By Joshua Nicholson
Without U.S. participation in the Kyoto Protocol, private companies are venturing down an alternative green avenue. The sale of carbon offsets to companies and individuals, however, has recently developed a growing concern amongst environmentally conscience persons.
The offsets, an effort to compensate for polluting and environmentally damaging activities, have come in many forms, ranging from the planting of trees to the usage of wind turbines. It is through offsets that companies and persons who cannot easily change their own carbon footprint can reduce their net footprint.
“The devil is in the details of implementation,” said Daniel Press, UC Santa Cruz professor of environmental studies. How does the customer know they are getting what they pay for? How can companies prove that they are providing an actual offset? Are the services permanent or non-permanent?
In an e-mail to City on a Hill Press (CHP), Eric Carlson, spokesperson for Carbonfund.org, a company providing offsets, said, “Consumers should stick with reputable organizations that buy third-party verified or certified carbon offsets, such as Green-e renewable energy.”
According to Carlson, over a dozen different third-party organizations are certifying and verifying the offsetting companies. The fact that there is not one overall standard has people worried and reluctant to pay for an uncertain offset. As a result, Press continues to pose the question, “Who will guard the guardians?”
Press feels that a need for accountability and consumer demand will eventually create this medium of protection. As of now the multiple certification companies are responsible for their own regulation without oversight from the government.
UCSC Professor of Environmental Studies Brent Haddad explained, “If it is inexpensive for one kind of industry to reduce their carbon footprint, and expensive for another industry to do the same, then the inexpensive industry should reduce more. They should be compensated by the industry that is reducing less.”
On average, today’s cost to offset one metric ton of carbon dioxide ranges from $4 to $53, according to the website ecobusinesslinks.com/offsets. The site also lists a number of facts, including that the typical 30 mpg car traveling 12,000 miles in a year emits about 3.55 tons of carbon dioxide.
What companies and people are doing with offsets does not involve a lifestyle change, according to UCSC Politics Professor Ronnie D. Lipschutz. “It allows people to continue the way they live by paying a couple of bucks.”
If the offsetting industry does grow large enough to the point in which a demand for regulation becomes more apparent, Lipschutz suggests that there is still room for scandal. “There is no promise we won’t get a carbon-type Enron,” Lipschutz said, “even if we have an elaborate government system.”
Whether federal regulation is implemented or regulation among the companies continues, carbon offsets are a developing option for the environmentally aware.
If a consumer wants to check against other companies to see they are getting what they want, than they can visit the independent survey of the retail carbon offset market at ecobusinesslinks.com/offsets.