Carbon Offset Scam: $$ to Assuage the Guilt

Wesleyan Recommends Buying Good Feelings….

Wesleyan is making a green pitch to help well heeled, guilt laden alumni, traveling to the upcoming Reunion/Commencement, feel better about their carbon footprint. The Wesleyan University web site says:

To offset your carbon emissions when traveling to Reunion & Commencement Weekend this year, please visit the web site! Use their Auto and Airline calculators to estimate the amount of carbon you will produce in traveling to and from Middletown, and make a donation to Carbonfund’s carbon-reducing projects to offset your impact. (and)

You will notice a new color standing out against the traditional black and red regalia decorating the 176th graduating class during its commencement ceremony this year: Green. A symbol of our dedication to producing an increasingly sustainable Reunion & Commencement Weekend, all graduating seniors, graduate students, alumni and their families, as well as faculty and staff members, will have the opportunity to don green ribbons indicating their commitment to the Wesleyan Community Climate Agreement and to leading a more environmentally conscientious and sustainable lifestyle in future pursuits.

The Washington Post had an interesting article on Aug 16, 2007 (excerpts):

With a click, a credit card and $99, visitors can pay a Silver Spring nonprofit group,, to “offset” a year’s worth of greenhouse-gas emissions. Whatever the customer put into the atmosphere — by flying, driving, using electricity — the site promises to cancel out, by funding projects that reduce pollutant

Sites such as this one, offering absolution from the modern nag of climate guilt, have created a $55 million industry that once would have been beyond the greenest of imaginations. The market for “voluntary carbon offsets” now encompasses dozens of sellers and thousands of buyers, including individuals and corporations.

But in some cases, these customers may be buying good feelings and little else.

A closer look reveals an unregulated market in which some improvements bought by customers are only estimated, extrapolated, hoped-for or nil. Some offsets support projects that would have gone forward anyway. Others deliver results difficult to measure., for example, has advertised offsets that finance wind farms and tree-planting projects. But some wind farms said the donations haven’t led to anything new….

Blogger Doug Bandow at opines:

What a great system. I think I will open a carbon offset business. Pay me, oh, $100 and I will plant a sprig that will eventually become a tree, absorbing the carbon dioxide that you’re causing by getting on an airplane or buying a computer or, especially, driving to work. And I am offering a special deal, today only! A dozen trees for just $1000. How can you beat that? Just send your checks to me, in care of CEI. It is a classic win-win situation: You can feel good about yourself while I can go look for another antique chess set or rare history book.

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One Response to “Carbon Offset Scam: $$ to Assuage the Guilt”

  1. Phyllis Robinson Says:

    I’m appreciating these comments and the healthy dose of skepticism about carbon offset scams. I have a question for those of you who are cynical – What if we worked with groups of farmers (as we do) who were interested in reforesting their coffee farms (because shade trees are good for coffee, the birds, and the eco-system; and because the trees provide citrus, avocados, and timber for building), but they had little extra resources with which to buy, plant, and maintain them. If we asked folks to make voluntary donations to a fund and we donated 100% of the funds to our farmer partners and then reported back what was done with the money, would you all consider this a scam or a hoax? I’m seriously asking the question because we too are skeptical about carbon offset programs for all the same reasons you are. And at the same time, we know many farmer co-ops who want to restore and protect their environment for all the right reasons and yet they have no resources… is there an ethical and transparent way to hook up folks interested in doing something (and they may already be taking steps to reduce their footprint, or not) with farmers who simply need the resources.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts.



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