Carbon Offsets For Sale

A thought-provoking article by British author George Monbiot, Selling Indulgences, discusses the current fashion of using carbon offsets as an excuse for business as usual. Travel agencies and airlines often give you the option of buying a carbon credit with your ticket to offset the carbon emissions resulting from your flight. The money is allocated to projects intended to reduce carbon emissions in developing countries. Thus you can fly halfway around the world with a clear conscience, knowing that the CO2 released by your plane will be offset. No need to change your behavior and the credits are cheap. The parallel with the practice of selling of indulgences to sinners during the Middle Ages is striking.

According to Monbiot, the whole exercise is flawed. Carbon emissions caused by the transportation and energy industries continue to soar, and even if the entire developing world could be made carbon-free, it won't be enough to prevent catastrophic climate change. The ice sheets at the poles will still melt and the beaches you enjoy today will be gone tomorrow.

Voluntary efforts aren't good enough. Only government action can tackle carbon emissions by forcing everyone to pay the same price. Nobody likes taxes, but stiff carbon taxes seem to be urgently needed. And those taxes must be levied in developed countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the European Union which fly the planes and burn the fuel. Monbiot's book is titled Heat: How We Can Stop the Planet Burning.

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