Cheat Neutral and Carbon Offsets

This is a clever approach to parodying carbon emission permits. While I generally endorse the idea of carbon emission permits, I think the folks at Cheat Neutral have an interesting perspective that a) additionality is not guaranteed, and b) “offseting” a transgression does not necessarily make  it acceptable in the first place. Carbon offsets are “indulgences.”

I might take a slightly different perspective. My upcoming study trip to Jouy-en-Josas is going to use a lot of fuel. According to, it’s going to introduce ~3.11 metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, which is slightly less than the 3.72 metric tons I’d introduce driving my 2004 Toyota Prius 20,000 miles in a year (a typical usage pattern for me). My personal consumption patterns (e.g., purchase of overseas goods, non-local produce, air-conditioning in the San Fernando Valley) also contribute significantly to my carbon footprint.

I’m unlikely to stop flying because of the carbon output. Buying a carbon offset, even if it doesn’t completely reduce the amount of carbon I “introduced” into the atmosphere by taking the flight, is at least a good gesture. Changing my behavior—such as living closer to work, using public transport, or editing my consumption patterns—would more directly reduce my carbon footprint, making them more valuable than personal carbon offsets in the long term. Obviously, this requires a greater change of habits.

Personal carbon offsets will do a lot of good if they get people thinking about the negative externalities resulting from their consumption, even if their actual offset effects are slight.

Finally, there’s much more to carbon offsets than personal consumption. I am optimistic that they can be a useful tool at the macro level. In addition, a liquid carbon market would allow citizens to decrease their own consumption to buy carbon emission permits and personally “lock them away.”

2012-07-26T11:00:44+00:00 May 26th, 2010|1 Comment