I’m going to (try to) coin a new term here, “rip-offsets,” since I can’t think of a better word for the rip-off offsets the Chicago Climate Exchange is peddling to a gullible public and media.
The Washington Post has a front-page story, “There’s a Gold Mine In Environmental Guilt Carbon-Offset Sales Brisk Despite Financial Crisis,” that echoes articles written a few years ago on the mortgage industry. Sales are way up. Prices are rising. Everybody is jumping in. Oversight all but nonexistent.
Yeah, a few of those pesky “Watchdog groups say offset vendors sometimes do not deliver what they promise,” but for most people it’s just one big party:
At the Chicago Climate Exchange, where offsets are sold like pork bellies or stocks, Sept. 23 was the second-busiest trading day in the four-year history of the market.
Buried at the very end of the article is a description of just how worthless many Chicago Climate Exchange offsets are. The article describes an offset so pathetic, so questionable, that it shocked even me, and I already thought most offset are no better than mortgage-backed securities:
In the western Virginia town of Christiansburg, the operators of a landfill sell carbon offsets tied to a project that captures methane, a powerful greenhouse pollutant, and burn it in a tall orange flare. They’ve made $43,000 on the Chicago Climate Exchange in just a couple of months.
But that project was put in long before the offsets were sold and for a different reason: to keep dangerous gases from accumulating in a capped landfill. So if the offset market dried up completely?
Nothing would change.
The money “is gravy to us right now,” said Alan Cummins, executive director of the regional authority that runs the landfill. Even without it, he said, “we would always continue to flare.”
I was trying to come up with a better word than fraudulent to describe such an “offset,” and “rip-offsets” is what came to mind, since this has got to be the biggest climate rip-off since China crashed the Clean Development Mechanism party with its own brand of fraudulent offsets that don’t offset anything.
People are actually paying the Chicago Climate Exchange tens of thousands of dollars to pay this landfill to keep doing what they would do anyway — and what they are doing anyway isn’t even particularly good for the environment.
Yes, flaring methane is better than emitting it into the environment; methane is 20 times as potent greenhouse gas as the carbon dioxide you get from burning methane. But flaring landfill gas is a pretty lame idea. Heck, this January, an entire new organization, StoptheFlares.org, was founded solely for the purpose of stopping the entire practice worldwide by 2020. The whole point of extracting methane from landfills is to use it to make useful heat or electricity or both. Offsets have so little utility in the real world that if your money isn’t in some tiny way helping to jumpstart the transition to a clean energy economy, then the whole thing is just a joke.
Talk about burying the lede.
What makes this story particularly disturbing to me is that Fahrenthold wrote a front-page story for the Post earlier this year that explained at length just how dubious offsets from the Chicago Climate Exchange are. And he coathored a front-page story last year on how dubious other companies’ offsets are, where many climate benefits “are only estimated, extrapolated, hoped-for or nil” or would have happened anyway.
The bottom line: The vast majority of offsets are, at some level, just rip-offsets. Spend your money elsewhere.
This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.