Carbon offsets are tricky business
Joseph Romm has been running a series of “rules of the road for carbon offsets” on these pages. This is a worthwhile endeavor, and as good of an excuse as any for me to provide some shade and color to the frequently misconceived debate over offsets. Although I mostly agree with Romm’s conclusions, I don’t think he chose the best route to reach them.
My intent is not to rebut Romm’s proposed rules — again, I (mostly) agree with all of the guidelines posted so far, even if they do contain some important errors of fact and emphasis. And more generally, I strongly support efforts to arm individuals with more information about offset quality.
But the rules are framed a bit oddly, offered up as some sort of counterpoint to a lawless industry peddling easy environmental solutions to polluters run amok. The first post announces an “aim to pick a fight with those overhyping offsets.”
This framing is no doubt rousing for people who share this view of offsets, but it’s not very helpful to the ostensible audience for such rules: real people and real companies looking to reduce and mitigate their environmental impact.
We know our customers at TerraPass, and so we know that people who buy offsets are far more likely than the general population to take a wide variety of actions on climate change, from bicycle commuting to directly lobbying their political representatives. These are the types of people who buy offsets, and these are the people who can most benefit from good guidelines, rather than polemic.
Romm’s opening post also states: “No rules of the road exist for offsets. Until now.” This is a fairly grand claim. It is also pretty obviously false. A number of offset standards are in varying stages of development; several credible industry surveys have already been published; and the extensive and frequently questioning media coverage of offsets has included any number of consumer guidelines.
But that’s OK. The more, the merrier. Grist is potentially an ideal forum for such a discussion, because, unlike a standard newspaper blurb, blogs provide room for a lot more nuance. That’s what I aim to provide.
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