What a racket

Former vice-president Al Gore was taken to task recently over his personal energy consumption.  This was countered with the claim that he purchases carbon credits to offset that energy use.  If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, carbon credits are an investment in a company or an endeavor geared to reduce greenhouse emissions.  If your energy consumption is more than what is now socially acceptable, you can buy these offsets in the same way you’d buy a stock, and then feel good about yourself because you are ‘carbon neutral’.

We’ll gloss over the fact that Gore buys his credits from a company he helped establish, and is thereby investing in his own profits, because he’s far from alone in this, and it’s not a Democrat vs Republican thing.  Carbon offsets are on the verge of becoming a really big business, and the whole concept is little more than a scam.

In theory, it makes sense to invest in something like this.  It’s good for the planet.  In reality, most of these concepts just don’t work, not on a global scale, anyhow.  In a recent investigation, the Financial Times found that there are widespread purchases of carbon offsets that yield ‘no’ reduction in emissions.  None at all.  There are also a growing number of companies that profit from doing little more than questionable research, and brokers just selling pieces of paper.  During the Middle Ages, it was common for sinners to buy what were called Indulgences, and have their sins forgiven, instead of repenting and promising to sin no more.  Carbon credits are based on the same principle.  It’s like junk bonds all over again.

One of the most aggressive purveyors of carbon offsets is a company called Planktos.  Their scheme is to fertilize the world’s oceans with iron to create large plankton blooms.  Surface waters around the globe already contain all the ingredients necessary for this.  All they lack is a smidge of iron.  For every single atom of iron added to the water, the plankton would take up 50,000 atoms of carbon.  50,000 to 1 is a pretty good rate of return.  We could clean up the globe in a weekend.  The problem is, while the idea works exceptionally well in the lab, it doesn’t work so well in real life.  Things like ocean currents, temperature, etc, throw things off.  Back in the day we used to call that Mother Nature.

Most all environmental efforts these days seem to be centered around reducing CO2, even though Methane creates 23 times more greenhouse gas.  There are two primary sources for methane in the world, landfills and farm animals.  Personally, I’m going to put my money where it will do the most good, and invest in companies that produce corks, specifically any that plan on plugging up all those cows.

Links: Carbon offset factsheet – Real Climate, Planktos

Cartoon from Sid in the City

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