General Question

t3qn0loqiiic's avatar

What are the positive and negative points about carbon offset?

Asked by t3qn0loqiiic (57points) September 22nd, 2010

what are the positive and negative points about carbon offset?

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17 Answers

grumpyfish's avatar

This sounds like a homework question to me. Do you have a specific question with regards to Carbon Offsets?

GeorgeGee's avatar

The positive is that it gets people started in limiting carbon footprints.
The negative is that it lets people “buy indulgences,” they can pollute all they want as long as they buy some offsets from other people. If Big Smoky Enterprises Inc. had to reduce their own pollution and Little Clean Company Inc. continues to run efficiently well below maximum carbon output, the net total would be a lot lower, but instead, Big Smoky will continue to pollute, Little Clean will be a bit richer for selling their carbon credits, and the world is a worse, warmer place as a result.

Nullo's avatar

On the other end of things, it provides room for more government regulation and intrusions. You might remember “Cap and Tax.”
Government isn’t the happy fun bunch that they want to come across as. What they want, regardless of stated motive, outcome notwithstanding, is control, and my knee-jerk reaction is to deprive them of as much of that as possible.

lilikoi's avatar

+ : Dollar amount attached to environmental impact makes it quantifiable.
– : Accountability, dollar amount attached to environmental impact*.

*Some things are priceless, e.g. loss of biodiversity, the fact that you cannot exactly recreate what you have destroyed via ecological restoration work – you can only come close.

hobbitsubculture's avatar

Negative point: rows of trees planted so people don’t have to feel guilty about their livestyles aren’t a substitute for actual forests.

ETpro's avatar

The greatest benefit is that the plan uses the power of the free market instead of government imposed quotas to reduce carbon emissions over time. To carry on with @GeorgeGee‘s example, Big Smokey Enterprises can buy offsets from Little Clean Company, Inc and they can then keep on polluting. But their costs go up whereas Little Clean;s costs, with the cash the offsets bring, go down. So over time the polluters either clean up their act or lose market share to those who pollute less than them.

The downside is that the trading of offsets would drive up short-term costs for characteristically dirty industries like coal fired generation of electricity. The impact to consumers might largely be offset by government subsides funded by the sale of the offsets, but the math says costs will go up. The public isn’t likely to embrace this unless they become sufficiently convinced that the cost of business as usual is ultimately higher than the cost of addressing the pollution.

Nullo's avatar

@hobbitsubculture It’s worth noting that the sorts of people who make a big show of planting trees (or more often, who pay to have trees planted) do not plant – cannot plant – enough to offset their actual emissions. I read an article once about various plane-owning celebrities, for instance, who would pledge X amount of money to a piddly handful of trees.

There’s also room on this boat for hypocrisy, in the cons. Take Al Gore, for instance, whose house grinds through two or three times the power of your typical suburban dwelling, whose plane trips emit oodles of carbon, and whose books account for quite a few trees. He, as the High Priest to Gaia, is permitted these excesses.

incendiary_dan's avatar

There’s also the fact that just on the basis of individual trees, big old trees sequester carbon and absorb carbon dioxide many times more than the small saplings, which tend to survive. Ditto for old growth forest vs. tree farms (which is essentially what most of these plantings are).

Nullo's avatar

There is also the possibility that global warming is entirely unrelated to industry, in which case we would be strangling ourselves for nothing.

ETpro's avatar

@Nullo We are currently shipping supertanker loads of money off to people in the Middle East, many of whom would like to end our way of life with the cash we send them. While there is compelling evidence that the buildup of CO2 we are seeing is due to human activity—even if some unknown feedback loop suddenly kicks in and mitigates it, we won’t have wasted our effort weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels and moving to sustainable, renewable respurces we control and manufacture here.

Nullo's avatar

@ETpro Oh, I’m perfectly fine with moving away from fossil fuels – they are practically by definition limited, and it’s only a matter of time before we’re going to run out. But I value the motive almost as much as the action, and I don’t want to encourage somebody’s Gaia-worship.

ETpro's avatar

@Nullo I see. Well, the evidence for human causes of CO2 increase in the atmosphere is overwhelming. It is undeniable. It is also undeniable that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. THe only unknown is whether some natural cycle such as an impending ice age may suddenly mitigate the damage we are doing. Trusting that will happen is rather like playing Russian Roulette solitaire style.

I know there is a ton of controversy about global warming. The deniers all claim it is a massive worldwide conspiracy funded by the green energy industry. But the reality is that alternative energy is a 420 billion dollar a year industry and fossil fuel is a 37 trillion dollar a year industry. The snow job is coming from those that want to keep their $37 billion industry growing. The phony science they produce, the false controversies they construct and the attack methods they use are right out of Bog Tobacco’s playbook. And the fact is that many of the same PR firms, K Street lobbying outfits and pseudo-science institutes that are fighting to keep big oil flowing faster are the exact same firms that worked for years to prove that smoking is good for you and nicotine is not addictive.

grumpyfish's avatar

@Nullo I’m right there with you. We just don’t know enough about how the earth functions to determine precisely the cause of global warming.

The benefits of decreasing our pollution (even of clean gasses, like CO2) strongly outweigh the pain of forcing the change away from fossil fuels.

And anyone who fears nuclear energy should read up on the emissions from a coal plant.

ETpro's avatar

@grumpyfish Nuclear energy is one option we should definitely be pursuing more strongly. We do know how to do it today. It is now in use all over the world and aside from Chernobyl it’s been safer than coal or oil fired electric generation and far cleaner too. We can look for advances in dealing with radioactive wasts such as reprocessing reactors or subduction burial. But we know how right now to store wastes safely till better, more premanent methods are developed..

Nullo's avatar

@ETpro Chernobyl was just stupid.

ETpro's avatar

@Nullo I certainly wouldn’t judge the free world’s nuclear safety measures by those the former Soviet Union had in place.

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