I guess how you react to this story about the rich trying to go green will depend entirely on the assumptions you bring to it:

Yet with the green movement in vogue, the rich are looking for ways to compensate for their carbon-dioxide generation, which is linked to global warming, without crimping their style. Some are buying carbon "offsets" for their private-jet flights, which help fund alternate-energy technologies such as windmills, or carbon dioxide-eating greenery such as trees. Others are installing ocean-monitoring equipment on their yachts. And a few are building green-certified mansions, complete with solar-heated indoor swimming pools.

Some people say the measures are a noble effort on the part of the wealthy to improve the environment. Eric Carlson, executive director and founder of the Carbon Fund, a nonprofit that works with companies and individuals to offset emissions, says the wealthy are taking the lead in alternative-energy markets such as solar technologies just as they take the lead in consumer markets.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Others say the efforts are little more than window-dressing, designed to ease the guilt of the wealthy or boost their status among an increasingly green elite. Environmentalists say that if the rich really wanted to help the environment, they would stop flying on private jets, live in smaller homes, and buy kayaks instead of yachts.

Either way, an increasing number of companies are launching programs designed to help the rich live large while staying green. Jets.com, a private jet service, plans to start a program in early September in partnership with the Carbon Fund. After they take a trip, customers will get a statement on their bills telling them how much carbon dioxide their flight emitted and what it would cost to buy offsets from the fund.

The offsets are a bargain compared with the flights: A round-trip private-jet flight between Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Boston costs about $20,000. The offsets for the 13 metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted would cost about $74, the company says.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

V1 Jets International, a jet charter company, rolled out its “Green Card” program that it says accentuates “the positive effect your flight emissions will have on the environment.” The company calculates the total emissions from the trip and then buys a carbon offset from the Carbon Fund.

And so on. Scoffers will scoff — it’s hard not to.

In the end, the question comes down to what choice is before us. Are we choosing between a growing affluent class that doesn’t care at all about the environment and one that does? If so, then obviously the latter is to be celebrated. Or are we choosing between a growing affluent class that makes only the most self-serving gestures toward environmental stewardship and one that’s willing to downsize its lifestyle? If so, then the latter is to be preferred.

I suspect the former choice is the real one. All of America dreams of luxury, of having the world open to it. Luxury will go green before it goes small, but that won’t prevent it from going small, so why not accept steps forward when they arrive?

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free. All donations DOUBLED!