In the Toronto Sun Lorne Gunter warns that carbon offsets are basically a shell game. It’s not that there’s necessarily outright fraud or thinking so optimistic it’s delusional. It’s that the carbon emissions you pay to offset are themselves necessarily real. And if it’s really true that we have to stop emitting carbon then at some point we will have to stop… emitting carbon.
As Gunter writes, “no matter how much money you pay, you will not – cannot – reduce emissions in the real world, today. You’re still flying, driving, turning up the thermostat or the A/C and producing all the emissions that go along with that. Carbon offsets are like the corrupt medieval practice of buying indulgences from the Catholic church. Donating money in advance to have the local priest or bishop absolve you of sins you intended to commit.”
Thus stated it seems trite. But to the extent that offsets are meant to be a practical solution to a practical problem rather than a symbolic and metaphysical penance, especially from celebrities so wealthy they don’t feel any pain from the money they spend, they turn the whole exercise into make-believe. And as we’ve said before, one of the strange things about the climate crisis is that the people who most loudly declare that it’s real are very often the ones whose conduct, from jet-setting around to buying seafront mansions, suggests that not even they believe it.
We know people once went to church because it would be thought shabby if they didn’t rather than because they were filled with devotion. But we tend to regard such conduct with a jaundiced eye even if we are not ourselves believers in old-tyme religion. Surely it’s appropriate to take the same view of the new religion, especially as the divine Day of Judgement was generally thought to be more remotely in the future than the ecological one is now advertised as being.