It sounds good and I've been buying them. Is this the thing to do, or is there some weird counterintuitive reason that it's a bad idea? And of course I'd like cap and trade / a carbon tax / any politically feasible way of averting the planetary disaster where traditional crops fail in poor countries so lots of people die and the refugees flee to our Atlantises.

9 comments:

Dennis said...

I would only note two things:

(1) Accounting is a bitch. There's no real standardization in the space, so it's somewhat difficult to figure out what you're buying for your dollars. I'd make double-sure you're actually getting what you pay for.

(2) Retail brokerage is also a bitch. Airlines may offer convenience, but I can easily imagine that we're really just talking about large amounts of extra cash in their pockets -- sell the stupid consumer $30 worth of credits for $60.

I'd say that if you want to do this you should find a retail provider with transparent pricing and content yourself that their system is actually doing what you want it to do, then offset through them rather than the airlines.

Neil Sinhababu said...

The program the airlines are using is the one linked in the post -- it's overseen by the Australian government, which made me more confident that it was doing what it was supposed to.

Dennis said...

It may well be; I'm just saying you should make sure. And check what the markup looks like for buying through the airlines.

AsianTrains said...

Are you flying within Australia, and if so, do you actually have to?

Neil Sinhababu said...

Yeah, I'm flying within Australia quite a bit. Are there other options? If there's some other good way to get from Perth to Brisbane, I'd love to hear it.

Axel said...

Carbon offsets are a good first step; I've also been buying them over the last few years. While the accounting is indeed not trivial (and some early carbon offset schemes got a bad press for dodgy accounting), there are now a number of accreditation schemes in place. Also, airlines don't just make up the numbers themselves (and then sell them at a higher price), but instead leave it to accountancy firms (for example, the offset company I've been using - ClimateCare - recently merged with JPMorgan). A good carbon offset retailer will always tell you what kinds of projects they are sponsoring, so that you can make sure you are not contributing to, say, the cutting-down of forests for biofuels, but instead can be sure that the money goes to socially responsible projects. Personally, I doubt that, even if most consumers bought carbon offsets, this would delay global warming significantly (most emissions still are from basic industries, after all), but I'd like to think that the money is well-invested nonetheless, since it goes into the promotion of low-carbon lifestyles and processes, especially in those countries that are still developing. For an interesting take on the beneficial aspects of carbon offsets, see also this news article:

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/carbonoffsetting-all-credit-to-them-430740.html

Green Topaz said...

The answer is clearly "no". The reason: carbon offsets are a total scam, plain and simple. If you want some carbon offsets, get the free ones:

http://www.freecarbonoffsets.com

Of course, reuse, recycle, be smart about how you consume, but don't ever pay for carbon offsets.

AsianTrains said...

To get back to other options, there always trains and buses. Here is the link to map of the Australian rail system. http://www.railpage.org.au/railmaps/austrail.htm

Maybe surface travel isn't realistic for this trip; it is a different mindset from the human pingpong ball mode of travel that we have been educated to think is normal. (And I don't know how much control you have over your travel plans.) But maybe it would be a better use of your time to think about how to change how you travel than to try to find a way to pay someone to undo the bad effects of your actions.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Yeah, I try to do things in the same place as much as possible rather than pingpongballing around. Saves money, for one thing.