Carbon offsets: A "green gold rush" Updated

Big news from the Financial Times: Al Gore’s centerpiece strategy for letting the rich live rich while buying a soothed conscience is nothing but a scam.

Companies and individuals rushing to go green have been spending millions on “carbon credit” projects that yield few if any environmental benefits.

A Financial Times investigation has uncovered widespread failings in the new markets for greenhouse gases, suggesting some organisations are paying for emissions reductions that do not take place.

Others are meanwhile making big profits from carbon trading for very small expenditure and in some cases for clean-ups that they would have made anyway.

The growing political salience of environmental politics has sparked a “green gold rush”, which has seen a dramatic expansion in the number of businesses offering both companies and individuals the chance to go “carbon neutral”, offsetting their own energy use by buying carbon credits that cancel out their contribution to global warming.

Read the whole thing. For those of us who remain “deniers” on man-made global warming (in my case, in spite of 8 years at NASA and a year or so working directly with one of the earth science sections) and who see the carbon offsets movement as a 21st Century version of papal indulgences, the whole article is heartwarming. It’s short, but full of things like this:

Blue Source, a US offsetting company, invites consumers to offset carbon emissions by investing in enhanced oil recovery, which pumps carbon dioxide into depleted oil wells to bring up the remaining oil. However, Blue Source said that because of the high price of oil, this process was often profitable in itself, meaning operators were making extra revenues from selling “carbon credits” for burying the carbon.

That’s not environmentalism. It’s double-dipping.

(on a tip from Chris)

Update (AP): Actually, the FT has a full spread today about offsets. Here’s the other lead article in the package. Title: “Beware the carbon offsetting cowboys.” A taste:

Unlike the Kyoto and EU markets, the voluntary [offsets] market is unregulated, with no legally binding standards, giving rise to several potential problems:

● The risk of fraud, such as sale of credits from carbon reduction projects that do not exist. It is often difficult for buyers and brokers to verify the existence and effectiveness of projects as many are in remote areas.

● Funding of carbon reductions that could have happened anyway. In the jargon, they would not be “additional”. Under the Kyoto protocol, qualifying projects must be “additional” meaning, in most cases, that they would not be economically viable without carbon credits. The FT has, however, uncovered examples where carbon credits have merely provided another source of revenue to projects that would have happened anyway (see the story below).

● The risk of companies selling the same credits several times over. Under the Kyoto mechanism, carbon credits are tracked through the UN’s International Transaction Log, which records every purchase or sale. When companies are buying credits for offset, the credits should be “retired” and not used again. But on the voluntary market, there is no central register, so unscrupulous companies could “double count” or sell the same credits more than once.

There was a story making the rounds a few weeks ago, possibly with a Gore connection, about a firm that had perpetrated exactly the type of scam described in the second bullet point, but I’ll be damned if I can find it now. Anyone remember what I’m talking about? Please send the link if so.

Update (AP): Ah, that’s what I’m talking ’bout. Thanks to Tim Fischer.

Update (BP): Kent in Georgia says–

Georgia Power has this voluntary green energy program where they want us to pay more so that we can feel better about ourselves. It’s not like they’re going to switch our power grid over to a renewable energy source once we pay our dues (an extra $4.50 per month plus tax for 100 kwh). They just want us to invest in their ability to go green sometime in the future. How many customers are being scammed here? Where is the accountability?

Accountability? This is orthodox liberalism we’re talking about here. Accountability’s got nothing to do with it. It’s all about dropping a little cash and making yourself feel less guilty for living in the greatest country in history.

Update: Who knew that the Washington Times was so environmentally friendly?

“Biodegradable pixels…” Sounds like a good name for a band.