Posted by: ecodestination | December 3, 2009

The problem with carbon offsets

How carbon offsets work - image from Carbon Fund

Carbon Fund’s slogan is “reduce what you can, offset what you can’t.”

Sounds good, right?

But what about those people (most people?) who opt for carbon offsets merely to ease their guilt because they have never lifted a finger to reduce their ecologically destructive footprint?

Or – even worse – what if people buy carbon offsets so they can feel good about polluting more?  “I’m gone all day but I like to leave the AC on so it’s cool when I get back in the evening. Don’t worry – I offset my carbon footprint.” Or, “Honey, let’s each drive both our cars to the store even though we could carpool, just because we both enjoy driving so much!” You get the idea.

Entire companies are perniciously profiting from carbon offsets. Some don’t even follow through with their promises! Shameful.

And certain companies with laudable intentions are picking up on this:

In 2002 Responsible Travel became one of the first travel companies to offer customers the option of buying so-called carbon offsets to counter the planet-warming emissions generated by their airline flights.

But last month Responsible Travel canceled the program, saying that while it might help travelers feel virtuous, it was not helping to reduce global emissions. In fact, company officials said, it might even encourage some people to travel or consume more.

Examples of ecologically irresponsible behavior that irk me:

  • Leaving the water on while washing dishes or brushing one’s teeth
  • Turning the AC on but leaving the windows open
  • Opening the fridge and keeping the door open for 5 minutes while deciding on what to eat
  • Printing documents for no good reason
  • Taking 20-minute showers
  • Setting the AC at ludicrously low temperatures in the summer (or, in places like South Florida, almost all year long)
  • Foregoing recycling because it’s time-consuming or inconvenient
  • Foregoing reusing because new things are “nicer,” the latest trend, or debatably less work to just purchase new items
  • Using the dishwasher, washer, or dryer when nearly empty

And wouldn’t you be much more likely to keep these habits up if you were offsetting your carbon footprint? And wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to offset and modify your absolutely changeable habits?

At the same time…

Back to Carbon Fund’s slogan – “reduce what you can, offset what you can’t” – it is completely possible, or even likely, that many people will choose to reduce, reuse, recycle, and offset.

But, really, how many individuals do you know who are that devoted? Who are already making significant efforts to greenify (it’s a word!) their lifestyle? Are you?

Greenifying ourselves will require changing what we:

  • Eat (going vegan and buying locally)
  • Wear (no more leather, suede, vinyl, and so on; giving up clothes, shoes, cosmetics, and more manufactured with toxic chemicals; using biodegradable sunscreen at the beach; etc.)
  • Buy (opting for biodegradable cleaning products and paint, furniture, boycotting everything disposable and manufactured abroad, etc.)
  • How we travel (bike, walk, jog, carpool, travel less, vacation closer to home, etc.)

And, naturally, many more aspects of our lives.

It won’t be easy – but isn’t it our only choice?

Read more about the downside of carbon offsets here and here.

P.S. Find other companies that offer carbon offsets here and here.



  1. I agree, reuse, recycle, be smart about how you use resources. But do not ever buy into the scam that is carbon offsets. Go get all you want for free:


    • Wow! I am speechless.

      Thank you for the head’s up!

  2. The reality is that ‘people who have never lifted a finger to reduce their ecologically destructive footprint’ just don’t buy carbon offsets. OK, I am sure the odd person may, but come on…

    The fact is, if you wear clothes, eat food or go to grandma’s for Thanksgiving, you have a carbon footprint. If these are indulgences, stop doing them.

    Otherwise, you have two choices, do something about the pollution you are responsible for, or do nothing.

    You article proposes doing nothing. And that is shameful. empowers people to take responsibility for their carbon footprint. And as the article notes, we ask people to reduce what you can and offset what you can’t, the only way to be carbon neutral.

    Now a question. Are you equally against people buying green power from their utility? You should be since you don’t know whether the electricity people are offsetting with green power is necessary or an indulgence.

    – Eric

  3. Hi Eric,

    You have misconstrued my post: it does propose doing something to reduce one’s carbon footprint.

    Give it another read.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: