Leaving soon for a drive over the mountains to visit Crested Butte, Colorado so what better thing to report on than fun with carbon offsets? Offsets are fairly cheap (enough for all my driving for a year cost about $30 from CarbonFund.org.) So I bought some for blog fodder.
Aside from offsets seeming like yet another form of taxation, my biggest problem with these things is they smack of elitism. Those of us with plenty of discretionary income can live sin free, while families who can hardly put food on the table stay guilty. More, do offsets actually have any environmental benefit, or are they just a scam?
|I gleefully pasted the CarbonFund sticker on my full size carbon spewing Chevy — I can now do my part in using up the world’s petrol reserves, with zero guilt.|
The thing that makes me suspicious about carbon offsets is they’re hypocritical. Advocates tell you to buy offsets, and in the same breath say you should give up as much of your western consumer lifestyle as possible. What’s the deal with that? If offsets work, and you buy enough, let the good times roll!
Indeed, according to carbonfund.org, for just $99.00 a year the average individual can buy their way to the sinless state of carbon neutrality.
This brings to mind our local municipality. Here in Carbondale, Colorado we live in a mini socialist republic, with government officials who think they know best what to do with our money. Recently the wisemen proposed building a massive and expensive solar array, and got voter approval for a $1.8 million bond to finance it, not to mention a cash subsidy from the town as well as the un-calculated drain that more city facilities would place on our day-to-day town maintenance staff and budget. I did the math. Carbondale has about 6,000 residents. That’s $300 per person if you want to use the bond proposal as a starting number.
Considering our town could become carbon neutral by spending around $90/person a year, doesn’t it seem interesting we’re not simply buying offsets and moving on to other issues (e.g., crime, roads, youth issues)? More, solar panels have a maximum life span of about 40 years, and a large array definitely has significant maintenance and repair costs. Thus, while the cost of solar is indeed somewhat “one time” and an array could perhaps come close to paying for itself, nothing is free.
What all this tells me is that first, carbon credits are odd and I’ll keep researching them. And two, environmental politics is more about fads, government power and feel-good junk rather than reality.
Luckily, once reality strikes it sometimes carries a big stick. Carbondale recently discovered that their bond proposal wasn’t going to work for financing their dream of a sinless solar state, so they turned the project over to the Aspen Skiing Company (who does this sort of stuff as a kind of mixed sin absolution and public relations). Apparently the financial system is set up in such as way as to work better for private enterprise, so the Ski Co will partner with the town to some extent, but mostly do the project as part of their business.
The possible irony in all this: Let’s say a town did buy offsets, which go to financing alternative energy, tree planting, and stuff like that? Then that same fund gave a grant to that same town for doing those same projects? Think about it. That’s how weird carbon offsets are…. they seem like a rather roundabout way to allocate money, and thus introduce financial inefficiencies (not to mention possible corruption or outright fraud.) Sort of like Al Gore buying carbon offsets from a firm he owns.
So, what do you blog readers think?
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.