Ease Your Guilt by Buying Carbon Offsets

Carbon offsets have been controversial since their inception. Paying someone else to reduce the amount of CO2 in the air in an effort to make up for one’s hedonistic lifestyle has always seemed like an easy shortcut to greenness. But the logic is flawed. It’s akin to popping an extra cholesterol pill in an effort to justify eating that bacon triple cheeseburger for lunch. Things just aren’t that simple. Such a practice fails to alter the destructive lifestyle that is the cause of the problem. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with giving money to people to plant trees or build wind farms. In fact, these are projects that should be encouraged, provided the developers actually do what they say they will.
The market for voluntary carbon offsets is unregulated in this country. When you buy carbon offsets you have no way of knowing exactly what you’re getting. There is no transparency. No standard protocol exists for tracking and measuring greenhouse gas reductions and there’s no regulatory organization monitoring the practices of those selling carbon offsets. Last weekend, NPR broadcast a story on efforts in California to change this.
In 2001, California created the California Climate Action Registry to allow corporations investing in energy efficiency projects that reduced their organizations’ greenhouse gas emissions to accurately report their emissions history. The Registry recently created a new division called the Climate Action Reserve. The Reserve seeks to provide the needed transparency to the offset market by acting as a sort of rating agency. The Reserve created industry specific greenhouse gas reduction project protocols based on internationally recognized best practices. Greenhouse gas emission reduction projects that meet the protocol standard, after independent verification, may register with the Reserve. Furthermore, each ton of verified greenhouse gas emission reductions, known as Carbon Reduction Tons (CRT), associated with a project registered with the Reserve is assigned a unique serial number. This prevents the possibility of double counting and also assures buyers that when a CRT has been retired it cannot ever be sold or transferred again, creating a real and permanent offset.
Though there are only two projects currently registered with the Reserve, the Garcia River Forest and the Fred van Eck Forest Foundation, the efforts of the Climate Action Reserve recently received the backing of the California Air Resources Board.  That board will be responsible for implementing California’s climate change prevention legislation.