You might blame a leading carbon-offset provider of forcing poor kids to work, according to The Times of London. Or not.

child labor

Carbon credit firm Climate Care pays families in India to use human-powered treadle pumps to get water out of the ground for drinking and farming. As a result, half a million foot pumps have replaced diesel ones, which pollute and cost a lot to fuel. Unfortunately, Climate Care doesn’t ensure the diesel pumps are retired instead of finding new life with other owners.

Nor does it stick around to make sure that kids aren’t doing all the pumping. It probably never crossed the minds at the British nonprofit that this would come into question. Children have done backbreaking farm work for eons in regions where sustaining an income in the field is a family necessity. And the foot pumps are supposed to be easier to operate than hand pumps.

This could raise potentially thorny problems with other people-powered technologies. Inventors and social capitalists are promoting such simple tools to help people stuck with the fuzzy end of the world’s lollipop to learn and earn more. I’m thinking of bicycle-powered computers in Laos, for instance, the Q-drum water wheel in Africa, or even the small hands cranking MIT’s XO laptop (also used, oops, for XXX).

The Times didn’t explore any side effects of using pumps with combustible diesel, like how many accidents that might cause — perhaps few next to flammable gasoline or kerosene, but still. What are the alternatives? Do affordable solar or wind pumps exist? And who might gain something from the child labor charge?

The only source in the article blaming Climate Care for child labor seems to be clean-tech consultancy Emergent Ventures India. These are heavy accusations against Climate Care, which maintains that the only children working the water pumps are on family farms — not urban dungeon sweatshops.

Carbon offsetting plans may be vain and useless at worst, but are they really evil? No matter your answer, expect to see more scrutiny of carbon credits.

People are suspicious of the notion that they can magically shop away their polluting habits. But high-profile, "lite-green" consumers, like presidential candidates, continue to adopt offsetting with fanfare.

There’s likely nothing wrong with paying programs to fund renewable energy projects or plant more trees — in fact, spill as many beans there as you can afford — as long as you examine potential unintended consequences. Those remain hard to measure. I give up.

But wait, instead of trying to pay penance for our climate-changing customs, more of us will try to cut carbons at the source. That might mean doing more manual labor in our own lives — like putting one foot in front of the other, instead of pressing that pedal to the metal.