Carbon offsetting has been called the biggest scam since indulgences. Indulgences were payments people made to the catholic church for the partial or complete remission of sins of a dead person so that they could eventually achieve eternal salvation, essentially moving from purgatory where they were being held as sinners to heaven. Carbon setting is the idea that carbon emissions released through an activity such as flying can be calculated then the equivalent amount paid off to schemes that remove carbon from the atmosphere such as tree planting. Carbon offsetting has been a great hit with high emitters which is the first indicator that they are a scam. Here’s how else they are a scam.
Airlines and oil companies are some of the biggest proponents of carbon offsetting because it requires them to take no responsibility for the effects of their activities and also doesn’t require them to make changes. Carbon offsetting is essentially a way for corporations to pay others to reduce their emissions without making any changes themselves. What needs to happen is for corporations to change how they operate and prevent emissions from getting into the atmosphere in the first place, not continue emitting and then pay other people to try and get it out of the atmosphere.
Not an effective response
What climate change demands from us is a drastic reduction in emissions. What carbon offsetting does is it says, keep emitting as much carbon as you can afford to pay to offset. It is incredibly ineffective and functions as a distraction keeping us from implementing radical crisis measures that we should be working towards. We’re zero emissions not coming with dollar amounts for corporations to pay in order to keep polluting our shared home in the hopes that whatever scheme they choose will remove carbon from the environment. Cutting trees, for example, no amount of planting trees can replace slashing carbon emissions. One UN study found that in most cases carbon setting doesn’t even work in practice. Critics argue that such schemes in essence offer a license, indeed an incentive to polluters to carry on polluting.
Difficult to measure
Another problem is it’s difficult to measure emission reduction under a carbon offset project. Take carbon offsets for the absorption of GHGs by planting new trees. Estimating greenhouse gas uptake depends on the age of the trees, their growth rate, and climate and soil conditions. Even after all these factors are considered, if the trees do not live as long as 100 years, they will not become net carbon absorbers.
Carbon offsetting schemes are just pure Public Relations campaigns. Oil companies in particular are under fire for burying research about the effect of burning fuel and also lying about global warming for years while funding climate denial outfits. Now that the realities of climate change are becoming real courtesy of the destruction they deliberately wreaked on earth, they need ways to make them look good. Enter carbon offsetting. Offsetting schemes provide a good story that allows them to look good while not taking any meaningful action as relates to their emissions.
It’s no secret that the majority of the emissions are from the wealthier nations and yet it is the poorer nations whose contribution is negligible that will pay the highest price, bearing the biggest brunt of climate disasters. The injustice doesn’t just top there, many of these carbon offsetting projects are being set up in the poorer nations. In Kenya, for example, Amnesty International reports that the Sengwer people who are indigenous to the Embobut forest were violently forced out of their homes and dispossessed so that the government could seize their ancestral lands to implement a deforestation plan. Once again, the people who contributed least to the problem, are paying the highest price.
We’re in a crisis situation and we should act accordingly. Allowing huge polluters to pollute just because they can pay their way out of it is a non-starter that will get us killed and destroy all of nature as we know it.
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