Spreadsheets are wonderful things. Rhett Butler has put together a really nice cost analysis comparing the value of tropical peat bogs to palm oil. In a nutshell, this chart shows how much money the owners of these peat bogs could make in the next thirty years, depending of course on the future prices of palm oil and carbon offset credits:

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Take a look at the lower left-hand corner. Note that carbon credits put money in the landowners’ hands from day one, while a new palm plantation puts them into debt for the first several years. This is a big advantage, because many people will take a short-term profit in lieu of potential future gains. My much maligned post suggesting that carbon credits might accelerate protection of forest property and the storage of carbon by motivating owners to put land into conservation easements would take advantage of the same instinct. Would I take a quarter million dollars now in the hope that I am helping to slow global warming, or hold out for the potential to make a million dollars in ten or twenty years?

And what would happen to the economy of Indonesia with hundreds of billions flowing into the economy? With millions freed from farm labor, will education levels climb and fertility rates drop? Will educated Indonesians with time to think begin to contribute answers to the world’s problems? Carbon offsets to third-world countries can be viewed as a form of wealth sharing and poverty reduction, not to mention they will help preserve our life-giving biosphere. To date, attempts to reduce poverty and save our biodiversity have largely failed. Maybe it is time we tried something new (or maybe my personal ecofantasy of stopping the present extinction event has hopelessly biased my thinking).

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