Purchasing carbon offsets is a popular way to act against global warming, or at least to alleviate one’s conscience. An offset allows a business, government or individual to pay someone else to remove a given quantity of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere rather than cutting emissions themselves. The purchaser is then free to pollute a specified amount, usually in metric tons.

Purchasing offsets may be voluntary or in compliance with regulations. The market in offsets, which can be traded like other assets, is booming.

Popular among corporations from Amazon to airlines, offsets are offered on projects from planting mangroves to funding wind turbines. A favourite is maintaining forests. For example in Oregon, Green Diamond Resource Co. is preserving 400,000 acres of forest it owns to compensate for greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere. Early this year, Microsoft paid Green Diamond to offset a quarter million tons of the company’s 2021 carbon emissions.

Unfortunately, a massive wildfire is now tearing through Oregon and as of late July had consumed almost a quarter of Green Diamond’s project area. The carbon offsets are themselves, literally, going up in smoke.

The assets are insured to a degree by a “buffer pool.” The California Air Resources Board, which determines who qualifies for offsets, requires that companies set aside 10 to 20 percent of their carbon credits to allow for fire loss. Nonetheless, as fire risk increases with global warming, many researchers are concerned the buffer pools are inadequate.

Trees, it seems, can be a risky bet for storing carbon. A fire occurs and the carbon is suddenly pumped back into the atmosphere. Recent studies have indicated that due to fires even the Amazon rainforest is now producing more greenhouse gases than it’s sequestering. Forests elsewhere could eventually meet the same fate.

How ironic that even solutions to global warming can become part of the problem. Planting trees is always a good thing, but ultimately the place to reduce carbon is at the source.

One thought on “Burning up the credits”
  1. Carbon credits should be outlawed, in my opinion. All such “policy” does is to allow high carbon dioxide GHG emitters an excuse to pollute while clutching their fake green credentials to their chests in solemn piety. We’re far beyond the point where anyone gets a pass to pollute just because they can “pay” for carbon offsets. There’s none left to trade.

    Deliberate forest burning in the Amazon and Indonesia and Malaysia is beyond stupid, and the changing climate is causing the burning up of the parched biomass of the North American West and Siberia. I mean, lets trade carbon credits with Martians, why not? Makes as much sense as blindly ruining our environment for mere monetary profit while making up fake justifications for doing so and lobbying governments to pass legislation saying it’s okay. Your premier should be tarred and feathered and slung out of town in disgrace. Evironmentally and ethically produced tarsands “oil”? In which universe?

    The latest excuse that won’t work to the degree needed is carbon sequestration. It’s PR spin. It’s a non-energy intensive way, ha ha, to run around in ever-decreasing circles getting precisely nowhere. But it allows sociopathic political buffoons to cynically claim they’re doing something.

    It’s pretty near time for all of us to kiss our rear ends goodbye, the way I and many others see it. Too late to recover from the degradation we’ve put the Earth through, and no amount of lipsick is going to prettify this pig.

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