Carbon Offsets: Planet-Savers, or Guilt-Reducers?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tree on Bliss Rd (flickr user jmenard48 (cc:by-sa))

A six-month investigation into the multi-million dollar business of carbon offsets has uncovered, instead of verdant forests of carbon-sequestering trees, many shady alleys of corruption and fraud.

In this conversation, we speak with Phillip Martin, senior investigative reporter for our partner, WGBH.  Phillip collaborated on the international investigation with the New England Center for Investigative Reporting and The Christian Science Monitor. He tells us that in many cases, paying for carbon offsets proves to be better for our conscience than it is for our planet.


Phillip Martin

Produced by:

Elizabeth Ross

Comments [4]


Aren't carbon offsets kind of like saying you can beat your wife as long as you donate a certain amount to the women's shelter each time? Why not your carbon footprint, rather than saying you can do whatever you want and buy carbon offsets to "make up for it"?

Apr. 21 2010 09:45 AM
byron from wdet-fm

When did Al Gore's movie about global warming become 'infamous' as stated by today's guest Phillip Martin?
I really feel out of the loop.

Apr. 21 2010 09:11 AM
Phil Henshaw from NY NY

Should we add in the CO2 consumed by human technology??

There’s been a very basic issue in the science of how to measure our carbon footprints. It often causes more than 50% error.

The standard method counts up the fuels used to calculate the carbon cost of *the mechanical technology* used for things, all the way back to the original resource extraction. What that leaves out is the fuel used in the commerce the operates the technology and delivers the products, *what you pay people*, the carbon cost of the human technology used to produce things .

Say you take a flight from NY to London, the fuel consumed produces CO2. The flight is 5540 kilometres and produces CO2e = 1,500 kg CO2(1) [mechanical technology footprint]. But…

That’s just the fuel used, but not the people hired.

If you count what people are paid as having “average carbon per $” the one way cost might be $350 (2) . The World Carbon footprint = 28.4 trillion kgCO2 (3) World GDP = $61.1 trillion (4), so world average = .45 kg/$ CO2. So... $350*.45 = 157 kg [human technology footprint]

Total = 1500 + 157 kg CO2

(the error is far larger for consumption that is less energy intensive, like:
1 apple ~ .45 kg CO2
1 plastic shopping bag ~ .02 kg CO2 )

So… why oh why, do people think their shopping bags pollute more than their groceries?
We have been grandly misinforming everyone,… treating things we like as having no cost.


Apr. 21 2010 07:58 AM

If any guilty, excessive carbon user would like to contribute directly to my tax burden for the 100 acres of forest I've been protecting for the last 30 years in Southern Tier NY, it would be most appreciated.

Apr. 21 2010 06:40 AM

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