With the government mandating more and more limitations on carbon emissions to please climate alarmists, a variety of tactics have been developed to deal with the regulations. One of the most common we see among companies that are trying to virtue signal over their “net-zero” efforts is the system of “carbon offsets” that the EPA has been allowing for some time now. The system is fairly basic as it’s described by the agency. If a company is running, for example, a refinery and it can’t meet its carbon reduction goal, or if they’re not really even trying, it can purchase carbon “credits” known as offsets. These are sold by organizations that are purportedly doing things to remove carbon from the atmosphere or at least prevent additional carbon from being emitted. So the companies emitting carbon can basically do what they’ve always done provided they are willing to pay. But as a new report from Grist points out, this entire system is “riddled with fraud” and very dodgy math that generally doesn’t add up.
The idea behind voluntary carbon offsets seems simple enough: Project developers undertake some kind of activity to either prevent carbon emissions or remove them from the atmosphere, like building a solar farm or planting trees. The project generates carbon credits, approved by a handful of unregulated carbon crediting programs and purchased by companies, governments, or individuals that want to offset some of their own emissions.
In reality, however, the market for these offsets is “riddled with fraud,” with offset projects too often failing to deliver their promised emission reductions. Common issues include nonpermanence, in which carbon removed from the atmosphere can’t be proven or expected to stay removed.
At the highest level, this information highlights the absurdity of the government mandating things that it fails to keep control of. Measuring carbon emissions is tricky business to begin with and calculating carbon reductions is even more challenging. The atmosphere is dynamic and it has different properties in different places at different times. For example, oxygen levels are mostly the same at sea level around the globe, but they do vary measurably in some places, particularly when it comes to oxygenation levels in the water.
The unregulated “carbon crediting programs” that sell and verify these credits can wind up “winging it” in many regards. As noted in The Grist’s report, proving that an organization has actually removed a given amount of carbon from the atmosphere is challenging and they often can’t show that the removed carbon will stay removed. Expensive processes that put carbon “back into the ground” can offer few assurances that it’s going to stay there for any significant period of time. In the end, the most effective removal of carbon is performed by trees, so groups planting trees likely issue the most productive carbon credits. But trees eventually are either cut down, burn in forest fires, or die of natural causes. So even those credits have a shelf-life.
In the more “complicated” scenarios, some of the companies issuing carbon credits were counting the same activity twice or failing to verify the alleged carbon reduction levels. This led to a situation over the past two years where demand for carbon offsets fell even as demand continued to rise because of government regulations. Investors simply didn’t trust that the money they were paying was actually going toward actual carbon level reductions. And in the end, the only people making any money off of it were beholden to the government agencies that were forcing the problem on them.
Some of the players involved in all of this think there may be a solution in the form of the Integrity Council for Voluntary Carbon Markets, or ICVCM. The group’s stated intent is to create more reliable measurements and statistics to increase the value of the offsets. But this is a nongovernmental agency with no actual regulatory authority. Even if they are well-intentioned, all they are really impacting are credit prices, not verifiable carbon reduction numbers.
As I said at the top, this is all a huge scam. A small number of people make a vast amount of money off of climate change hysteria and government mandates related to it. But the planet keeps chugging along as it always has. The audacity on display in all of this is almost impressive.