If you must buy carbon offsets, caveat emptor — in particular, don’t buy them from the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX). That is the point of a terrific front-page article in the Washington Post: “Value of U.S. House’s Carbon Offsets Is Murky, Some Question Effectiveness of $89,000 Purchase to Balance Out Greenhouse Gas Emissions.”
Yes, it is nice to be quoted above the fold in any major newspaper — the quote in the headline is from me — but the reason I think the article is important is that the reporter took the time to track down the offset projects the taxpayer money went to. The results are not encouraging. I am not a fan of offsets — and certainly wasn’t a fan of the House buying offsets from the CCX in the first place.
But I was surprised by the overall lameness of the specific projects and utterly shocked to read the words of CCX CEO Richard Sandor (a man I have a fair amount of respect for):
It basically rewards people for having done things that had environmental good in the past and incentivizes people to do things that have environmental good in the future.
Shame on him for having this policy, and double shame if he actually believes it is the right thing. Offset money is supposed to cause carbon emissions reductions that would not otherwise have happened without that money (the so-called additionality criteria), in order to offset our own emissions (which we have first worked hard to reduce). We are most certainly not expecting our money go to rewarding people for having done things that had environmental benefit in the past. Geez — I’ve done a whole bunch of things that had environmental benefit in the past — see list here — does that mean I’m entitled to some of Sandor’s CCX money? Absurd!
An old friend of mind, consultant Mark Trexler, put it well in the article when he said, “If you don’t have additionality, you know what you’re getting. You’re getting nothing.”
Kudos to uber-capitalist Sandor. He has proven you can get nothing for something.