Friday, March 6, 2009

Put off by offsets?

The Professor here, guest blogging for Mother Necessity (MN). We're getting ready to take a trip, so MN is frantically in pack and prepare mode.

As her loyal readers know, MN has a lot on her mind. There's knitting, of course, family events, the ongoing saga of work and where one can find it, and our efforts to live frugally and sustainably as bottom-feeders among the upper crust.

About our trip... We're traveling by jet. Big Trouble and Miss Serious have never flown before and they are uber-excited. We're all looking forward to the trip, but I confess that I'm conflicted about the flight. A lot of our life choices around these parts have green roots. And here we are getting on a plane that will burn massive amounts of what's basically kerosene in the upper atmosphere. Feeling a little hypocritical? To quote Sarah Palin, "You betcha."

This leads to the interesting/confusing topic of carbon offsets. The idea is that you pay some amount which leads to a reduction of CO2 emissions somewhere in the world, canceling out emissions for which you feel responsible.

The first bit is great. You do something that creates renewable energy, increases energy efficiency, captures CO2 or methane, etc. Beautiful. Simple. Do something good. Where I struggle is the second part where it "offsets" your bad behavior. In it's most dubious form, it's a greenwashing get-out-of-jail-free card.

This sounds like the indulgences of Martin Luther's day. You paid the church so that the sins of those near and dear to you who didn't quite make it to the pearly gates could be paid off. "When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs." Do whatever you want, so long as you have the moolah to pay the fine.

We finally did buy a carbon offset for our trip. Click on the Native Energy logo below to go to their website and learn about what they do. Native Energy makes an honest effort to assure you're not just taking credit for an already existing project. You are actually adding something new and good to the world.

So are we fooling ourselves and simply buying a modern "indulgence?" I don't think so. First of all, I doubt the coins in the coffers of the church back in the 1500s were actually accomplishing the good they promised. This investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency will have some real payoff. Secondly, we should probably just ignore the offset part. We're not doing this to make our trip OK. We're looking at it as an investment in renewable energy.

If we still feel a bit guilty, maybe that's a good thing.

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